In recent weeks, it feels like I have been writing about pretty serious topics here – HS2, social value, fraud, failures in local government procurement in the UK and the like. So a story I saw recently was attractive as a topic because it wasn’t a matter of life, death or wasted taxpayer money. It was however (allegedly) about a waste of multi-millionaire rock star money. It was also an illustration of a key point that is forgotten surprisgly often when we’re writing specifications and talking to suppliers.
The band Coldplay has gone through an interesting critical trajectory. The hip and trendy NME made A Rush of Blood to the Head album of the year in 2002; but over the years, many started seeing them as purveyors of somewhat dull, middle-aged music. I’ve always thought they were fine songwriters although recent material is a little MOR for my tastes. But what no-one can deny is the level of their success – over 100 million albums sold and still the 14th most listened to band on Spotify today.
For some 22 years, their manager was Dave Holmes. Little is known about him, but more is coming out now as he and the band are busily suing each other. He started legal action in the summer, claiming £10 million from Coldplay in commission on earnings that (he sasy) they have not paid him. But the counter-case from the band is looking for £14 million from him, saying that he has wasted millions of their money.
And this is where it gets Bad Buying interesting. Much of the claim is around preparation for the huge global Music of the Spheres tour, for which Holmes held ultimate responsibility. By the way, that tour took $617.8 million in ticket sales alone. (Ever thought you are in the wrong business?) The band claims that costs escalated and say that equipment was not suitable or was bought at inflated prices. As the Times reported;
Examples in the claim are eye-watering. They include, “16 bespoke stage pylons” for lighting and video that, it allegedly soon became apparent, would be unjustifiably expensive to even use. However, it was too late — €10.6 million had already been chucked at the pylons.
A “visual project known as Jet Screen” was commissioned for $9.7 million, with a huge chunk of that cost, the band claim, personally authorised by Holmes. The problem was that … the dimensions given to the manufacturers for the Jet Screen were wrong — and it was too big. It was only used for ten concerts in Buenos Aires.
Yes, it’s another “Irish government printer” faulty specification story! In the Bad Buying book, we have the case study of the Irish government buying a state of the art printing machine that simply did not physically fit into the building that was supposed to house it. That was a reminder that sometimes getting the specification right is not a matter of highly complex technology or difficult outcome-based definitions – it can be as basic as the physical measurements!
The Times draws a parallel with the classic Stonehenge scene in the best comedy film of all time, Spinal Tap, where the band commission a model to use on stage – and when it is delivered, it turns out to be tiny. But in this case, the Jet Screen was just too big.
Holmes is also accused of not opening “the shared online Dropbox which contained the designs for the Music of the Spheres Tour at any time between August 2020 and February 2022”. Rock and roll madness right there! More interesting is his relationship with Live Nation, the promoters of the tour. Holmes had taken loans from Live Nation at what look like preferential terms and the band say he owed some £27.5 million when he was negotiating terms for the tour with the firm. This, say Coldplay, was an inherent conflict of interest, and if those facts are acccurate, that does have some validity in my opinion. It is an interesting situation without a doubt – I certainly wouldn’t want one of my procurement managers negotiating with a supplier if she owed them money.
So we’ll see what happens next. And just remember, if you’re buying anything in the equipment line, just make sure you know how big you really want it to be! Many elements of the specification may be much more complex in many situations, but let’s face it – size really does matter.