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Rising costs belie positive sentiment in 2019 Festival Report

A heightened emphasis on sustainability and wellbeing characterised the 2019 European festival season, as escalating prices failed to mar positive signs for the future

By Gordon Masson on 07 Jan 2020

European Festival Report 2019

Download Festival was among those to introduce new welfare initiatives in 2019


image © Matthew Higgs

More than half of respondents to the European Festival Report 2019 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual health-check of the continent’s festival sector – consider the business to be in good shape, despite artist fees and a perceived lack of headliners continuing to act as bugbears for many.

Continuing the trend first seen in 2018, when the market began its return to normality following a turbulent few years, a majority of those who contributed to 2019’s survey reported business being good – with only a third of the 100-plus respondents saying the market was ‘static’ (16%) or ‘worrying’ (15%).

However, nearly 13% of the surveyed festivals opted for the ‘other’ category to describe the current state of the business. (Responses suggested the market is “overhyped”, “something between healthy and worrying” and “unprofitable”, though another said: “Our very existence means it’s OK.”)

Jasper Barendregt of FKP Scorpio, one of Europe’s biggest festival operators, explains: “A lot is happening in the market. One is under the impression that the market is saturated, but then suddenly a new festival arises out of the blue and attracts a significant amount of guests.

“There is a great need for existing festivals to stay in sync with their audience and their demands”

“There is a great need for existing festivals to stay in sync with their audience and the demands that they have. Failing to do so is a risk and can result in declining spectator numbers.”

Artist fees are once again pinpointed as the biggest issue affecting business, both in 2019 and for the next five years, with a lack of suitable headliners, competition from other festivals and the economic climate also highlighted as key concerns for many.

Last year saw a ticket price hike of 3.5%, bringing the price increase for festival tickets over the past decade to 78%. Significantly, 2019 marks the first year that fans paid over €200 on average for tickets to European festivals.

The average capacity of events dropped very slightly in 2019, down 0.6% from the year before. Yet, in 2019 the average attendance rate relative to capacity rose by nearly 15% from the year before, reaching 87.4% and indicating that 2020 could see audience yield approach 2016’s record of 90%.

Last year saw a ticket price hike of 3.5%, bringing the price increase for festival tickets over the past decade to 78%

Another positive sign for the future comes with the level of innovation shown by festival organisers in 2019, with green initiatives, technological developments and welfare efforts all appearing high on promoters’ priority lists.

Germany’s FKP Scorpio introduced a “giant metal-magnetising clean-up truck” to “sweep campsites” clean after the event. The truck will be enlarged in 2020, tripling its cleaning capacity. Mojo’s Lowlands festival is also embarking on an exciting sustainability project, with plans to develop a “50-hectaresolar-power plant”.

Cashless payment systems were the norm at an increasing number of events in 2019, with other notable tech including Wireless Festival’s new virtual reality experience and Shambala’s blockchain-based festival app.

Initiatives such as on site psychologists at Exit Festival in Serbia, mindfulness sessions at UK festival Download and a staff ‘quiet room’ at Lollapalooza Berlin helped ensure the welfare of both fans and workers at many European events.

“The bottom line is that festivals are about tradition”

Addressing delegates at the International Festival Forum during his keynote interview in September, veteran promoter Herman Schueremans (Rock Werchter) suggested that some of his festival colleagues and peers were maybe being economical with the truth when it comes to the health of the business, ticket sales and event profitability.

Expanding upon those remarks, he explains: “People very reluctantly might admit that they are suffering, but I think it’s maybe time that they start to face reality. I liken it to a parent who will do anything for their children – give them the food out of their mouth – and that’s also how people can be with their festivals.

“In the end, though, things like this happen every decade: more festivals are launched and the competition becomes really fierce before natural selection kills off some of the events and the business goes into a new cycle. In recent times, there have been a lot of people who do not have our festival DNA launching events because they see this as the new El Dorado.

“But the bottom line is that festivals are about tradition. Maybe it’s about brands in the USA, but in Europe it’s more about cultural heritage, and in the end it’s those events with history and heritage that invest in safety and the service they give to the audience, that will survive.”

 


Read the European Festival Report 2019 here:


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