A Cape Town drive-in concept sold hundreds of non-refundable tickets, but is still not open

Business Insider SA
An ad for Mother City Drive-in. (Facebook)
  • Mother City Drive-in garnered extensive media coverage after announcing its plans to launch a high-tech drive-in entertainment experience.
  • But until it can comply with legislation, it is unable to operate.
  • Current legislation does not allow for public gatherings - which is how officials are viewing Mother City Drive-in's current event style.
  • This is despite cinemas and other entertainment venues being eligible to open, under strict conditions.
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A Cape Town company looking to reignite the entertainment industry with drive-in style movies and live entertainment has sold hundreds of non-refundable tickets - and yet has been unable to open due to lockdown restrictions. 

Mother City Drive-in has garnered extensive media coverage and a large social media following under the promises that it will launch a high-tech drive-in experience that features comedy, live music, and films in a socially distanced and safe environment - but until it complies with legislation it is unable to operate. 

Although cinemas and other entertainment venues are currently eligible to open under strict conditions, current legislation does not allow for public gatherings - which is how officials are viewing drive-in style events such as the Mother City Drive-in. 

“There’s no category for it, and they say it’s an organised public gathering,” says organiser Lyle Masters. “But so is going to the casino, so is going to the supermarket.” 

“Unfortunately what we’re struggling with now is we have to go through an event permit [application process] - even though we’re a registered business as a drive-in theatre, the only route forward is through an event permit. The police will not give us a risk categorisation, and without a risk categorisation, we’re struggling,” he says. 

Mother City Drive-in says it has all the pieces in place to launch their drive-in style movie and live entertainment offering - including all-weather LED screens, interest from performers, and extensive safety documents - but government is holding them back. 

“Our whole vision is to get people working again, and unfortunately the government is simply not engaging. They see it as something that it really isn’t, and they just are refusing - there’s obviously something going on here,” he says. 

Mother City Drive-in has not yet released any details of their offerings - with no mention of potential venues, lineups, and technology setups have not been released to the public, though. 

But despite of uncertainties around if or when the company will be allowed to operate, the company has been selling non-refundable tickets for more than a month. 

Ticket costs are broken down as follows: a hatchback, sedan or similar with the driver and one passenger will set you back R249 per event; an SUV, 4x4, mini vans or similar with the driver and two passengers will cost R349. Any extra passengers – within legal limits – will cost R99 each. 

“Tickets are already on sale, and we’ve already sold out quite a few shows,” says Masters. “If you look at a regulation limiting events to 50 people, then we’ve sold out about eight shows already.” 

Assuming all of these sales are for the cheapest tickets for smaller vehicles, with no additional passengers, this means that the company has already sold close to R100,000 in tickets. 

“We’re putting tickets on sale and saying ‘trust us’. We’ve been very honest saying we don’t have a date yet, we don’t have much information to give you, but if you want to support the initiative then go ahead. And the response has been overwhelming,” says Masters. 

To date, the company’s Facebook page, which features renderings of possible drive-in setups and links to favourable media coverage, currently has more than 12,000 followers. 

Masters says the proceeds from these ticket sales have gone towards things like public liability documents and licensing. 

“We’re paying for all of those things at the moment. Should it not materialise, which I highly doubt, then we’re not horrible people, we will do a refund to a degree, of course,” he says. 

In spite of the uncertainty, Masters says the ticket sales are going to keep rolling over, “because if we have to go the lawyer route and all the rest, that’s going to cost money. But this is going to happen - even if it happens at Lockdown Level 1.” 

Masters suggests there might also be incentives for the early adopters who are still waiting on lineups, dates, and venues and pitch up at the performances - such as sponsors’ gift packets, extra tickets, or snacks at the shows. 

“If the state of emergency [national disaster] is lifted on the 15th then we’re looking good. We have all the documents in order to submit, but no one [in government] really wants to commit at this stage. But it would take 15 working days [once permitted] to open - our goal is to open by the 24th of July.” 

A post on the Mother City Drive-In Facebook Page in mid-June encouraging ticket sales said dates, venues and line-ups to be revealed soon, but Masters doesn’t want to make any commitments to these just yet, in the event that the company is only allowed to trade at Level 1 lockdown regulations. 

“That could be months from now - at which point the venues might have changed. But we’ve got our locations, we’ve got our equipment, and we’ve got our key staff training ready to go.” 

Still, Masters is optimistic, and he sees their drive-in concept as an important tool to help resuscitate the entertainment industry - and assist those citizens who have struggled under lockdown conditions. 

"There's a PTSD that will come with this lockdown, eventually, and that’s what we're trying to avoid for so many people. [We’re] not only just feeding the temporary workers who get involved with our festivals and events, not only feeding the artists and musicians who can perform their crafts, but it's also about society having that outlet," says Masters.

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