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Arena Market: Latvia

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While not the largest arena in the Baltics – that’s the 20,000-cap Žalgiris Arena in Lithuania’s second city Kaunas – ArenaRiga nonetheless accommodates a very useful 14,500 in its biggest configuration, and as such sometimes noses ahead of neighbours such as Tallinn’s Unibet Arena and Vilnius’s Avia Solutions Group Arena whenever artists come to the region with time in the schedule for just one capital city. In practice, it is not unusual for all three Baltic markets to get a piece of the bigger international arena tours.

Arena Riga chairman Girts Krastins reports a particularly strong late spring, with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship – which Arena Riga shared with the Nokia Arena in Tampere, Finland, and in which Latvia came third – taking up much of May.

“Arena Riga and the Latvian live entertainment business is starting to bounce back from the Covid-19 years and the war in Ukraine that strongly affected 2022,” says Krastins, who represents Arena Riga on the board of the European Arenas Association.

“Arena Riga and the Latvian live entertainment business is starting to bounce back from the Covid-19 years and the war in Ukraine that strongly affected 2022”

“In general, we are experiencing steady growth in the number of shows, but at the same time, attendance is not always aligned to this steady increase. Some of the shows struggle, while others are selling out quicker than in 2019 – 50Cent, for example. But overall, we feel that 2023 is and will be a solid year, giving much needed relief after 2020, 2021, and 2022.”

Looking into the autumn, Arena Riga anticipates Louis Tomlinson’s globe-straddling Faith in the Future Tour, hit-making Latvian party blokes Bermudu Divstūris, Belarusian alternative duo Bi-2, and two 50 Cent shows with Busta Rhymes.

All the same, the experience of recent years is an antidot to complacency, and Krastins notes that this winter, like last, could be tough. “I believe we are not out of the woods yet, as the winter season approaches with uncertain energy and heating prices. Last winter, for all venues, was hard and took all the resources that were saved up after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. At the same time, local promoters are going strong, and the market supports their effort, especially for recognised and established artists and festivals.”

“I believe we are not out of the woods yet, as the winter season approaches with uncertain energy and heating prices.”

Needless to say, Latvia’s geographical and social proximity to Russia remains a complicating characteristic of the market: 36% of people in Latvia speak Russian, while a quarter of the population identifies as ethnic Russian. The government staunchly opposes the invasion – though Latvia and Russian speakers differ widely in their sympathy for Ukraine – and lawmakers have removed Soviet-era monuments, blocked Russian TV and are planning to eliminate Russian from the school curriculum, as well as from airports, train stations, and other public spaces.

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