At the October 28 Students’ Union Audit Committee meeting, a cost analysis of the Break the Record (BTR) dodgeball game showed detailed figures for the expenses and revenue for the event.
The estimated total expenses for the event were $144,309, which included t-shirts, dodgeballs, production and rentals, marketing, and Guinness World Record fees. A detailed breakdown of revenue was also shared, giving figures of contributions from the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU), the University of Alberta, and donations and sponsorships.
The Gateway previously requested a detailed cost breakdown of the event on September 28 and October 11, but the Students’ Union was unable to provide one until the audit committee meeting. Marc Dumouchel, general manager of the UASU, prefaced the presentation by noting that they were still waiting on receiving a few receipts. He later specified that the final number should be within $1,000 to $2,000 of what they have now.
The largest expense for the event was t-shirts, which cost $54,925. Dumouchel said that the cost being higher than expected was due to supply chain issues, and that they had to buy yellow t-shirts from multiple sources as a result.
The Guinness World Record fee was also higher than expected at $22,073 — just over $12,000 higher than the budgeted cost. Dumouchel said that this price was not confirmed until very late, and was unexpected.
“We thought it might be a little higher, we certainly didn’t expect it to be 120 per cent higher,” he said.
Overall, the event expenses came out $4,309 over budget.
BTR was contingent on university contribution, sponsorships fell short of goal
The UASU had budgeted $10,000 dollars for the event but due to obtaining less sponsorships than expected, their actual contribution was $49,309. According to Brennan Murphy, UASU conferencing and events manager, these funds came out of the alternative programming line of the budget.
Alternative programming is allocated for any non-academic events — such as Campus Cup, poster sales, Night at the Horowitz, and AntiFreeze. Because of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy said they built flexibility of spending into this years budget. He added there were also low event costs last year, due to holding events primarily online.
Dumouchel said that the event would not have gone forward without the university’s contribution.
“The precondition of going forward with the event was that the university had to at least commit to covering $80,000.”
The Gateway requested a comment from the university on where the $80,000 came from out of their own budget, but they were unable to provide the information in time for publication.
Dumouchel said this contribution lowered the financial risk of the event, but that the UASU knew there would be some remaining risk contingent on sponsorships and donations.
“But we were always aware that was a risk. And we were comfortable that we could absorb it within the existing budgets.”
The goal for donations and sponsorship revenue was $50,000, but the actual amount ended up at $15,000. The Gateway asked for clarification on how much the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) donation was. According to Dumouchel, it was $10,000.
Haruun Ali, arts councillor, expressed his disappointment with the sponsorships falling short of budget.
“When you put on an event like that, you should know the sponsorships beforehand. We should not be finding out a couple weeks afterwards that sponsorships fell through by $35,000. It’s absolutely astonishing to me that it’s a … increase from $10,000 to $50,000.”
More support for Campus Food Bank discussed
Chanpreet Singh, an engineering councillor, said that what he has being hearing from his constituents was less concern about how much the UASU contributed.
“It’s more that this event, overall cost $144,000 … when it comes down to it, it wasn’t a good use of the money overall.”
Ali made a similar comment, and said that “during a cost of living crisis, this is not fiscally responsible. Students and the public are rightfully criticizing us.”
He read out several comments from students, several of which mentioned the Campus Food Bank struggling to keep pace with double the demand this year.
Abner Monteiro, UASU president, said that events like BTR play an important role on campus.
“Community on campus — which is part of our mission in holding events — is extremely important for mental health, for boosting morale, to ensure that students feel part of this campus,” Monteiro said. “This is one element of supporting students on campus just as supporting the Campus Food Bank is.”
Monteiro added that the UASU is doing work to support the Campus Food Bank, but can do more if councillors want that.
“I want everyone to understand we are very, very actively advocating to support the Campus Food Bank.”
He mentioned that they “heavily subsidize” the Campus Food Bank’s rent, cover their custodial costs, subsidize their renovations, and do their payroll.
“And if council would [like] us to look at donating money, we can absolutely do that, too. There’s no question about that. And none of us are going to argue against doing that.”
Ali also asked if dodgeballs and t-shirts were branded with the year, so that they could not be reused in future years.
Dumouchel said the dodgeballs were not, and that he believes they will be reused in Campus Cup, but that t-shirts were dated because “they’re a keepsake for people and people like them.”
Councillors raise concerns about financial transparency
Councillors discussed various ways to increase fiscal transparency going forward.
Dumouchel said that while there “are some things that we need to improve in how the budget process works … we’ve had a pretty good record over the years.”
“I want to emphasize that of all [Students’ Unions] that I’m aware of in the country, our financial statements are actually the most transparent.”
Ali said he does not agree with that claim.
“We are not one of the most transparent organizations when it comes to finances, the [Alma Mater Society] is,” he said, referring to the students’ union at the University of British Columbia.
“Whenever one of the executives bring a proposal, the first question I’m gonna ask is: how much money does it cost? Because I no longer have any trust in them when it comes to the financials,” Ali said.
Milan Regmi, an education councillor, also spoke to this point by raising a specific example from a council meeting in April when capital projections were presented along with the budget. The capital projections budget had several lines left blank. Regmi said when he looks at section 765 for AntiFreeze, “blank, I don’t see any anything — I do not think that is transparency.”
Dumouchel said that Regmi was correct. “We can provide that level of detail, that’s not a problem. I mean, that’s what’s been sent to council since before I got here — I agree with you, there are some problems with that.”
“Those are legitimate and open and great conversations to have. My point about the transparency is not that we’re perfect in that respect.”
Ali asked Monteiro if he knew the cost of this event when it was presented to council.
Monteiro reiterated that only $10,000 of the UASU’s budget was allocated for this event, and that the decision was made based on what experts at the Students’ Union had told him, with the degree of financial risk in mind.
“We would have never approved an event had it cost students … $145,000,” he said. “We’re also students. I represent all the students at this university, and I want to ensure that their money is being spent responsibly as well.”