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As the world’s live entertainment giants continue to gain footholds in the lucrative Swiss market, some established operators are noticing a strain on ticket sales
By Adam Woods on 28 May 2019
Probably the gravest thing you can say about Switzerland as a live music market is that it has all manner of first-world problems.
It’s a fact that not every Swiss ticket sells and not every show is a hit. But in a market of just 8.5 million people, where a vast mass of concerts and festivals nonetheless turned over CHF576m (€515m) in 2017 [source: PwC], saturation will always be a threat.
It’s also true that a market that has traditionally prided itself on its independence is now squarely on the international corporate map, with Live Nation, DEAG, Eventim and AEG all much in evidence. But that’s the way of the world, for better or worse. And in the meantime, plenty of Swiss independents report healthy trading.
This year, by some accounts, feels like a slightly rocky one, if only by Swiss standards. Festival ticket sales are down and a number of promoters are openly steering clear of big, risky events, sensing a softening of demand. And then again, for every cautious projection, you’ll find someone who will happily tell you that business has seldom been better.
Live Nation, for one, is on the up. Ask Live Nation GSA COO Matt Schwarz about saturation and he notes the possibility while making it clear that it’s not yet anything resembling a problem for his business.
“We don’t feel that at all – our ticket sales are exceptional and still growing,” says Schwarz. “Moreover, international acts still love playing Switzerland. However, there has been a huge volume of international tours in the market. Spending capital is available but at some point it has its limits. [But] so far, we have not experienced buying resistance in general.”
“Our ticket sales are exceptional and still growing. International acts still love playing Switzerland”
Live Nation acquired large indie player Mainland Music last December, in a move that gives the corporate a Swiss grassroots presence where it has previously dealt mainly in arenas and stadiums. The year before, it treated itself to a majority stake in Openair Frauenfeld, Europe’s largest hip-hop festival.
“Numbers are constantly growing,” says Schwarz. “With our new partners we have steady feet on the ground to optimise and increase our number of shows, and subsequently our ticket sales.”
Elsewhere, examples of healthy, world-class names are easy to find. Zürich’s 15,000-capacity Hallenstadion is one of the most successful arenas in the world in its size range, while festivals such as Paléo, Montreux Jazz, Frauenfeld and Open Air St.Gallen represent the top end of a huge nationwide offering of outdoor summer music events. By some accounts, all this activity threatens to burst the market’s seams.
“The country is still the same size it was in 2017,” says Good News CEO Stefan Matthey, with a nod to the last time IQ covered Switzerland in detail. “It’s got four languages, which means more or less four different markets, and every field has got its own festival.”
One thing that has changed, on the domestic talent front, is Switzerland’s hipness to new musical trends. “It used to take everything three years to get to Switzerland, and then there would be a wave of Swiss bands that would go nowhere because the world had moved on,” says Stefan Schurter of booking and management agency Deepdive Music.
“Now, people listen to Spotify, like they do everywhere else, and we are no longer two or three years behind the trend. Whereas people used to say [adopts bored voice] ‘oh, Switzerland – that’s the home of Yello and Krokus,’ now it’s, ‘Oh, Switzerland, that’s the home of Sophie Hunger or Zeal & Ardor!’ And there are so many other great Swiss artists now.”
“We can see more and more amazing Swiss artists coming through especially within the last couple of years”
Indeed, agent Théo Quiblier at Two Gentlemen in Lausanne, tells IQ that Sophie Hunger’s Molecules tour is on track to sell 20,000 tickets on headline shows in Switzerland alone by the end of the year. “We can see more and more amazing Swiss artists coming through especially within the last couple of years,” he comments. “Each year, more and more Swiss acts are also touring abroad which is great. There’s also now an agency called Orange Peel Agency, run by two amazing young people, taking care of Swiss artists only. All in all, the future seems to be bright for the Swiss scene.”
With four national languages – French, German, Italian and Romansh – Switzerland could be a recipe for sectarian discord, but in fact it’s generally a model of co-operation. Promoters largely keep to their own parts of the country – German speakers in cities such as Zürich, Bern, Basel and St.Gallen; French in Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux. For shows outside their patch, they work with partners. Many shows are co-promoted, very few promoters operate in isolation and the market is generous but finite.
“Normally, you can do one, maybe two shows in Switzerland for an international artist,” says Stefan Wyss, director of multifaceted, Zürich-based indie Gadget, whose home-grown band Hecht plays the Hallenstadion in October – one of a tiny handful of Swiss bands to rise to that level.
The French part of Switzerland is smaller and doesn’t support as many tickets as the German part, adds Wyss, “but when your artists play there, you need the expertise of someone local. We work with [Sion-based fellow indie] Takk. We promote all their artists here and they promote all our artists in the French part. That’s how we all work – it’s a different market over there.”
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