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The annual guide to the global live entertainment ticketing business
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Bushfires, floods, a pandemic: Australia’s live music industry has felt the full force of mother nature and had some rotten luck in recent years. As the market heads into its typically busy hotter months, business is set to boom. And with this “new normal,” a new set of problems have emerged.
For artists, industry professionals, and the ticketing industry, it’s several giant strides forward, a few steps back.
Australia’s live business is back, after two years locked in deep freeze. Though nothing has been smooth about the reopening of borders in this country, a federation of states and territories, each guided by their own set of rules. Each of the three main east-coast cities scaled back restrictions at different stages, and the state of Western Australia kept its borders persistently shut while others prised open.
Those inconsistencies dampened the 2021-22 summer season, though promoters and venue operators and ticketing agents are anticipating a blockbuster return with the arrival of the warmer months.
“We had a surge of sales in the last ten days”
The biggest test since the start of the pandemic would arguably come during the Easter long weekend in 2022, and the return of Bluesfest in Byron Bay. Featuring a line-up stacked with local acts, Bluesfest shifted more than 100,000 tickets, with upwards of 15,000 changing hands in the week prior to showtime, explains Bluesfest director Peter Noble (Bluesfest maintains an impressive database of hundreds of thousands of fans and followers).
Organisers budgeted for 80,000, with the hope of 85,000, tempered by several waves of flooding in the area. “We had a surge of sales in the last ten days,” Noble reveals. “People waited to make sure we didn’t get cancelled again before they bought a ticket.”
TEG, owner of Ticketek, one of Australia’s two leading ticketing businesses, led Pollstar’s list of Australia’s Top 10 Promoters with US$31.8m (€31.7m) and 485,988 tickets sold. “We are in great shape,” TEG CEO Geoff Jones tells IQ. “Calendar 2023 is really strong with international and domestic tours, with the calendar for 2024 looking stronger again.”
Ticket sales took off in March 2022 “as we got clarity around international touring with borders reopening, high vaccination rates and massive pent-up demand from fans wanting to get out and enjoy the magic of the live experience again,” Jones continues.
“Calendar 2023 is really strong with international and domestic tours, with the calendar for 2024 looking stronger again”
Frontier Touring expects to see records tumble. “It’s definitely shaping up as one of the strongest years,” the concert specialist’s CEO, Dion Brant says of the upcoming summer. “2018 was a great year for us as well, this is shaping up as on-par with that at least, maybe even bigger. There’s a lot of pent-up demand with consumers, a lot of pend up demand with acts.”
VALUE OF MARKET
The action-packed summer to come is following a dead zone for touring. According to Live Performance Australia’s 2020 Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report, contemporary music – generating over 50% of total revenue across all live performance – was rocked by the health crisis. The category, which accounts for rock, pop, and hip-hop concerts, posted revenue of AU$309m (€211m), down 63% compared with 2019; and attendance of nearly 3m, a year-on-year shortfall of 65%.
The tough times continued deep into 2021. During the month of December, typically a peak period for live music activity, business was at just 6% of the pre-Covid period, based on APRA AMCOS’ live performance data.
“It’s fair to say that in Australia and NZ, we have turned the corner,” says Adam Wilkes, president and CEO, AEG Presents Asia Pacific, whose company has strengthened ties with Frontier Touring. “There’s an incredible flow of tours going on.”
“There’s an incredible flow of tours going on”
Among those tours are forthcoming open-air runs in 2023 by Ed Sheeran and Elton John. Either or both could get to the 1m ticket sales milestone, something only one artist has done before – Sheeran with his 2018 Divide trek.
As business revs up, Frontier Touring, the concert giant built by the late Michael Gudinski, has undergone a restructuring and executive reshuffle, designed to “ensure the legacy, mission, and culture of Frontier is preserved and nurtured,” a company statement reads.
Music fans are hungry. Business over the next 18 months will be “incredibly robust,” notes Harley Evans – managing director of Moshtix, an affiliate of Live Nation, which handles ticketing for Splendour in the Grass and many other Australasian events. “We’re seeing major tours being announced on a weekly basis, and current sales trends suggest that these events will perform well.”
Music fans are hungry. Business over the next 18 months will be “incredibly robust”
The rate of tickets held for postponed shows is roughly 70%, notes Zac Leigh, CEO and co-founder of ticket marketplace Tixel, a figure that depends on matters such as the artist, the cost of the ticket, the promoter’s refund policy, and how they communicated with ticket holders about their options. “We’re also in the middle of a real cost-of-living crisis that has seen some people need to liquidate their assets,” he says.
One workaround is if the event organiser has a resale strategy, he notes, which enables ticket holders to “feel more secure knowing that they have an easy pathway to recoup their funds if they can’t make the rescheduled date, and they’re therefore more likely to hold their ticket versus immediately requesting a refund.”
Despite the hardships of the past two years, Australia’s music community got a welcome boost when Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party seized power at the May 21 federal election, booting out a Liberal government that was largely tone-deaf on issues relating to contemporary music.
Albanese and his arts minister, Tony Burke are live music fans and both made their way through the mud at Bluesfest 2022. Burke will be expected to work with the music industry on a three-point plan and has made a commitment on a national insurance system
for those live events scrubbed by the pandemic. He has also pledged to work on a national solution to protect consumers and the industry from ticket scalping, which remains a problem.
Viagogo, for years the scourge of the local live industry, is currently the focus of an investigation for “possible breaches” of Western Australia’s Ticket Scalping Act.
The state’s anti-scalping laws came into effect on 10 September 2021, making it illegal to resell a ticket to WA concerts and events for more than 110% of its original price. The government was tipped off by consumers on steep mark-ups for Billie Eilish and Justin Bieber concerts, among other shows.
“At least 10% of ticketholders aren’t showing up to the concerts, which affects spend for bar, merch, and can result in overstaffing”
The pandemic has also coughed up several new dilemmas. Late sales, no shows, and critical staff shortages are some issues that are affecting Australia’s live business.
Michael Chugg, the chairman of Chugg Entertainment, part of the Mushroom Group, and a member of the senior leadership team at Frontier Touring, admits there’s “probably too much” inventory in over spring and summer, “but all of our tours are selling well.” Though, he adds, “At least 10% of ticketholders aren’t showing up to the concerts, which affects spend for bar, merch, and can result in overstaffing.”
DISTRIBUTION OF SALES
Though rogue agents still operate, technology has made the ticketing experience close to seamless, says Gavin Taylor, MD of Ticketmaster Australia.
“The full-scale adoption of digital tickets has made a significant impact on the industry, providing the most convenient way for fans to receive and transfer their tickets,” he tells IQ.
With the 100% adoption of digital ticketing, “our partners can engage with fans like never before, providing tailored communications, engagement, upsells, and unique experiences that really drive fan connection and satisfaction,” he continues.
“The full-scale adoption of digital tickets has made a significant impact on the industry”
Pricing tools and tech-powered insights can also be passed on to partners throughout the live music chain. Ticketmaster, part of Live Nation, continues to “push innovation,” Taylor notes, through partnerships with Snapchat and TikTok, to reach and engage with broader audiences. “We are also seeing how NFTs can add value to the fan experience by providing rewards for attendance and a digital keepsake to memorialise those amazing event experiences.”
In a quirk of the Australian market, legacy venue agreements see Ticketek and Ticketmaster together commanding the lion’s share of the ticketing market.
“With the increase in costs of living and the risk of potential lockdowns, people are being cautious with their spending”
It’s a situation, says Flicket co-founder and CEO Ben Calvert, that is driving promoters to pursue greenfield sites with limited restrictions. Flicket, he says, “doubled down” on investment in customer service and technology during the pandemic.
“With the increase in costs of living and the risk of potential lockdowns, people are being cautious with their spending and are delaying purchasing resulting in difficult forecasting for promoters and increased risk for the multitude of shows on offer,” he adds.
“This is why having an exclusive relationship with fans is more important and having flexibility with payment options is key.”