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Breaking down touring’s supply chain crisis

Martina Pogacic, Willem Westermann, Okan Tombulca, Maarten Arkenbout and Ollie Gardiner discussed the issues hindering the sector's recovery

By James Hanley on 25 Jan 2022

Crowds gather at Download Pilot for Bullet for My Valentine's headline slot

The supply chain crisis is leading to rocketing costs and a number of high-profile tours shifting to 2023, production professionals have revealed.

Speaking on the closing day of ESNS 2022, Martina Pogacic (Show Production), Willem Westermann (VVEM), Okan Tombulca (eps), Maarten Arkenbout (Pieter Smit) and Ollie Gardiner (Vespasian Security) discussed the myriad of issues hindering the sector’s efforts to return to full strength in the first of a series of three panels which will be concluded at this years ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) on Tuesday, 26 April 2022. The session was chaired by IPM’s Carl Martin.

Asked about FKP Scorpio CEO Stephan Thanscheidt’s claim that two-and-a-half years of shows were being squeezed into the next eight months, Tombulca reported that this year’s bottleneck was starting to ease somewhat.

“There are already a lot of changes,” he said. “Many tours are now postponing to ’23, like Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce… AC/DC haven’t even started because they see the problems which are coming. There is already a shift from ’22 to ’23, so I think it’s getting a little better.

“The problem we see from our end is not that there are more festivals than before. The big difference we see on our end is that the local artists in different countries like in Sweden, the US, Italy and Germany, are all going on tour at the same time.

“Additionally, international artists are going on tour. So it’s not like it’s there are major amount of tours of festivals, it’s not more than before, it’s just usually you have this rhythm of going on tour every three to four years. But now everything is compressed, because everybody now wants to go out in the same year. And I think this is a big problem.”

Tombulca spoke of “a very big band” who were basing their European touring plans for next year around stage availability.

“They have dates, but before they put them into the routing, they check if the stages are available or not,” he said. “And if the stages are not available then they change the date, which is a very new situation.”

“Everybody was thinking, ‘We always make it happen somehow.’ But for the first time ever, as we saw with Adele, we’re not always going to going to make it happen”

He also referenced last week’s postponement of Adele’s entire Las Vegas residency, just 24 hours before the scheduled opening night as indicative of changing perceptions. The singer told fans on social media that “Half my team have Covid and it’s been impossible to finish the show,” adding that “delivery delays” had also impacted her plans.

“What’s happened now is that several big artists [haven’t been able] to get a stage,” said Tombulca. “Everybody was thinking, ‘We always make it happen somehow.’ But for the first time ever, as we saw with Adele, but also in other areas, we’re not always going to make it happen. So the artists, the managers, the agents, the promoters, have to involve the supply chain more in their planning. It’s a big change in attitude.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and other complications such as Brexit has put unprecedented pressure on those behind the scenes. A new report by the UK’s Professional Light And Sound Organisation (PLASA) showed that the lack of work during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns prompted an exodus of freelancers from the business, with 64% finding work in other sectors.  A total of 69% of companies reported a skills shortage, with site crew, riggers, engineers and technicians the most cited. Exacerbating the issue, 50% of freelancers have not returned full time to the business.

Gardiner noted that security and crowd management costs had gone up as a result of the pandemic because of demand outstripping supply – and would only continue to increase.

“We were told by the promoters we were working with that security and crowd management were within their top five [costs]. And it’s been a very long time, in our experience, that we’re anywhere near the top five,” he said. “In the UK, it’s taken Covid to enable us to move those rates northwards. They’ve actually started to understand that the staff are simply not there.

“Whether it’s coming for good reasons or not, the rates are creeping up, but they are not going to stagnate. Inflation in the UK was 5.4% last year, so people need to be prepared for rates increasing, unfortunately.”

Arkenbout suggested promoters would simply have to get used to paying higher prices.

“It sounds a little bit rude, but it’s realistic,” he said. “We understand their problem, but if we want to continue then we have to take steps all together. I’m sure we will find solutions.”

“Promoters will increase ticket prices as much as they can”

“One of the countries where we had events last year was in England,” noted Tombulca. “And I know that certain festivals couldn’t get any equipment in the UK, so they started to bring equipment from the Netherlands and Belgium and Italy and Germany. Even with incredibly high costs, they accepted to pay it, because they realised they had no other choice. It wasn’t any more about negotiating the price, they were so desperate just to make it happen.”

Pointing out that festival ticket prices had risen “by €20 to €30” in the Netherlands due to increased costs, he added: “I think this is a logical next step. Promoters will increase ticket prices as much as they can.”

Westermann added the the growth in other industries was not reflected in the live music business.

“Our ministry of finance says things are growing and we say, ‘Hey, nothing is growing with us.’ And that’s a problem,” he said.

Pogacic, meanwhile, outlined the state of affairs in the Balkans.

“Of course, staffing has always been a problem more or less and now, I would say definitely more,” she said.”in the past three years over 300,000 people left Croatia and went to other countries. And [others] just changed their occupation. Then there is the education element – for the past couple of years we haven’t had the platform or shows to educate the next generation.

“We have a lot of festivals during the summer because of our coast – summer sea, sun, what we like to sell – but I’m really curious how all of that is going to happen.”

European festival and conference ESNS moved entirely online for the second consecutive year, in line with the Dutch government’s latest Covid-19 rules.


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