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With some of the strictest and long-lasting lockdowns worldwide during the pandemic, Australia was closed to international touring for well over two years.
Now that things have finally opened up again, demand for events is very strong, with venues looking ahead to their busiest years since the record-breaking times of 2018 and 2019. But there’s some choppy water still to be navigated.
As trade body Live Performance Australia CEO Evelyn Richardson noted in June: “Before Covid, our industry was a vast ecosystem of small, medium and large businesses, sole operators and tens of thousands of performers, artists, creatives and technical crew. We’ve lost billions in revenue plus thousands of people across the industry and now face a severe skill and labour shortage, the worst ever experienced by the industry in living memory.”
ASM Global is the leading operator of arenas in this part of the world. Group director Tim Worton oversees the Qudos Bank Arena, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, RAC Arena, and Newcastle Entertainment Centre.
He says: “International touring is finally resuming in Australia, after a 27-month Covid-enforced hiatus, making us one of the last territories to restart the overseas acts. State borders only fully opened when the Western Australian border opened in March 2022, and New Zealand (an important leg in an Australasian tour) only opened fully in July.
“We’ve lost billions in revenue plus thousands of people across the industry and now face a severe skill and labour shortage, the worst ever experienced by the industry in living memory”
“So, we started to finally ramp up from late June with Disney on Ice and concerts from Tyler, The Creator, Gorillaz, KISS, Dua Lipa, Kings of Leon, Michael Bublé, Keith Urban, Kendrick Lamar, and Chris Rock and Billy Eilish, among others.
“It was looking frantically busy in Q4 of 2022, but with internationals needing certainty over their routing back in late 2021 and early this year, a number of them elected to take northern hemisphere options instead and defer Australia until 2023 – and in some cases, 2024.
“As a result, 2023 is shaping up to be the biggest concert year since the boom years of 2018 and 2019. Ticket sales are strong for most shows going on sale, so we feel that this is still a strong and lucrative market that will continue to attract the majority of major international touring artists.”
At the Brisbane Entertainment Centre (cap. 500-14,500) in Queensland, general manager Trish McNamara says Chris Rock’s performance in August 2022 will be the first international artist at the venue in over two years. During the pandemic, while the venue was allowed to open, it hosted non-traditional events such as becoming a Covid vaccination centre or a set for filming movies.
“International touring is finally resuming in Australia, after a 27-month Covid-enforced hiatus, making us one of the last territories to restart the overseas acts”
“Is the live entertainment market healthy? In short, every sign to date is, yes; there will be a strong rebound and optimism for a solid return to a ‘new normal’ with a similar event schedule in-line with pre-Covid activity,” she says
However, in common with much of the industry, not only is the venue facing staff shortages there’s increasing costs of living, interest rate hikes and the potential for an oversaturated market competing for people’s hard-earned money.
“The ‘hot’ shows with big-name artists will continue to sell strongly,” she says. “The key to success will be in the planning of on-sales and ensuring that hirers aren’t competing for the same dollar at the same time – they need to leave enough time for fans to replenish their bank accounts.”
The venue is planning to make improvements to its accessibility, plus adding online ordering.
“2023 is shaping up to be the biggest concert year since the boom years of 2018 and 2019”
On the west coast of the continent is Perth’s RAC Arena (capacity range 2,000-16,500). General manager Michael Scott says fans have been waiting a long time to see their favourite acts and believes people have a strong appetite to reconnect and that the venue is “well positioned to make a comeback to pre-Covid levels.”
Scott predicts supply chain issues will continue over the coming period, and although the event calendar has started to settle, “we do have some work to do on winning back public confidence after a tumultuous 24 months.”
With 20% of the Australian population identifying as having a disability, RAC Arena is upgrading physical aspects of the building, as well as introducing new guest services. “We realise that accessibility is not a destination but a journey and are looking beyond simple compliance. We see the chance for real growth in this space and are aiming for best practice, so that everyone feels welcome to enjoy live entertainment.”
He says a silver lining of the pandemic was that the venue could tackle tasks that required a little more time. “We have taken advantage of the quieter period over the last couple of years to enhance the venue and its services. In collaboration with the Autism Association of WA, we have built a safe space we call “the quiet room,” which patrons can retreat to if they are experiencing a sensory overload during an event.
“Is the live entertainment market healthy? In short, every sign to date is, yes; there will be a strong rebound and optimism for a solid return to a ‘new normal’ with a similar event schedule in-line with pre-Covid activity”
“We have also introduced a permanent Parent Room, which has dedicated change tables, feeding spaces, and bottle preparation appliances.
“Additionally, we undertook a significant LED light retro fit, which included full replacement of the existing sports lights.”
The venue can now offer a larger selection of venue modes to suit a broader range of events. It will soon be launching a new in-seat ordering service, meaning people order food via a website from the comfort of their seat. They will then be notified once the meal is ready to collect, reducing their time away from the live entertainment.
Artists performing at the venue include Florence + The Machine, Michael Bublé, KISS, and The Killers.
At the Qudos Bank Arena (21,389) in Sydney, general manager Steve Hevern says ticket sales for the majority of shows are strong – particularly for family shows such as The Wiggles and The Harlem Globetrotters, which sold over 10,000 tickets each.
“The key to success will be in the planning of on-sales and ensuring that hirers aren’t competing for the same dollar at the same time – they need to leave enough time for fans to replenish their bank accounts”
“Monster Truck Mania has also achieved incredible attendance numbers of 23,000 for each of the past two years. We are also seeing a continuance of positive ticket sales for hip-hop/rap, indie and pop acts, with The Kid LAROI (two shows, more than 30,000 tickets); Kendrick Lamar (two shows, 20,000+); Tyler, The Creator (two shows, 25,000+); Billy Eilish (three shows, 40,000+); and Dua Lipa (two shows, 30,000+) leading the way. As Tim has already mentioned, 2023 is shaping up as being a bumper year.”
Qudos Bank Arena added a corporate offering called The Terrace in April, and Hevern says it has proved to be a popular addition, with half of the available seats already sold. A boom in the use of QR codes during the pandemic led to the implementation of in-seat ordering for catering.
The venue is now 22 years old, and Hevern says while it’s still in good shape, there are some elements that need upgrading, including replacing ticketing infrastructure to include hand-held scanners, turnstiles and pedestals – all with near-field communication (NFC) technology.
Also managed by ASM Global is Newcastle Entertainment Centre (7,528), situated some 160km miles from Sydney. It’s looking ahead to shows by Steel Panther, Michael Bublé and Jimmy Carr.
In the south of Australia, Melbourne & Olympic Parks oversees Rod Laver Arena (16,000), Margaret Court Arena (7,500), John Cain Arena (11,000), and others.
Opened in 1988, the Rod Laver Arena is a stalwart of international touring and has forthcoming shows with Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Tame Impala, and Andrea Bocelli. Along with Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena it underwent significant upgrades as part of the AU$972m Melbourne Park Redevelopment, which started over a decade ago. Margaret Court Arena has seen recent performances from YUNGBLUD, Gorillaz, The Strokes, and Liam Gallagher.