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.”

VP debate media filing center

Costs for the media filing center and debate hall were covered in the $3.8 million dedicated to facilities and public safety. Longwood contracted Freeman Company to furnish and provide staging.

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.”

(5) comments


It's good to see that the school has a all the reserves in storage for them to host such a large scale event. And clearly now we can see that there's such a big return in terms of the exposure that the school gains on what it's done so far, so much so that I bet all their different units or departments are sure to get more interest next year at intake!


i mean, it's all great and stuff, but was it worth it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11Z_kSG9mqg&t=2s this made me question everything, to be honest


When I first saw the price of covering the debate, I was shocked as the amount is quite substantial even after the $1m rebate they received. However, that is just a small price to pay as compared to the whopping $83.3m worth of media coverage they received afterwards. I guess it is an investment that you are willing to pay in order to reap even higher profits in the end.


There is obviously an initial price to pay before accomplishing the ultimate goal. They need to fork out the eventual $6.3m to gain $83.3m worth of media exposure which in my honest opinion is definitely an investment worth paying for looking at the huge difference in both the sums.


My 2 cents worth on this is that any establishment that wants to host such a large event, has to make sure that they're properly equipped to do so. The whole event can either be a resounding success, with everybody talking about how wonderful the facilities and amenities are, or it can be a huge failure when everybody sees the big mess of an establishment that may be there. Best start inspecting your property and putting all the unsightly things away into the store room if you're thinking of trying this out for your own education facility, me thinks!

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