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Is the touring boom hurting festivals?

With A-list artists skipping festivals in favour of their own headline shows, where does that leave everybody else? IQ investigates

By James Hanley on 03 Aug 2023

image © RWT London Press

Leading promoters have spoken to IQ about how the boom in huge stadium tours and outdoor concerts is impacting festivals.

In an industry first, a record five tours – Taylor Swift ($300.8 million), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ($142.6m), Harry Styles ($124m), Elton John ($110.3m) and Ed Sheeran ($105.3m) – grossed more than $100m (€913m) in the first six months of 2023.

Earlier this week, it was revealed Styles, who headlined last year’s Coachella, grossed close to $600m overall with his recently wrapped 2021-23 Love On Tour. And with stadium runs by the likes of Coldplay, Beyoncé and The Weeknd sure to impact the rankings for the second half of 2023, Pollstar declared “the age of the blockbuster tour is upon us”.

With summer historically reserved for festivals, and touring more consigned to colder months, the recent boom in stadium shows puts A-list tours and the outdoor season head to head. With greater financial return than a festival appearance, the ability to play to more fans and complete control over a show’s production, it’s easy to see the appeal.

So with A-list artists increasingly skipping festivals in favour of their own, what’s the impact on festivals, and what does that mean for those lower down the food chain?

“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music. The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts”

Courrier International reports that attendance at Dreamhaus’ Rock im Park in Germany, which was topped by Kings of Leon, Die Toten Hosen and Foo Fighters, fell to 75,000 this year, having attracted 90,000 in 2022, with expense cited as a factor. According to trade association BDKV, the average price of festival tickets in the country is up 15% on 12 months ago due to rising costs.

FKP Scorpio reported more positive news, with its twin Hurricane and Southside festivals – headlined by Muse, Die Ärzte, Placebo and Queens of the Stone Age – coming close to selling out, pulling in crowds of 78,000 and 60,000, respectively. FKP MD Stephan Thanscheidt accepts that bigger acts often prefer to play solo shows, but believes the festival sector retains a unique selling point in a changing market.

“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music,” he tells IQ. “The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts – therefore, the demand for well thought-out festivals remains high, even in economically demanding times.”

Eva Castillo, communication director for Last Tour, promoter of festivals such as Spain’s Bilbao BBK Live and Cala Mijas, and Portugal’s MEO Kalorama, says there is no reason both scenes cannot continue to coexist and thrive.

“They go hand in hand and are compatible with each other,” says Castillo. “A festival is an experience that goes beyond music, featuring both well-known and emerging artists in a venue that has its own distinct characteristics.”

“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect”

Over in Australia, Christian Serrao, co-founder and managing partner of Melbourne-headquartered Untitled Group, says the explosion of outdoor music spectaculars has had a “noticeable impact in flooding the market”, affecting festivals and diverting people’s spend on entertainment.

“Our one-day festivals face more challenges than camping festivals,” he contends. “We are finding that people are seeking the immersive camping experience, which allows them to connect with nature and create lasting memories beyond music performances.

“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect. These shows often require a significant investment from attendees, which can take a toll on people’s wallets, especially considering factors like inflation and the rising cost of living. As a result, people have become more selective in the events they choose to attend.”

The trend has prompted the firm to think outside the box and make strategic decisions, like booking Nelly Furtado for an exclusive show at its flagship festival Beyond The Valley.

“To ensure the success of our festivals, we focus on creating distinct experiential brands,” adds Serrao. “Our marketing emphasises the unique selling points like location, stage design, art installations, and activities such as workshops. For instance, [the festival] Grapevine Gathering offers a winery experience with live music, vineyards, and wine tasting.

“Some stadium shows cost around $400, comparable to our camping festivals, which provide four days of music, art, and camping—an irreplaceable immersive experience. Festivals set themselves apart from big stadium shows by offering experiences beyond music.”

“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap… It’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals”

AEG Presents UK Steve Homer admits to being taken aback by the sheer volume of “high quality stadium shows” around Europe this summer, and feels it is inevitable that others will suffer as a result.

“We’re not talking the odd date – people like Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Arctic Monkeys are doing large numbers of dates, which is really impressive, so I do think it has an impact on available money,” he says. “No matter what people say, the cost of living is a real issue and it’s expensive to go to shows at that level. We’ve all gone through the rigmarole of increased costs from transport, to fuel, to everything else.

“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap and obviously the ticket price has to reflect that in some way. I think it’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals.”

The 20th anniversary edition of Live Nation’s Download Festival, however, became the fastest-selling in its history, offering headline sets Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot and Metallica, with the latter playing two unique sets on separate nights. AEG’s London concert series BST Hyde Park also enjoyed a record year, shifting around 550,000 tickets for gigs by Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Blackpink, Billy Joel and Lana Del Rey – plus two nights each from Pink and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

“Download had its best year ever, but that’s a very genre specific event, and British Summer Time is more like a big stadium show than a traditional festival,” argues Homer. “But we may see some of the more boutique festivals struggle if people have been going to these mega stadium gigs and it will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the summer.

“It’s great that these things are happening, but there is a finite amount of money and I think we’ll see the pinch somewhere. Whether it’s smaller festivals, whether it’s theatre tours, people just don’t have the money.”

“The top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected”

As promoter of Isle of Wight Festival and MD of Solo Agency, John Giddings has a foot in both camps. IoW 2023 was a 55,000-cap sellout, and Giddings, who has worked on Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball and Beyoncé’s Renaissance stadium dates for Live Nation over the past couple of summers, has a hunch is that if anyone loses out, it won’t be the festival business.

“People are prepared to pay a load of money to go to something they know is going to be fantastic, but they might not go to one or two smaller gigs,” he tells IQ. “I haven’t seen much evidence of it yet, but it does worry me to an extent because the top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected to be honest.”

Elsewhere in the UK, last weekend’s Kendal Calling, which starred Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood, was a 40,000-cap sellout. Andy Smith, co-MD of the Lake District festival’s promoter From The Fields, says the season appears to have been a mixed bag across the board.

“On the grapevine, I hear a bit of difficulty with the newer shows and the generally less established ones,” says Smith. “If you were just making do previously, it sounds like it’s a struggle now. But if you were doing well previously, it seems to have got better. So it does seem to be more more extreme one way or another.”

“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales”

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) previously revealed that its members are on course to attract a total audience of 3.3 million to their events in 2023. The trade body represents the interests of 105 UK music festivals, including GreenBelt, El Dorado, Deershed, Valley Fest, End of The Road, Pitchfork London, Field Maneuvers and We Out Here, and AIF CEO John Rostron says he has seen “no evidence” that big ticket gigs are affecting festival sales.

“What we are seeing with gigs of all sizes this year is a new trend for very last minute sales,” he adds. “It looks very likely that last minute buying is a trend, though ‘last minute’ for festivals tends to be a few weeks before, rather than the day before, as people need to plan their travel, camping and the like.”

Meanwhile, Dany Hassenstein, booker of Switzerland’s Paléo Festival, reports the 2023 Nyon event sold-out in record time, aided by a line-up headed by Rosalia, Indochine, Martin Garrix and Black Eyed Peas.

“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales,” he tells IQ. “Probably because there are no stadium shows in our immediate market.”

Recent research by economist Will Page using data from PRS for Music found that the portion of spend on live music by UK consumers had grown hugely when it came to both stadium shows and festivals – from 23% of the total market in 2012, to 49% in 2022.

Evidently, fans are spending more of their money on bigger shows, whether that’s festivals or stadium tours. And with Page noting the club market has also grown over the last decade, where that leaves traditional theatre and arena shows – as part a much bigger pie than 10 years previously – promises to be equally revealing.


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