Longwood University spent approximately $7.3 million on hosting the 2016 vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, expecting $1 million in reimbursements and sponsorships to lower the final cost to $6.3 million.
According to Copeland, all funds were taken from Longwood’s reserves and will be paid over the next two fiscal years, which are typically used for capital projects.
Through the debate, the university reported it received an estimated $83.3 million worth of media exposure, according to the report presented by Vice President of Administration and Finance Ken Copeland at the Dec. 2 board of visitors meeting.
“Our name is historic in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, but where presidential politics are concerned, Longwood’s got a cool little niche carved out in history. This is the Longwood debate,” said Copeland.
In an interview with Copeland and President W. Taylor Reveley on Oct. 14, Copeland said the budget was originally $5.7 million, after subtracting the $1 million in sponsorships and reimbursements. Ultimately, the costs of the debate exceeded the university’s budget by approximately $600,000.
“Part of what makes it a several million dollar endeavor to make it happen is that there’s no entity that’s purely in control. There’s the commission, there’s us, there’s the secret service, and they’re all jockeying and all have needs at the end,” said Reveley.
The money was spread across three areas of expenditures: media engagement, national television production and facilities and public safety, according to Copeland.
The majority of the money went toward facilities and public safety, as the university was required to construct the debate hall and furnish the media filing center. According to the budget presented on Oct. 14, the university budgeted $3.5 million toward facilities and public safety. The final cost exceeded its budgeted mark by $300,000.
“We really wanted to take this opportunity and make that most of it that we could,” said Reveley.
According to Copeland, Longwood saved an unquantifiable amount thanks to volunteering from public safety officials across the state, though the university still paid for the hours of the Longwood University Police Department and Farmville Police Department, as well as pay for the volunteers’ lodging and food.
“It would be at best a difficult thing to quantify is all the actual hours not only for our employed staff, but for folks like yourself who volunteered. There’s a monetary value that you certainly could have assigned to all of those hours,” said Copeland. “To actually put a dollar amount on the people … it would be a monumental effort on itself.”
The school also had to rent the security fencing surrounding the vice presidential zone requiring credentials to enter.
Regarding facilities, Copeland said Longwood hired Freeman Company after sending out a request for proposal on May 16, 2016. Freeman was the lowest bidder of 7-10 respondents, and had worked on the 2016 Democratic National Convention. They also had experience working for other universities’ political campaign events, including the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.
Copeland said the company was expected to receive a portion of the $3.5 million facilities budget as well as “a couple hundred thousand” of the media engagement budget. Freeman provided furnishings, carpeting and staging for the media filing center and the debate hall to lease, as well as consulting services.
Copeland said, “You might’ve been to Willett Gym, but if you were blindfolded and taken there, you wouldn’t have recognized it.”
Media engagement was expected to cost $1.3 million, covering costs associated with advertising, creating the media guide and VP Jubilee festivities on Stubbs Mall on Oct. 14. The final total also surpassed the budgeted mark by $300,000.
The cost of the Commission of Presidential Debate’s domain satellite transmissions and designs for the debate hall were promised to the commission when Longwood accepted their role as a host site. The promised $1.9 million didn’t fluctuate between the budgeted and final reports.
Looking at the value of the university’s media exposure, the university attempted to quantify the amount in terms of print, broadcast, online and social media. At least $68.3 million of the valued $83.3 million came from broadcasting and online media.
“You can’t buy that,” said Copeland on Oct. 14, referring to the amount of media exposure the debate brought the university and the town through major news networks like Fox, MSNBC and CNN. “We made sure the name recognition was etched into the minds of the viewers at some point that day.”
He added, “We didn’t allow the enormity of the event to intimidate us. We didn’t know all of the detail when we were awarded the debate. We had no clue exactly what it was going to entail to prepare and deliver on Oct. 4, but I’m proud of Longwood.”