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Publication

Market Report: United Kingdom

The annual guide to the global live entertainment ticketing business
Click the interactive map below to explore the top 40 global markets

In a year that seems likely to stand alone in the modern story of live music, the UK is in a hand-over-fist scramble to manage the tidal wave of supply and demand that has hit the major concert markets after Covid – and there is no European market much more major than the UK.

If 2022 proves to be the brief but fun-loving interval after the Covid storm and before the economic disaster, no one can accuse the concert business of not making full use of the moment. But the unholy scramble of rescheduled and new events means this might well be the hardest the business has ever worked, and often for a relatively slim return.

 

PRIMARY TICKETING

Ticketmaster, See Tickets, Gigantic, AXS, Eventim, NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory, Ents24, Skiddle, DICE, and the rest – in terms of the sheer number of substantial players, the UK is the most crowded market in Europe.

Ticketmaster is comfortably the biggest of those in the UK, and it sees no sign of the wave breaking just yet. “The demand for live music continues to reach incredible highs, and this summer’s sold-out run of stadiums and festivals already points to another massive end-of-year season of on-sales for 2023,” says Ticketmaster UK managing director Andrew Parsons.

“The demand for live music continues to reach incredible highs”

In a market scrambling to keep up with the sheer volume of events, this year at least there has been plenty to go round for ticketing companies.

“There is a lot of product out there – not just music, but sports and events,” says NEC Group’s director of ticketing Richard Howle. “The first quarter of this financial year has been our best Q1 in terms of ticket sales for six years.”

Reading a market that contains demob-happy post-Covid spending power alongside rising inflation – not to mention an apparently imminent recession and any amount of potential economic fall-out from the pandemic, Brexit and Putin’s war in Ukraine – is the challenge that the live market faces.

“Combined with the cost-of-living crisis, that is the biggest challenge for the industry: a lot of product competing for an audience who are having to make difficult spending choices,” says Howle.

“After the pandemic, investing deeply in what makes the fan experience great is hugely important”

Every ticketing company has its own idea of what the future requires. Most agree that smart use of data will play a big part.

“After the pandemic, investing deeply in what makes the fan experience great is hugely important,” says DICE global head of music Andrew Foggin. “If we look at London, we’ve seen a huge rise in ticket sales for events with a real community focus. Partners such as Recess, DLT Brunch, Pussy Palace – all are understanding their audience and ensuring they have a good experience on every level.

“By building this understanding authentically, there’s less reliance on headline artists to drive ticket sales. These partners can communicate directly with their fans through DICE. They can accurately understand demand when shows sell out and grow strategically over time.”

 

DISTRIBUTION OF SALES

“I feel like a broken record saying this, but it’s mobile all the way and it has been for some time now, even pre- pandemic,” says Parsons. “The benefits are undeniable, and the industry gets it.”

The majority of Ticketmaster-ticketed outdoor events this year have been 100% mobile in the UK,” he adds, citing “a rich array of sold-out large-scale outdoor shows including Trnsmt, Sam Fender, and George Ezra in Finsbury Park, and a first-time all-digital Radio 1 BBC Big Weekend.”

Eventim UK co-managing director Martin Fitzgerald wholeheartedly concurs. “Mobile is the most popular way to receive tickets, without a doubt,” he says. “Every single ticket we sold for Ed Sheeran was delivered via the Eventim app and there were no issues whatsoever, plus none were sold on the secondary market.”

“It’s mobile all the way and it has been for some time now, even pre- pandemic”

AEG-owned AXS was honoured with the Live Music Innovation of the Year prize at the 2022 Music Week Awards for its AXS Mobile ID ticket, which as well as offering secure personalisation allows customers who purchase from other agents to instantly receive and access their tickets through The O2’s venue app.

The technology was launched in August at The O2’s first full-capacity live event after Covid, when 17,000 NHS workers watched Gorillaz. AEG has called AXS Mobile ID “a game- changing technology in a normally siloed industry.”

 

VALUE OF MARKET

In 2021, the music industry directly contributed £4bn (€4.7m) to the UK economy, according to UK Music. That’s a steep climb from 2020’s £3.1bn (€3.6bn), but it’s still going to be a long way back to 2019’s record valuation of £5.8bn (€6.7bn). There is a recovery in progress – assuming it can withstand the cost of living crisis – but there has been damage too, with 52,000 fewer people working in the UK music business in 2021 than at the pre-Covid peak of 197,000 in 2019. “The effects of the pandemic are still there and they will be for another year,” says Howle. “We still have rescheduled shows and festivals to get through, some with tickets that were issued nearly three years ago.

“The effects of the pandemic are still there and they will be for another year”

“Not only is that operationally messy, but it is proving to be a barrier for some buying new tickets – they still have a number of events to go to before they will invest in buying tickets for others. No-show rates are still a hot topic for event organisers and venues. ‘Yes, we’re sure the scanned figure is correct’ is perhaps the most used phrase in ticketing this year.”

 

SECONDARY TICKETING

Personalised mobile tickets have given artists the tools to edge secondary platforms out of their supply chain, as demonstrated by Ed Sheeran and others who have successfully used various app-based systems to control the ticketing in various large venues around the world.

“It is definitely possible to prevent it now in the UK, where there is a will to do so,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.

While this aspect of the technology war appears to have been won, the UK-based campaign against online ticket touting continues to debate with Google the prominence that sites such as Viagogo are able to achieve with misleading search advertising.

But in practice, the furore around secondary ticketing has largely been usurped this year by the furore around dynamic pricing, as consumers have found it isn’t just Viagogo that wants to sell them startlingly expensive tickets.

“It is definitely possible to prevent it now in the UK, where there is a will to do so”

The consumer reaction to the practice, pioneered by Live Nation in the name of “get[ting] all of that secondary into the primary bucket for the artist,” in the words of the company’s president and CEO Michael Rapino, is yet to become entirely clear.

For all the Twitter outcry, there’s no denying that dynamically priced tickets for premium shows, most notably Ticketmaster’s Platinum tickets, have so far tended to sell.

But critics of the practice suggest that dynamic pricing is effectively a case of artists, managers, and ticketers borrowing scalpers’ clothes, with no benefit to the fan other than the fact that the inflated ticket price – which is distinct from a straight-forward expensive ticket as it rises on the basis of demand, similar to Uber’s surge pricing – is now going back to the artist.

Furthermore, says Webb, the model appears to depend on sites such as Viagogo setting a “market rate” for in-demand tickets. “The push for dynamic pricing as an antidote to secondary ticketing is quite an American solution, because obviously it is inflating prices,” says Webb. “Whether the market is prepared to tolerate that in the long term is another question.”

 

INTERNATIONAL / DOMESTIC SPLITS & GENRES

The UK is one of only three countries in the world – after the US and Sweden – that exports more music than it buys from overseas, with a ratio of 2:2. On the live front, of course, Covid has recently had something to say about that, and Brexit will continue to do so. Just as UK bands report tour-scuppering red tape on the road in Europe, so some international bands are said to be skipping the UK for similar reasons, but the UK remains a melting-pot market, attracting most of the best of what is globally available.

 

CULTURAL ANALYSIS

Something that should concern the industry as a whole is the ongoing threat to grassroots venues, says Parsons. “According to the Music Venue Trust charity, we have lost more venues in the last year than we did during the pandemic,” he says. “Unfortunately, the challenges venues are facing across the UK have not decreased despite the reopening of live music. Without these venues, home-grown talent has nowhere to hone their craft and work their way up to the arenas and stadiums of tomorrow, impacting the entire live ecosystem.”

 

TAXES & CHARGES

At the beginning of the pandemic, the government reduced VAT on tickets to 5%, but the Treasury hiked the rate back up to 20% at the end of March, despite the impact of the pandemic on the business and on grassroots venues in particular.

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd has consistently appealed the issue. “The choice is clear: the government can cut VAT on concert tickets to 5%. Or they can stop pretending that they have any intention of supporting the creative industries or of making Brexit work for us,” he wrote in Music Week in March.

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