Numerous challenges last year led to soft ticket sales in the Gulf countries, but there’s a well of untapped potential out there, says Dubai Arena's Thomas Ovesen
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With Live Nation's recent launch in Israel, Adam Woods learns that optimism for the future is driving investment both in the Mediterranean and the Gulf states
By IQ on 01 Mar 2017
Live music disappears quickly in times of war and turmoil, and even at the best of times it finds no outlet in parts of the Middle East. But between the music-hungry city of Tel Aviv, the expat-driven markets of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar and the dedicated promoters of Lebanon, there are oases of touring opportunity in this complex region.
In the past decade, Dubai and Israel have been the most actively entrepreneurial markets in the Middle East, though both have had their challenges in attempting to balance the limited spending power of a relatively small gig-going population with the cost of bringing in the talent and staging the show.
Promoters in Tel Aviv can be heard to complain that their city is too small a market for the artist fees they face, and, as in so many cities, the lack of a sufficiently large indoor arena keeps much of the major touring traffic to the summer months.
In Dubai, similarly high fees, traditionally combined with the cost of setting up an outdoor venue from scratch on a patch of ground in the venue-poor emirate, have seen a succession of promoters fizzle out, unable to make the numbers work.
“If you are living in the Middle East, concerts and culture are necessary”
But both Dubai and Tel Aviv find themselves the object of ambitious investment, as the former braces for a clutch of new venues and the latter is identified as a growth prospect by an incoming Live Nation and Ticketmaster operation. Whether these markets are the goldmine those developments might suggest remains to be seen, but improved infrastructure is a good place to start, and both harbour expat wealth and a great, though not inexhaustible enthusiasm for live music.
“Listen, if you are living in the Middle East, concerts and culture are necessary,” says Guy Beser, co-CEO of the newly inaugurated Live Nation Israel, launched in February as a 50:50 deal between the live giant and Beser and Shay Mor Yosef’s Bluestone.
Necessary they may be, but they are not always simple. As you would expect, relative to recorded music, live music contributes a greater share of music industry revenues in the Middle East and North Africa than elsewhere in the world: 90%, compared to around 65% worldwide.
And whereas worldwide nearly a quarter of live music revenues come from event sponsorships, this figure is estimated to be below 10% in the Middle East, leaving promoters heavily reliant on ticket sales, or, as in markets like Abu Dhabi, on occasional state patronage.