San Francisco Opera. Smell the dirty laundry?

Fully aware that I'm just stirring the pot with this post, I'm going to go ahead and give in to the desire I've always had of being a muckraker.

Since I previously ranted about San Francisco Opera's million-dollar budget cut largely being carried out on the backs of their administrative staff, I thought I would do a little digging around to see what else is going on over there. It isn't pretty and those latest cuts come on top of some made last year at the expense of the same folks.

As a non-profit (i.e. charity) SFO is required to maintain open books as far as the financials go, so it's easy to see where the money's going, or in this case, being blown. I looked up the 2008 Final Audit for the company and the thing that seemed most incomprehensible to me were the media costs.

By their own definition, these are "Expenses related to the Association’s new electronic media department and activities,which include OperaVision, LobbyVision, radio broadcasts, simulcasts, cinemacasts and DVDs."

According to the company's financials, in fiscal year 2007 SFO spent $716,853 on these activites and items.

For 2008, the number was $3 ,876,204. The math: an increase of more than 3 million dollars. Yeah. A three million, one hundred-fifty nine thousand and change in a year. Can you say "wtf"?

And for what? Oh yes, let's review: OperaVision, LobbyVision, radio broadcasts, simulcasts, cinemacasts and DVDs. Tell me, San Francisco Opera enthusiasts- are high-def close-ups of singers for the cheap seats worth it? How about those mid-day, non-live cinemacasts at the Castro, which have already been dumped as a loser? What DVDs? What radio broadcasts? Do they mean those months-later leftovers that show up on the otherwise opera-void KDFC? That was worth 3 mil?

Now, I don't know how much of that figure goes for "Opera at the Ballpark," which I do think is a great and successful idea. But it's also probably underwritten all the way, and if not, more shame should be spread. So the question here, to my mind, is who the hell signed off on this and why?

Yeah, it's too late now to save that cash and the contributions to the 401ks of SFO's administrative staff, but didn't someone on the board do some due diligence? Who is responsible for keeping Gockley in check? And by the way, I don't mean to trash the board, because they have really stepped in with some cash lately, even though that's why they're on the board in the first place. But really. If you go to Charity Navigator and start comparing the efficeincy rates and salaries for opera companies across the U.S., I think the conclusion you'll draw will be close to my own. Look at Houston's (Gockley's former home for over thirty years with a miserable overall efficiency rate of just 37.66) numbers vs. the in-dire-seriously-straits NYCO's (a 60.05 rating) and you too may get the sinking feeling that SFO needs a new direction- and fast.

I'll post more on these numbers and my interpretation of them in future posts. In the meantime, if you want to dispute them, say I have no idea what I'm talking about, call me an ass, whatever, please do- by all means!