DOVER — With neon lights and music electrifying the skies over Dover Motor Speedway and the roar of the crowd splitting the air, the Firefly Music Festival capped off a successful decade of drawing thousands of eyes to Delaware.
The four-day music event drew tens of thousands of attendees to Dover for a festival of rock, pop, rap and EDM music, capped with headliners like Halsey, Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Dua Lipa. Since Firefly was launched in 2012 — and now run by iconic Coachella producer AEG Presents — Kent County has held a position, center stage, in the spotlight.
TikTok, a video-based social media site, has 11.6 million videos for “Firefly Festival 2022.” Google Trends shows that “firefly music festival Dover” hit peak popularity on Sept. 25, the last day of the festival, with searches for the address as a common search query.
BrandMentions, a social media mentions search tool, found that “Firefly Festival” hit a 1.2 million reach in the past week, as of Tuesday, with 500 mentions. The Firefly Festival hashtag itself reached more than a quarter million people in the past week.
This was also the second year in a row that Firefly live-streamed the event, with its inaugural live-stream effort netting 100,000 viewers at home. AEG Presents has not yet released the attendance numbers for this year’s festival.
“Obviously, Firefly has really tapped into the social media networks to reach that millennial and younger demographic. What’s really interesting is that the trends really show that this demographic is more interested in experiences rather than goods and ownership of items,” said Sri Beldona, the chair of the Department of Hospitality and Sport Business Management at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.
Beldona specifically highlighted Firefly’s launch of an exclusive offer of one non-fungible token (NFT) for all wristband holders at the festival. Through its partnership with Autograph, the Web3 brand co-founded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, each NFT tier offered a specific perk, like VIP weekend passes, ferris wheel rides, merchandise and more.
“That’s an interesting development because you’re taking the brand and offering a digital aspect to add to that experience,” Beldona said. “It’s just the right way to reach across audiences of all demographics that go to the event.”
For Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, Firefly’s presence in central Delaware has been well-accepted by the community, and a welcome addition to its tourism offerings.
“I’ve been to six or seven of them, and I like to people-watch, really. You’d be surprised to see a lot of people in their 40s and 50s among the crowd, sometimes camping to keep an eye on their kids,” the mayor said.
With NASCAR races at the Dover Motor Speedway facing declining attendance in the new millennium, leading to the loss of one of two of its annual races, Firefly came at the right time to fill a quickly-created gap in the city’s tourism market.
“Firefly has been a godsend for Dover, especially since the loss of NASCAR events,” Christiansen said. “Now that we’re losing races to the new NASCAR model, Firefly has been a great supplement — and when they started to bring national and international acts, it’s been a huge driver.”
With scores of festival-goers opting to camp on the grounds, Kent County grocery stores, liquor stores and gas stations may see a bulk of the dollars spent within the county. A 2014 study reports that $68 million was spent in buying goods and services in the region, or roughly $850 per guest. There has not been an updated economic study on Firefly’s impact done since.
Firefly Festival has been such an economic engine, in fact, Dover and Kent County do little to market itself. Kent County Tourism Corporation President Pete Bradley said his organization doesn’t have to do much to supplement the attention the festival draws naturally.
“Firefly does it so well by itself. Our website does have information, but we don’t do paid click ads. It pretty much sells itself,” Bradley said. “We’re thrilled to have them.”