The annual Life Ball is Europe’s largest charity event dedicated to the fight against HIV and AIDS, taking place for the 17th time on May 16, 2009 at the historic Vienna City Hall. The glamorous event celebrates the open-mindedness and diversity of the world, giving its audience a clear sign against discrimination and ignorance while promoting the courageous and joyful sides of life. A sparkling show with a series of music and dance performances opens the event on the square in front of the Vienna City Hall. The opening ceremony features thoughtful moments with speeches by Life Ball’s international partners, live performances by international artists and appearances by famous personalities. The opening’s grand finale is a glittering fashion show presented by renowned designers with both top models and dazzling celebrities gracing the catwalk. After the festive opening, the opulent Life Ball night starts inside the City Hall. Open exclusively to 4.000 holders of Life Ball tickets, all halls and courtyards of the building are transformed into richly decorated ballrooms and dance floors. A versatile show and entertainment program await the audience throughout the night (Life Ball Press Kit, 2008).
Life Ball is organized by AIDS LIFE , an independent non-profit organization with the objective to raise funds, half which go to national relief projects and the other half to international organizations in support of HIV/AIDS treatment, research and prevention. AIDS LIFE was founded in 1992 by Gery Keszler and Dr. Torgam Petrosian and draws its main income from Life Ball . To date AIDS LIFE has managed to distribute funds of approximately €10.5m (Life Ball online, 2008). An evaluation of the event’s stakeholders can be found on page 22.
Life Ball was originally planned as a one-off charity party, aimed to attract the gay and party scene. At that time however, co-founder Petrosian was dying of AIDS with his last wish being that Keszler would continue with the staging of the event. The first Life Ball was financed by the organizer himself as only two affluent Austrian firms were willing to make a contribution. Moreover, with only 150 tickets sold shortly before the opening ceremony, Life Balls risk of failure was estimated as extremely high. Consequently, the press perceived Keszler as a fool whose actions would only evocate a scandal, which was the sole reason why journalists wanted to report on the event in 1993 (WZ online, 2000). For a detailed timeline of Life Ball please refer to Appendix 2 on page 17.
The economic impact of Life Ball is substantial. According to Getz (1991:23) it was found that “for every dollar spent at an event, six dollars were spent in the host community. Community spending includes dining, shopping, accommodation, transport, entertainment and business.” As a result Vienna anticipates financial/economic gains such as increased tourist visits and expenditure, extended length of stay, higher yield and increased tax revenue. The ball also provides a basis for destinational promotion and enjoys positive media coverage and images (Bowdin et al, 2006:38).
Moreover Life Ball manages to transform the entire city into a party zone and is thus very profitable for the local economy. There are various theme-related parties going on in the city with the official Life Ball (after) party being held at Volksgarten, one of Vienna’s most popular clubs. The entrance fees, which are €15, are directly contributed to the event’s net proceeds. As can be seen below, Life Ball’s net proceeds have continuously increased over the years. Whilst the first event managed to make €80.000 in profits in 1993, the latest ball in 2008 peaked at €1.4m (Life Ball online, 2008).
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Figure 1: Life Ball net proceeds
Life Ball’s key income is generated from ticket sales as well as from various sponsorship deals. Considerable construction costs form the event’s main overheads. Life Ball generates employment through voluntary work two months before and on the day of the event as well as throughout the year for Life Ball’s organization team. The ball generates substantial employment in the construction phase as well as during the staging of the event (Bowdin et al, 2006:53). Life Ball is supported by over 600 “helping hands” who get engaged personally with great commitment and purely for charity. A short overview of the ball’s current economic impact is displayed in Table 1.
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Due to high demand the 4.000 obtainable tickets are usually gone within hours forming a veritable black market for Life Ball tickets, which constitutes an economic downside of the event (M&C online, 2006).
Cost – benefit analysis
In order to assess the economic viability of Life Ball , benefits and costs of the event have been identified and evaluated as follows:
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From the outset Life Ball’s main mission is to raise as much money as possible in order to allocate available funds to selected projects and organizations in the field of HIV/AIDS. Over the last 16 years this has remained the event’s most important purpose and can simultaneously be considered the event’s most valuable legacy. The net proceeds of Life Ball are equally dedicated to projects in Austria and to initiatives in some of the worst affected countries in the world. This international support was able to come to life in 2001 with the support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and continued in 2005 with amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Although Life Ball’s legacy is not of a physical nature the event still manages to enhance the long-term well-being of the Viennese, reflecting their values and representing Vienna as an open-minded, progressive, liberal and socially responsible city that does not close its eyes to the global pandemic of AIDS, but actively fights against it (Ritchie, 2000:156).
 Austrian national public service broadcaster