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2023: A year in trends

Once again, it’s been an eventful 12 months in the global live entertainment business worldwide. And while challenges abound, it’s set to be a record year for many. Whether you took a 12-month sabbatical to a Wi-Fi-free island or were just so busy trying to get through 2023 that you hadn’t noticed the business around you, here’s how the live business changed in 2023…

While 2022 was the biggest year on record for live music, incredibly it seems like 2023 is on course to be even larger, both in terms of tickets sold and box office revenues, driven in no small part by a packed calendar of stadium and arena tours. Elton John’s epic Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour came to an end, setting a new world record for box office grosses – $939.1m – as 6m people witnessed the 330-show run over a five-year period, thanks to the coronavirus postponing the majority of those dates.

However, with Beyoncé generating $579m from just 56 dates of her Renaissance tour, Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres at 7.5m ticket sales and $550m and counting, and Taylor Swift’s remarkable Eras Tour earning an estimated $900m just from its run through the Americas, Sir Elton’s will not remain the record holder for long. Meanwhile, the industry’s biggest companies all reported impressive financials.

“This is an industry that’s going to grow for a long time,” said Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino in a recent interview, on the back of his company reporting its strongest ever quarter, with revenues of $8.2bn. Ticket sales across its events during the first nine months of 2023 topped 140m, meaning Live Nation has already outstripped last year’s record-breaking sales of 121m tickets throughout the entire 12-month period. “We believe demand on a global basis for the next decade is going to be very strong,” added Rapino.

CTS Eventim revealed revenues of €729.3m for Q3 2023 – up 5% year-on-year – and €1.75bn for the year to date, which marks a 23% increase on the same period last year.

And to quote ticketing expert Tim Chambers: “Against a post-pandemic background of challenging global market conditions – high inflation and growing interest rates, slowing economic growth, and violent geopolitical disputes – the sector seemingly operates in contradiction to one of the basic rules of economics i.e. that as the cost of living goes up, discretionary spending goes down.”

Global tour deals continue to become increasingly common, removing big-name artists from the potential pool of talent for independent promoters

The last 12 months have also been super busy for mergers and acquisitions, with consolidation by leading players continuing as private equity-backed majors added to their portfolios.

One of the biggest deals announced – which still has to receive the green light from competition watchdogs – is Legends’ reported $2.4bn acquisition of ASM Global, which would see the premium experiences specialist (which is backed by investment fund Sixth Street) become one of the biggest global players in the venue management sector.

Global tour deals continue to become increasingly common, removing big-name artists from the potential pool of talent for independent promoters, and with the post-Covid acquisition spree continuing, fewer indies remain overall.

The influx of private equity capital into the live business also shows no sign of slowing, activity that is driven by the promise of future returns. All Things Live (backed by Waterland Private Equity) took controlling stakes in Dutch festival promoter Loveland Events; Ostend Beach Festival in Belgium; event agency All-In and festival organisers HES in Norway; Sweden’s Amaze Festival; and expanded its reach into the Middle East.

Not to be outdone, festival giant Superstruct Entertainment (funded by Providence Equity) bought majority stakes in London-based festivals Mighty Hoopla and Cross The Tracks, as well as Austria’s Snowbombing. That followed a January deal, reportedly valued at €120m, to wholly acquire The Music Republic – the promoter behind iconic Spanish festivals Arenal Sound and Benicàssim. Those deals bring Superstruct’s portfolio of events to around 90 worldwide.

And in France, Artémis, an investment firm led by billionaire French businessman François-Henri Pinault, acquired TPG’s majority stake in Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Financial details were not disclosed, but Bloomberg reported the deal values CAA at $7bn.

2023 will be remembered for the opening of Sphere in Las Vegas

2023 will be remembered for the opening of Sphere in Las Vegas, where at press time, Irish superstars U2 are currently in the midst of a record-breaking residency. The concept of the building, and the technology used to create the landmark building, have set a new benchmark for the phrase ‘state-of-the-art,’ and anyone who has attended one of the U2 gigs, speaks more about the venue and the visuals than they do the music.

Also making their debuts during 2023 were the Indonesia Arena in Jakarta, and the Mohegan Inspire Arena in Incheon, South Korea.

Looking ahead, billions of dollars of projects will see a swathe of large indoor venues opening their doors in the year ahead, including the grand opening of Oak View Group’s (OVG) Co-op Arena in Manchester, which its operators promise will raise the bar for venue development in the UK and beyond.

OVG will also open Brazil’s Arena São Paulo in 2024, while AEG Asia is counting down to opening the UOB Live arena in Bangkok, Thailand. ASM Global is looking forward to the Kai Tak Sports Park opening in Hong Kong, and also in Asia, AEG is working on a K-pop-focused arena called CJ LiveCity in the Korean capital of Seoul.

Indeed, the potential tour circuit across Asia will be transformed in the coming years, with numerous new buildings coming on stream, paving the way for international artists to build meaningful fanbases throughout the continent. Significantly, the world’s second-biggest music market, Japan, is adding at least nine new arenas as part of new basketball league rules that require each team to have a minimum 5,000-capacity home venue before a 2026 deadline.

Smaller stadium owners opened their doors to touring acts in a bid to generate more revenues out of season

Further ahead, cities like Milan and Brisbane have announced new buildings to help host their Olympic Games responsibilities, and in Saudi Arabia, where live entertainment has been flourishing in recent years, it seems certain that a fresh phase of construction will commence if, as expected, FIFA awards the Kingdom with the 2034 World Cup tournament, while ASM Global is already working on the Jeddah Arena to kick-start that building boom.

And with so many new buildings opening, many existing arenas are refurbishing and upgrading their own facilities.

Live music in stadia is obviously nothing new, after all the Beatles performed at Shea Stadium back in 1966. But 2023 seemed to herald a new era in the stadium touring business, with countless buildings announcing box office records.

Acts such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, P!nk, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Rammstein, Bruce Springsteen, and more filled stadiums around the world, with many of those acts performing multiple dates in key cities, effectively creating stadia residencies.

Elsewhere, smaller stadium owners opened their doors to touring acts in a bid to generate more revenues out of season, and that trend looks likely to continue in the year ahead, albeit many of those venues may be restricted to the number of shows they can host because of local licensing regulations.

With the likes of the Olympics in Paris and the UEFA Euro Championship in Germany taking a number of stadia out of the equation for live music in 2024, there will be fewer tours of the size witnessed during 2023. However, even though ten cities are involved in the football tournament, such is the plethora of large-scale, modern facilities in Germany, that the likes of Taylor Swift will play seven shows during July, while her four dates in Paris will take place at the indoor stadium La Défense Arena, just weeks before it is transformed into the swimming pool for the summer games.

As the sums that artists can earn from headline shows increase, so too does the thirst to seek out new markets for them to perform in

As more and more stadium management teams around the world switch on to the monetary benefits of staging concerts and other live events – and local authorities do likewise when they enviously review the financial impact studies of other municipalities – the likelihood of the stadium circuit continuing to grow in the coming years seems certain, perhaps posing greater content challenges for arena operators and festivals during summer months.

While companies across the live music business report fewer vacancies than 2022, when shows returned but many skilled professionals did not, recruitment remains a hot topic.

Legendary Australian promoter Michael Chugg aptly sums up the situation by stating, “We need serious skills training […] I don’t think we are truly back on track as an industry. We need new people and some who left [during the health crisis] to come back.”

But with an ongoing drive to attract new starters into the business, HR teams have been given something of a blank sheet when it comes to addressing equality and diversity in the workplace. As the business continues to build back and compete with other industries to attract the best talent, we can expect working culture to continue to evolve rapidly.

As the sums that artists can earn from headline shows increase, so too does the thirst to seek out new markets for them to perform in. Helped by the boom in new arenas and those sites looking to fill dates, 2023 saw the touring map get even bigger…

Live entertainment in the Gulf States has been ramping up for some time, where expat workers who long to see their favourite acts have been joined by local populations who demand to see for themselves the biggest names on the planet performing in their countries. But with Saudi Arabia investing heavily in culture and most of the world’s multinationals establishing bases, JVs, and investing in the region, the growth is accelerating.

Barely a month went by during 2023 when newsreaders around the world did not report about weather records being broken

That extension, east of the main European tour circuit, is set to be augmented by the growing live entertainment sector in India, where a massive surge in the middle class is sparking a swathe of new venue builds, as well as a burgeoning festival scene and other outdoor shows.

And with live entertainment across Asia continuing at a pace that’s seeing Western companies struggling to keep up, the reality of a geographically seamless tour circuit spreading around the world in the Northern Hemisphere is starting to become a reality.

Meanwhile, artists and promoters in Latin America are reporting record numbers, year-on-year, while in Africa, there are a growing number of international acts headlining festivals and tours, with Vivendi investing heavily in its chain of CanalOlympia buildings across the continent, which now number 18 premises mixing cinemas with live performance spaces.

Barely a month went by during 2023 when newsreaders around the world did not report about weather records being broken – hottest months on record, coldest months on record, windiest months, highest rainfall, and drought, leading to many more wildfires than ever before across countries that are ill-prepared for fire seasons.

The number of extreme weather events in Europe alone is rising rapidly every year as the world grapples with the effects of global warming. For outdoor events or open-air venues, it’s an increasing risk, while disruption for fans getting to indoor shows may well increase.

“We’ll have normal summers in the future, but the probability of normal summers is decreasing,” Professor Robert Loncaric from the University of Zadar told delegates at the European Festival Conference recently. “Continental areas of Europe are in the most danger of extreme hazard events.”

Faced with fans tightening the purse strings due to a cost-of-living crisis and costs rising across the board, the economics for many small venues no longer add up

Wacken Open Air in Germany saw first-hand the effects of inclement weather this summer, when organisers turned away 35,000 ticket holders after extreme levels of rainfall hit the site prior to the gates opening. But extreme heat is also now firmly in the minds of some promoters.

During Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour dates in Brazil, heat was blamed for the death of a 23-year-old fan, with other fans reporting second-degree burns from the stadium flooring. The situation prompted local promoter T4F to introduce a raft of measures, including hundreds of extra staff and medical facilities that ranged from first-aid stations and ambulances to mobile ICUs.

Underlining the volatility of the weather, within days, Swift was also forced to postpone a date in Buenos Aires because of heavy rain.

And with insurance companies in the United States reportedly discussing withdrawing cover for weather-related claims, if true, the risks posed by extreme weather events could increase significantly.

While some markets have public subsidies or industry levies in place to protect their grassroots ecosystems, for others, venue closures are increasingly becoming the norm. Faced with fans tightening the purse strings due to a cost-of-living crisis and costs rising across the board, the economics for many small venues no longer add up.

But the question of whether the top end of the business should support smaller venues and festivals, and if so, what shape that support takes, is unresolved. In the US, Live Nation’s On The Road Again programme has temporarily increased wages in many of its venues to a minimum of $20 an hour, with all artists performing in them receiving a $1,500 travel stipend and no merch fees charged.

A growing number of associations are fighting to keep the grassroots touring network alive

In the UK, Music Venue Trust is lobbying government for a £1 ticket levy in larger venues having reported over 120 small venues closing in the year to date. And a growing number of associations are fighting to keep the grassroots touring network alive, including the National Independent Venue Association in the United States, Sweden’s Svensk Live, Club Commission in Germany, LIVE DMA in France, and VNPF in the Netherlands, to name but a few.

And neither is the grassroots dilemma limited to Europe and the US. Our New Zealand market report earlier this year noted that the issue has become a universal dilemma for the live music sector. When the pandemic closed music rooms around that country in 2020, Save Our Venues NZ raised almost NZ$500,000, to support 30 “crucial small music venues.”

The organisation also celebrated a win in April 2023 when Christchurch City Council endorsed the commencement of planning changes and non-regulatory initiatives to protect live music venues in the South Island city. In a move that colleagues around the world are trying to copy, Save Our Venues NZ worked alongside venues to develop a solution with the council that “mitigates noise conflict with residents and ensures there is a plan for the future of live music in the city.”

Few would argue that the clubs and pubs that host live music provide the global business with a crucial platform for some of its future headliners. So, campaigners will be hoping that the year ahead will see concrete action from the broader business, or their governments, to protect these spaces.

The top end of the business has never been in ruder health. 2023 has been another record-breaking year for many promoters, fuelled by the revenues of the busiest arena and stadium tour calendars in history. But, for many, the mid-tier touring market is in turmoil.

Looking back over some of this year’s IQ market reports, a common theme has emerged of rising production costs seeing many artists tour less or choosing to simply stay home. And while A-list shows are more ‘must-attend’ than ever, for many of those mid-level acts who do venture out, ticket sales are soft.

“People will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and, of course, the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer”

“The biggest events have worked better than ever, while medium/smaller bands, as well as emerging acts, have struggled to sell tickets,” Madrid-based promoter Daniel Molina told us. “That is why global numbers can’t really reflect what the situation really is.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Arcadia Live managing director Filip Potocki, in Austria. “Bigger shows are doing really well, and many of our concerts with higher capacities are selling out well in advance,” he says. “Having said that, it is more difficult with smaller shows, which have become real last-minute topics.”

“People will spend without limits for the flagship shows, and, of course, the middle range and the new and upcoming will completely suffer,” states fellow Austrian promoter Alex Nussbaumer of al-x.

Clotaire Buche of booker and promoter Junzi Arts in France agrees, observing that something needs to be done to increase the pull of the mid-tier acts left behind in the surge for the biggest, hottest tickets.

“It’s hard for the middle acts that have been touring for 20 or 30 years,” says Buche. “In the States, they are used to doing co-bookings of big acts so they can keep touring and have full venues. It is an idea we have been suggesting to some acts, but it has not been accepted in France so far.”

While live music events have been targeted in the past by terrorists – notably at Le Bataclan in Paris eight years ago, and, in 2017, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas – the atrocities committed by Hamas at the Supernova Sukkot festival in southern Israel on 7 October were horrifying, as 364 festivalgoers were murdered and an estimated 40 were kidnapped.

“We will dance again, and that will be our victory”

The Hamas slaughter at the festival and in towns nearby claimed in total more than 1,200 lives, while Israel’s resulting war to eliminate Hamas in Gaza has claimed an estimated 15,000 more lives at press time.

Paying tribute to the victims at a ceremony in early November, Omri Sassi and Nimrod Arnin of Supernova Sukkot organisers Tribe of Nova, said, “We went through something that we had no control over; we will take care of everyone and help everyone.” They added, “We love the country. We will dance again, and that will be our victory.”

The impact on security protocols for music festivals planning their 2024 dates with licensing officials and local authorities are clear. While announcing a €5m fund for small festivals in Germany, the minister of state for culture, Claudia Roth, commented, “The barbaric attack by the Hamas terrorist group on the Supernova festival was also an attack on the values of a democratic society, because music festivals are identity-forming places of encounter and joy of life, places of diversity, openness, and tolerance.

“We also need to strengthen these values. Therefore, with our funding programme for music festivals, we not only focus on artistic quality but also on social aspects such as sustainability, educational work, and diversity. Fundamentally, this fund is also a cultural-political commitment to the social importance of popular music.”

While it seems somewhat crass to talk about concerts and festivals while lives are being lost, in the likes of the Ukraine and Gaza, the impact on anyone working not just in those territories but also neighbouring markets has been drastic, with many professionals having to look elsewhere for their livelihood.

As previously mentioned, business in Israel will be paused for the foreseeable future, but in besieged Ukraine, the resilience of those working in the local live music industry endures, with concerts being utilised to raise funds for the war effort, while at least one new venue has opened and some festivals were even held during the summer.

“Events are very much needed to keep people’s mental health and morale intact”

Talking to IQ in August, Kiev-based new boss Vladyslav Yaremchuk revealed, “Live music, stand-up, theatre are all alive and well. We even had a first couple of small festivals, one in Kyiv and another in Lviv. You have to take care of safety, make sure there is a shelter that can fit everyone nearby, and that everyone knows where to go. Curfews are a big factor: Kyiv’s curfew is midnight till 5am, for example, and events have to wrap up by 10pm. Events are very much needed to keep people’s mental health and morale intact. They unite people, and every single one serves a purpose – they fundraise for humanitarian or military needs.”

In Russia, international touring has not happened since pre-pandemic, prompting many of those working in live music to continue their careers in other countries, and with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine set to enter its fourth year in February, unfortunately, any prospect for peace seems as far away as ever.

“We lost shows because of the war in Ukraine,” Depeche Mode manager Jonathan Kessler told IQ earlier this year. “Stadiums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Minsk, then there’s an indoor stadium in St. Petersburg that we had to take out, and another again in Moscow, so we lost six big stadiums in that part of the world.”

But it’s not just the warring nations who have felt the impact. Those working in neighbouring Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Finland, and the Baltic States have all been affected by the hostilities, with artists touring through Europe sometimes choosing to miss out those markets or scaling back on the number of shows they might otherwise have planned.

As we charge towards another calendar year, the business faces many, many uncertainties. The live music business has never faced such a lengthy list of challenges in its history, but, equally, the creative souls who dedicate themselves to delivering entertainment to the masses have never failed to rise to the occasion.

So, with the thirst for live entertainment and investment into new stages continuing, and the breadth of content on offer ever wider, 2024 looks set to be another strong year for the live business, albeit set to a backdrop of ongoing challenges…

And one thing is for certain: all these topics and more will be the subject of passionate debate at the forthcoming ILMC 36, from 27 February to 1 March 2024.


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