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Having bounced back strongly post pandemic, French promoters are enjoying a prosperous 2023, at the top end of the market, at least...
By IQ on 13 Mar 2023
France is a market of depth and contradictions. It is a major battleground of the global corporates and a bastion of committed independents; a key part of the global touring network and a unique market with distinctive national characteristics; a destination with Paris at its heart but also harbouring a trove of fertile regional cities, from Lyon to Lille, from Nantes to Nice.
Like all markets, it has weathered the heartbreaks and ground out the long-awaited triumphs of the past three years, and for now, things are going well again, albeit with the same caveat as everywhere else: they are going a lot better for the big shows, the urban festivals, and the superstar artists than for the medium-sized tourers or the up-and-comers. Still, it’s an improvement on 2020/2021.
“We have something like 20- 25% more shows than pre-Covid,” says Nicolas Dupeux, CEO of Paris’s 20,300-capacity Accor Arena. “For sure, it is quite difficult because the economy is not easy – with the cost of energy, with the cost of labour, the challenge of finding materials.
“But at the same time, there is a great appetite for shows. Madonna will be coming back in November, and tickets will be expensive. NBA is the same, and UFC – quite expensive. But people want to feel emotion, and they want to be back in live venues.”
Across town, the comparatively new kid on the block, Paris La Défense Arena, is having a similar experience, with Bruce Spring- steen, Pink, Céline Dion, Stromae, The Who, and Imagine Dragons on the schedule for 2023.
“We have something like 20- 25% more shows than pre-Covid”
“If we directly compare the behaviour of ticket buyers in 2022 – post-Covid – versus 2023, there is definitely a change,” says Paris La Défense Arena director of programming Raphaëlle Plasse. “Sales have generally gone up, and the consumer seems less hesitant in buying a ticket.”
“Overall, ticket buyers are a little bit more selective, probably due to the event offering being so diverse, but when they decide to buy, they are not afraid to purchase at a high ticket price. In fact, we have seen that the top ticketing categories sell out much quicker than the lower ones. Last-minute sales have also dramatically increased.”
Paris is, of course, a giant in the French live market, with most of its live-focused businesses and a 12m-strong metropolitan area that dwarfs its next-biggest equivalent – Lyon and surroundings – by almost six-fold. However, among France’s secondary cities, Lyon is arguably the jewel, but it is certainly not the only healthy regional market.
“One of the strongest markets is Lille – that’s a really good one because it benefits from its geography,” says AEG Presents head Arnaud Meersseman. “Belgium sits alongside it, and a lot of Parisians go that way a lot.”
“Also, Brittany in general is a really strong market, and Nantes particularly is a great town for shows. You will often end up doing better scores there than in Paris. Brittany is the region where the Front National does least well, because people live well over there. It’s a very musical region.”
“We have seen that the top ticketing categories sell out much quicker than the lower ones.”
In recent years, PRODISS/EY has put the overall economic impact of live music at €4.9bn in France, with 39% of that concentrated around Paris. The live industry itself was worth €1.5bn pre-pandemic, of which around half was ticket sales, and the success of larger shows at least suggests a sizeable rebound.
“If someone had told me last year that we would be where we are right now, I would have signed up in a minute,” says Matthieu Drouot, who steers his legendary late father’s big-hitting indie Gérard Drouot Productions.
“We are not dealing with Covid restrictions anymore, and the ticket sales are better again. It was a bit slower last spring when we started again, but since October, November, we are really back to where we were before Covid.”
Nonetheless, whatever happens this year, it should be noted that, with the Olympics up ahead, summer 2024 is going to be a tricky one.
“If someone had told me last year that we would be where we are right now, I would have signed up in a minute.”
In addition to the impossibility of stadium concerts in July and August, the capital’s leading festivals remain in suspense about the availability of security over the same period, given the Olympics’ own requirement for 30,000 police and gendarmes per day.
“We had a working meeting with around 40 festivals at the Trans Musicales in Rennes in December, and they are unanimous: after two blank years linked to the health crisis in 2020 and 2021, a new cancellation would not be bearable,” Aurélie Hannedouche, director of the Union of Contemporary Music told Le Parisien earlier this year.
Solutions have accordingly been found for most of the French festivals taking place during the Olympic period, though larger Paris-based festivals including Lollapalooza and Rock en Seine are still in talks.
“It’s been two to three months since the government mentioned the risk for big events like us,” says Rock en Seine general manager Matthieu Ducos. “First of all, they were very, very strict, and they told us a lot of big events would be cancelled if they don’t change their dates. Then they softened their position a little bit.”
“So, things are moving in the right direction, but we need to work with the local authorities to see what security is available. And we need to know before March because that is when we put the first options for talent for 2024.”
“A new cancellation would not be bearable.”
In the meantime, the maelstrom churns on, with the sense that, if or when things ever settle down again, someone needs to do something to increase the pull of the small and medium acts left behind in the surge for the biggest, hottest tickets.
“It’s very hard for the up-and-coming artists – very hard. And it’s hard for the middle acts that have been touring for 20 or 30 years,” says Clotaire Buche of booker and promoter Junzi Arts, which represents a stable including Drag Race France, Woodkid, and Riopy.
“In the States, they are used to doing co-bookings of big acts so they can keep touring and have full venues. It is an idea we have been suggesting to some acts, but it has not been accepted in France so far.”
As the seventh-biggest economy in the world and a lynchpin of the European touring network, France is a market of great significance to global corporates, and Live Nation and AEG, as well as diversified French giants Fimalac and Lagardère, have made a comfortable home in Paris – the uncontested capital of the French live biz – in recent years.
Live Nation operates the Lollapalooza and Afropunk festivals in the capital, as well as I Love Techno Europe in Montpellier, Main Square in Arras, and Marsatac in Marseille. Among its bigger headline shows this year are Madonna, Metallica, Chris Brown, and Sam Smith.
AEG Presents, meanwhile, has lately presided over the resurgence of the Rock en Seine festival, which recently confirmed Billie Eilish as 2023 headliner.
Other AEG highlights this year include Robbie Williams, The Offspring, Ateez, Snoop Dogg, Björk, and Blackpink at the Stade de France, a first Slam Dunk festival in Lyon, and 180,000 tickets worth of rescheduled Céline Dion shows across six nights at Paris La Défense, originally sold in 2019 and previously cancelled in 2020 and 2022.
“Hopefully, she plays those this time,” says Meersseman. “We can’t move them again, with the Olympics in 2024.”
“We can’t move them again, with the Olympics in 2024.”
Among the striking features of the current market is just how supercharged sales for the right international artists can be.
“[Korean boy band] Ateez, we are almost 22,000 tickets in – two Accor Arenas. Previously, they sold 9,000 tickets in Paris. Same with Snoop Dogg. He never played to more than four or five thousand in Paris, and we have an arena, 14,000 tickets, sold out, easy-peasy.”
But even in a market with apparent spending power, Meersseman is not expecting 2023 to come easy.
“There’s a lot of shows, and in 2022, we didn’t have the inflation we have now. So, this year is like 2022 but worse. It’s going to be tricky to navigate again. All the big things we have gone up with are okay, but it’s only January.”
“So, this year is like 2022 but worse.”
Among France’s other leading promoters are longstanding independents such as GDP and Alias Production. Alias has a busy 2023 roster that includes Lewis Capaldi at the Accor Arena in February, as well as The Kooks, Maya Hawke and, with AEG, Robbie Williams at the Accor in March.
GDP, meanwhile, has sold-out shows for Bruce Springsteen and The Who in the can this year, with Megadeth, and ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons and Buddy Guy among the slightly more modest names.
GDP remains proudly independent, though inevitably there have been opportunities to jump the fence. “When my father was alive, we had conversations about it,” says Drouot. “I think at one point we were perhaps welcoming the idea of perhaps joining a corporate company.”
“But we came to the conclusion that we just didn’t see the benefit of it. If someone had come in and said they would buy the company at a good rate and we would secure six or seven years of business, then maybe we would have done it. But if someone comes in with a low offer, you think: why should I sell?”
“Right now, I’m happy to be an independent. It’s not always easy, because you’re up against Live Nation and other corporate companies, and they do world tours and I don’t, but there is so much talent out there and so much audience. I don’t think corporates can do everything, and there’s room for an independent like me to be successful.”
“Right now, I’m happy to be an independent.”
Equally ambivalent is Salomon Hazot, formerly of Live Nation and Nous Productions, who recently left an alliance with Vivendi and currently works alongside AEG.
“There are a few independent companies in France still and those independent companies will of course survive because not every act wants to work the same way,” says Hazot.
“And also because French acts are more important here than some big touring act. Like Italy, like Spain and Germany, France has a big local market, and the local business is very powerful.”
“And also because French acts are more important here than some big touring act.”
Fimalac Entertainment is strong in French-language talent, with Stromae, Mylène Farmer, Angèle, Florence Foresti, Tiakola, Gazo, and Roméo Elvis among its 2022/3 tours. The group also operates two festivals – Les Ardentes and Pianomania – as well as numerous touring family entertainment shows.
Promoters within Fimalac include Pascal Bernardin’s Encore Produc- tions, Charles Bensmaine’s Auguri Productions, Gilbert Coullier Productions, and Reno Di Matteo’s Anteprima Productions.
Among France’s other national promoters is Because Music’s Corida Group, which includes Corida itself, The Talent Boutique, PiPole and, since 2018, Super!, which promotes and produces festivals including the multi-venue Pitchfork Music Festival Paris, Villette Sonique in the city’s Parc de la Villette, and the multi-genre MIDI Festival in Hyères on the Mediterranean coast.
Junzi Arts has operated for a decade but last year encountered a remarkable success with its Drag Race France events, spun off from the local version of the TV hit.
“It is basically a new market,” says Buche. “It used to be that drag shows were only in nightclubs and bars, and now we will sell 5,000 tickets in Lyon. We don’t just have the queer fanbase – it goes to everybody. That’s the great thing. The shows are a big celebration.”
“We don’t just have the queer fanbase – it goes to everybody.”
Meanwhile, in February last year, Speakeasy’s Jean-Louis Schell teamed up with Paris rock venue Supersonic to create a new promoter, Take Me Out, with a focus on breaking fresh talent.
Anthony Chambon’s Opus Live maintains a roster of more than 40 artists, including international acts All Time Low, Pvris, and Enter Shikari, and French artists such as Cloud, Landmvrks, and Black Lilys.
In addition to its national operators, France supports numerous local and regional players; for shows outside Paris, national promoters depend on a wide array of local specialists who know their cities well.
“Some shows you can run from Paris as a national promoter and do on your own if it is a star who can expect to sell quickly just with domestic marketing,” says Drouot.
“But if it’s a show that needs more time and more energy to reach where we want them, then you will use someone in Marseille, someone in Toulouse.”
AEG acquired Rock en Seine in 2017 in partnership with media investment group LNEI, and the event’s new alignment with Lon- don’s All Points East, among other factors, has contributed to the post-Covid rebirth of the festival – and in a sense, of Paris as a festival destination.
“It’s a weird thing,” says Rock en Seine general manager Matthieu Ducos. “You know, France is a land of festivals.”
“You have, I don’t know, thousands of festivals all around the country during the summer, but really in Paris for a long time we didn’t have any big music rock festivals. You had some in Brittany, also in the east of France, in the south, but when Rock en Seine started in 2003, it was the only rock festival in Paris.”
“Since then, Lollapalooza and We Love Green started also, but considering the importance of the city and the potential audience of the region, it was weird that we didn’t have any big festivals like this before.”
“You know, France is a land of festivals.”
Now, the ruthless efficiency with which major artists chase the money through the biggest markets has spun the market in favour of capital city fests, Ducos believes – and Rock en Seine claims Billie Eilish’s only French date to prove it.
“It’s harder and harder for regional festivals to get those artists – even if those festivals are really big, they have a lot of fans and a large crowd every year – because the talent fees are rising so much for multiple years now, and in France, maybe we don’t have the same money to spend.” he says.
This year, some of the bigger regional festivals may feel they can refute that argument – Les Vieilles Charrues, in Carhaix, western Brittany, has Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rosalía, Blur, and Robbie Williams.
Though others, such as Les Eurockéenes in Belfort, have a notably less Anglophone line-up than in past years, with French acts such as Indochine, Orelsan, Gojira, and Lomepal among its prominent featured artists, alongside Skrillex, Wet Leg, and Sigur Rós.
“And in France, maybe we don’t have the same money to spend.”
This year, in Clisson, Loire-Atlantique, GDP will stage its gigantic Hellfest event across four days, with Kiss headlining and Slipknot, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, and Iron Maiden on a packed bill, having sold out 60,000 tickets for each day in around an hour.
Last year, Metallica closed a deluxe post-pandemic edition that stretched across two weekends, but not every year can be 2022, notes Drouot, with just a tinge of regret.
“It was fine when we’d had nothing for two years, but it’s difficult to convince the community to do two weekends for two years running,” he says. “But it’s a good proof of the continuous growth of the festival.”
Hellfest remains the number-one festival in France in terms of attendance.
“It’s difficult to convince the community to do two weekends for two years running.”
Vivendi’s Olympia Production also plays a strong hand in festivals. In 2018, it acquired 26-year-old electronic and rock event Garorock, one of France’s largest festivals, in Marmande, south-west France.
The 2023 edition will feature David Guetta, Macklemore, and Phoenix. Olympia also owns events including Les Déferlantes and Live au Campo in Perpignan and Brive Festival in Brive-la-Gaillarde.
Other notable names include HIV/Aids association Solidarité Sida’s charitable mega-show Solidays at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, Corida’s eco-festival We Love Green in Paris’s Bois de Vincennes Park, and Les Francofolies de La Rochelle – another French-talent-heavy festival with Soprano, Lomepal, Louise Attaque, and -M- lined up for 2023.
Also building its business on the festival market has been French cashless and ticketing provider Weezevent, which operates across numerous types of events and got a major boost when Les Vieilles Charrues started using cashless systems in 2016 and others followed.
“After that, the majority of them switched,” says Weezevent CEO Pierre-Henri Deballon. “Now, we do most of the big festivals in France, and I would say, in Europe.”
“Now, we do most of the big festivals in France, and I would say, in Europe.”
In March 2021, Weezevent merged with Belgium’s PlayPass to create a single cashless technology supplier with more than 1,200 cli- ents. With around 10m tickets sold in France, Weezevent now sits only behind market leader France Billet.
“2022 was an amazing year in terms of figures. It’s been complicated because after all the shows started again there was such a level of activity that it was just crazy, but we succeeded. We grew our team from 100 to 140, because it is not just about technology – you need account managers, and you need to use the data and create value.”
Covid didn’t happen at the right time for anyone, but for new arenas – cavernous, expensive spaces that exist to contain crowds – the lack of audiences was particularly tough.
Inaugurated in October 2017, Paris La Défense Arena is touted as Europe’s largest multifunctional venue, with a capacity of 10,000 to up to 38,000 for concerts, sports events, and corporate events, and there is a sense that the arena is once again going up through the gears.
“There is still a lot of excitement around the venue because we haven’t reached our full potential yet,” says Plasse. “The public coming [to] Paris La Défense Arena are still curious to discover the venue.”
Though the Arena remains fresh, it is already changing. “Even though we have finished building only a couple years ago, we are working on increasing our maximum capacity to 45,000,” says Plasse. “To this day, we are still in our launch phase and haven’t yet discovered the venue limitations.”
“There is still a lot of excitement around the venue because we haven’t reached our full potential yet”
As well as being Paris’s incumbent arena, the Accor Arena is these days part of a group, newly christened The Paris Entertain- ment Company, that also contains the legendary Bataclan theatre and the new 9,000-capacity Adidas Arena currently being built at Porte de La Chapelle in north-east Paris for the 2024 Olympics.
“The venues are quite independent of each other, but they all have the same DNA, the same team, the same objective, the same sustainability programme,” says Dupeux.
The Bataclan, of course, has a tragic significance due to the terrorist attack that took place there in 2015, killing 90 and wounding more than 200, including Meersseman. Dupeux is conscious of the responsibility.
“Our vision is that we need to build a new story for the Bataclan, which does not forget the history but projects the Bataclan into the future. We want to position it as the home of rock in Paris.”
France also has other new venues to get excited about. In addition to the eagerly awaited LDLC Arena in Lyon, Orléans recently gained a new 10,150-cap arena, CO’Met, which opened in January operated by GL Events, with handball, concerts, and other entertainment events on the menu.
“We want to position it as the home of rock in Paris.”
Historically, a defining feature of the French touring network has been the Zénith franchise of buildings, a network of theatre-style spaces across France with a broad capacity range.
At the higher end is the 12,709-capacity (but heavily scalable) Zénith de Strasbourg, where the upcoming schedule includes Stromae, Michel Sardou, Lomepal, M. Pokora, and cult veteran Michel Polnareff.
Fimalac is strong in this sector of the market, operating 21 concert halls in France – including the Zéniths in Nancy, Dijon, Strasbourg, and Rouen; the Silo in Marseille; the Fémina theatre in Bordeaux; and the Arènes in Metz – which collectively host more than 1,500 events per year.