St. Louis Evolution Festival is the focus of a student case competition

  • October 23, 2023
  • By Suzanne Koziatek
  • 3 minute read

St. Louis’ inaugural Evolution Festival brought an estimated 25,000 revelers to Forest Park this fall, to eat barbecue, sample bourbon and enjoy music from the likes of the Black Keys, Brandi Carlile and Ice Cube.

For undergraduates in Professor Glenn MacDonald’s Economics of Entertainment class, the August 26-27 event was a chance to research what makes a music festival successful—as well as how to make one better.

MacDonald held a case competition, assigning students to present ideas to Evolution’s founders, Joe Litvag and Steve Schankman, based on the students’ research of other music festivals, as well as the St. Louis concert-going market. Their challenge: Come up with strategies to grow the event next year.

“While this festival might not compare to Lollapalooza, which can draw more than 100,000 people a day, it could be a very successful regional festival, drawing people from as far away as Kansas City,” said MacDonald, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy.

“What the students did was to identify state-of-the-art practice in the festival business,” he said. “They looked at what the most successful festivals in the US do, how they spend money, what kind of listeners they attract—and how to bring that to Evolution, modifying it for the St. Louis-oriented audience.”

Leaning on research

The winning team was chosen by MacDonald, Litvag, Schankman and Michele Ralston, director of global MBA strategy for WashU Olin. “The key (to winning) is massive amounts of preparation,” MacDonald said. “The best teams were very, very well prepared.”

Students on the winning team said this was their first opportunity to consult in the entertainment sphere, and they leaned heavily on research, as well as their own experience attending music festivals as fans.

“The cool part was that Glenn didn’t give us a specific sector or category to look at,” said Sammy Greco, BSBA 2025. “It was a little more open-ended and allowed us to do more digging in terms of research.”

Asher Schwartz, BS 2025, said the group looked at how the Evolution Festival was marketed on social media, and how to target the right audience. “We looked at ways to get the St. Louis community excited about it.”

The team would go back to MacDonald with their ideas to get feedback and fine-tune their direction.

The best thing about Olin case competitions is that they’re a very hands-on process. The professors are always very willing to collaborate with you and give you feedback whenever you need it.

—Becca Silver

“The best thing about Olin case competitions is that they’re a very hands-on process,” said Becca Silver, BSBA 2024. “The professors are always very willing to collaborate with you and give you feedback whenever you need it.”

Caleb Choi, BSBA 2026, said the project taught him the importance of meticulous planning and coordination of festivals, including factors like enlisting influencers and brand partners.

MacDonald is looking forward to continued collaboration between WashU and Evolution. “These experiential projects do evolve; we always try to keep them fresh and current. The presentations went well, and I can see them doing even better next year.”

As for the students, the project sharpened their interest in the entertainment business.

“I’ve been working in the entertainment industry since I was 15 years old,” Silver said, noting that she talked to MacDonald about getting into this field when she was a freshman. “This is what I’ve been looking forward to since before I came here. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m super excited about it!” 

About the Author

Suzanne Koziatek

Suzanne Koziatek

As communications and content writer for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to seek out the people and programs making an impact on the Olin community and the world. Before coming to Olin, I worked in corporate communications, healthcare education and as a journalist at newspapers in Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan.

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