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Swede Sensation: Sweden Market Report

When arena-dwelling Swedish metal band Sabaton attempted to get back out on the road again in early 2022, the challenges of late-pandemic international travel soon scuppered the plan. So it was replaced with another: a tour of just about everywhere in Sweden.

“We did 30 dates and sold 40,000 tickets,” says promoter David Maloney of All Things Live Sweden. “It was unique because no one has done a tour like that, ever, in Sweden. We played markets where we sold 2,000 tickets in a town where 4,000 people live.

“They are an arena band – they have a show next year at the [former] Globe in Stockholm, and they’ve sold 10,000 tickets for that. But rather than sitting at home complaining, they said, ‘Fuck this shit, we’ll go out on tour. If there’s a stage and a roof, we’ll play there.’ And we played places in Sweden I had never even been to.”

Maybe we’re not on the brink of a world in which every band has to rip up small Swedish towns like Mölnlycke, Ålmhult, or Ronneby to make a living, but Maloney still believes there is a lesson here.

“In one sense, that’s the way it has to be in future,” he says. “If you want to play for an audience maybe you have to change your whole way of thinking. Especially for local bands. There’s a limited amount of big stages, a limited amount of festivals, a limited number of people.”

With its sturdy and experienced promoters, its plentiful festivals, and its smallish population, it is true that Sweden is not an easy place in which to innovate, and it is hard to find pockets of demand that aren’t being catered for by someone.

“We are quite a mature and well-developed and well-exploited market,” says FKP Scorpio partner and promoter Niklas Lundell. “If you want to develop a new concept and you think you are going to be on your own,” he notes wryly, “maybe Scandinavia is not your priority market if you know what I mean.”

“We are quite a mature and well-developed and well-exploited market”

With the exception of some small clubs in Stockholm where rents have rendered the grassroots business model inadequate, Sweden has more or less everything it needs. World-class venues? Check. Well-heeled audiences? Definitely.

A spot on every serious European touring schedule. No problem. Big, loud festivals and cool boutique ones? No need to ask twice.

Sweden is a model of a compact, modern market, with three very viable touring cities in Stockholm, Malmö, and Gothenburg. And at the mass-market end of the scale, at least, the post-pandemic boom has been a thoroughly fulfilling experience.

“It’s doing very well,” says Thomas Johansson, father of the Swedish live business and Live Nation’s chairman of international music and Nordics.

“We have just finished a bunch of outdoor shows: Iron Maiden, Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga all sold out stadiums. Then, we had a lot of other shows that have done very well all over Scandinavia, so I would say the business is good.”

As with any prosperous market, Sweden in the first year after the pandemic gives every appearance of being in the form of its life, but as always, the glory of the packed-out arenas and stadiums does not necessarily reflect right across the business.

“The shows that are suffering most from poor ticket sales in the post-Covid period are the ones that would usually sell 700-2,000 tickets,” says Edward Janson of increasingly diversified rock and metal specialist TADC, formerly Triffid And Danger Concerts.

“The big shows are doing well but it’s rather difficult in the middle segment these days”

“The smaller club shows are doing okay, and the big shows are doing well. But it’s rather difficult in the middle segment these days,” he adds, noting that ticket sales are currently around 25 to 30% down.

Johansson notes a similar trend when it comes to artists a little further down the scale. “Generally, the big artists are doing very well, whether they are local or international,” he says. “The mid-range artists are a little softer, the smaller club acts, too. Basically, it’s because there are so many tickets on sale. A lot of people were sitting with tickets for 2020, and then all of a sudden they were sitting with tickets for 2021, and when 2022 came around they already had five or six tickets booked.”

Certainly, there are challenges, even for an affluent market like Sweden. “There is huge competition now, since almost all artists are touring at the same time,” says Janson. “And inflation is rising, and the Swedish krona is getting weaker compared to the dollar and the euro. With that said, during the upcoming winter, I’m sure that it will stabilise and that ticket sales will go back to where they were before the pandemic.”

Svensk Live, the local live music body that gathers together clubs, festivals, promoters, and agents, recently launched its Life is Live campaign with performing arts group Svensk Scenkonst, aimed at encouraging fans to return to live events at all levels. Operations manager Joppe Pihlgren says there is a strong sense of industry cohesion around such initiatives.

“We have 270 members in Svensk Live,” he says. “We have the big companies, but they also understand that if you don’t have the grassroots then ultimately everything else suffers. We had that kind of [indie vs corporate] struggle a little bit more in the past, but we have got all these people very much together now.

“We have a youth organisation where [Live Nation] bring in volunteers to work for Lollapalooza. And we have a climate project as part of Way Out West – though we also do things with FKP Scorpio.”

“There is huge competition now, since almost all artists are touring at the same time”

And while Sweden may be a highly mature market, with plenty of corporate interest, it is also a major global pop and rock producer with plenty of self-esteem, and one in which local identity remains strong. Pihlgren, himself a home-grown rock star as the frontman of veteran Swedish band Docenterna, is heartened by the rise of local acts to arena and even stadium level.

“Before, it was just Springsteen and the big international artists who could fill up a stadium, but now you have [Gothenburg-born star] Håkan Hellström selling out [four nights in August at Gothenburg’s] Ullevi stadium. Laleh also sold it out in the summer, and we have a lot of smaller acts coming through.”

Promoters
Historically one of Live Nation’s safest markets, Sweden hasn’t got a great deal more perilous for the business’s biggest player lately. As well as taking the lion’s share of the stadium and arena touring business, the corporate owns leading indie and Way Out West founder Luger and holds majority shares in the Summerburst and Sweden Rock festivals, as well as being the local custodian of Lollapalooza since 2019.

As thrill-starved punters all rush to the biggest concerts they can find, the current conditions were made for Live Nation. “This year has been a fantastic vintage,” says Johansson. “And 2023 is shaping up to be yet again an enormous year. We put Bruce Springsteen on sale a month ago – two Copenhagens, two Oslos, and three Gothenburgs – and we sold 400,000 tickets in a day.”

FKP, very much the challenger to Live Nation in the Nordic markets and elsewhere, helped to spearhead the increasingly ubiquitous tendency among Nordic promoters to operate across the region and has had a full set of Scandinavian offices for around five years.

“We are super, super close,” says Lundell. “It has been good to unite our forces and see what we can do jointly, and whoever is best placed to take a lead can basically do it for all four territories.”

“For your own health it’s hard, because ticket sales have picked up really late”

Among its Swedish exploits this year are ten Ullevi stadiums for Ed Sheeran and three for Rammstein; one and four, respectively, for Swedish stars Laleh and Håkan Hellström; shows for Gorillaz; and a new festival, the Rosendal Garden Party, and an older one, Where’s The Music in Norrköping.

“I think there is definitely potential to develop [in the Nordics], but it is also one market, or several markets, that have been dominated by one player,” says Lundell. “So it is about just slowly growing and showing that there’s an alternative and that we can do a good job with both big and small shows and be creative and fast. Showing that there is not a monopoly situation here, that there’s other promoters to speak to.”

The Waterland-backed All Things Live was born in 2018 as a pan-Scandinavian operator built from Denmark’s ICO; Norway’s Friction and Atomic Soul; and Sweden’s Blixten & Co and Maloney Concerts, and had scarcely formed when Covid struck.

“It was an exciting time because we actually had a chance to work together as a group,” says Maloney. “And then it was a bit of an odd feeling, that we were ready to go and then nothing. But now it’s all great.”

Coming out of the pandemic, all promoters have had to learn the new language of the market, including highly unpredictable, occasionally heart-stopping sales patterns.

“I have to say that the big shows we are doing, at least, have sold really, really well – although for your own health it’s hard, because ticket sales have picked up really late,” says Maloney. “We did one show with Green Day in June [at Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena], and in the last two weeks sales just exploded. We came to the level we wanted to be, but a month before the show we were thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s a new chapter, you don’t have anything to go on.”

As the Sabaton example shows, Maloney remains passionate about the idea of creative thinking be- tween promoters and artists. “The thing that we want to remain is independent,” says Maloney.

“This year, we had time to try new products such as climate-friendly fuel”

“We want to have artists come first, and that is our whole point. On some occasions, we will make a deal for all four Nordic countries. Sometimes we just do it in Norway or Sweden or Finland or Denmark. But we want to have the flexibility to work with the artist rather than telling them, ‘This is what we need to do, or nothing.’”

TADC, meanwhile, has diversified while maintaining its roots in rock and metal. Upcoming shows include Manowar, Helloween, Uriah Heep, and WASP, but this year it has sold 10,000 tickets for 50 Cent and also staged Simply Red, Don McLean, and The Beach Boys.

“When TADC started in 2015, our focus was mainly on rock and metal,” says Janson. “Still the majority of our shows are within rock and metal, but we have broadened our focus a lot. During 2023 we will do even more shows in other types of music.”

TADC expanded into Norway and Denmark in 2021 and maintains offices in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Oslo, and Copenhagen. “Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are definitely still different markets with different cultures, but we’re in a good position when we can make offers for all three countries,” says Janson.

Festivals
Everyone knows just how much pain festivals, in particular, suffered in 2020 and 2021, as their annual glorious moment was, in most cases, snuffed out not just once but twice. So 2022 has been a major relief for Sweden’s big names, including 30-year-old rock and metal festival Sweden Rock, which returned in June to Norje in southern Sweden for the first time since 2019, with Volbeat, In Flames, and Guns N’ Roses at the top of the bill.

“It was great to be back. Even better than I hoped,” says man-ageing director Jon Bergsjö. “Our visitors, artists, and staff were very positive and enjoyed the festival.” One silver lining of the three-year lay-off was the time to plan, says Bergsjö, with particular emphasis on experience – waiting times, F&B choice, clean toilets – and sustainability.

“We make changes every year to become more sustainable,” he says. “This year, we had time to try new products such as climate-friendly fuel, and we got a lot further in getting all our food stands to make better choices about cutlery, plates, and other single-use products. We even started serving the draft beer and drinks in specialised paper cups.”

“We ended up selling 50,000 tickets in a market like Malmö that has never had this kind of event before”

Luger’s Way Out West was the first Swedish festival to shout about sustainability, and it is now meat-free, milk-free, and climate-trans- parent. It returned in August with Robyn, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Burna Boy, and First Aid Kit.

Elsewhere, in no order of size, Swedish collective Ladieslovehiphop (LLHH) partnered with Live Nation Sweden and Luger on the 2022 Ladieslovehiphop Festival. The boutique festival, which debuted at Trädgården in Stockholm in 2019, returned on 19-20 August at Fållan & Slakthusområdet in Stockholm with an eclectic female-led line-up starring Stefflon Don, Ayra Starr, Ivorian Doll, Baby Tate, Shaybo, and Dreya Mac.

Of the other Live Nation-related festivals, the two-day electronic Summerburst Festival returned to Ullevi in Gothenburg in June, and Lollapalooza Stockholm – the first Lolla in the Nordics – finally got its second edition in July by the water in Gärdet, with Imagine Dragons, The Killers, Pearl Jam, Lorde, and Post Malone on board.

The big event of the year for All Things Live in Sweden is the acquisition of Malmö’s Big Slap Festival. Founded in 2013, the previously one-day event was one of Sweden’s largest electronic dance music festivals, with a daily capacity of around 15,000 attendees. This year, All Things Live bumped Big Slap up to two days, relocated it from Tallriken park to Nyhamnen on the city’s waterfront, got Justin Bieber on board and was vindicated in doing so.

“We ended up selling 50,000 tickets in a market like Malmö that has never had this kind of event before. People talk about Malmö being Sweden’s Miami, and we could see that at Big Slap.”

TADC has two festivals in Gefle Metal Festival and Atlas Rock, both in Gävle on Sweden’s Baltic Sea coast. “Gefle Metal Festival has grown into an event that fans of extreme metal see as an event that you need to go to,” says Janson. “This is the place where you meet all the other fans of the music and see the bands that don’t play at any of the other festivals.

“This year, we also did the first edition of our new festival Atlas Rock, with acts like Scorpions, Alice Cooper, and Black Label Society. We believe that this also will be an established festival very soon with an audience that keeps returning.”

“The market in Sweden has recovered great from the closedown during the pandemic”

The promoter is also exploring ways of keeping its flagship Gefle Fest active year-round, with a smaller indoor edition in the winter and a Gefle Metal Cruise in the spring. FKP Scorpio’s four-day Rosendal Garden Party launched this year as part of a trio of new festivals also including Loaded in Norway and Syd for Solen in Denmark. It took place on the Djurgården island in central Stockholm, with headliners The Strokes, Florence + The Machine, The National, and Tyler, The Creator, and drew 10-15,000 a day.

“It was a really good first year, and the experience was fantastic,” says Lundell, who also senses a return to old ways of independent creative thinking in the festival market. “Ten to 15 years ago, all the festivals went from being run by a bunch of patient souls out in the nowhere lands to becoming part of a bigger strategy and a new framework,” he says.

“That is maybe going back on itself a little bit. I think people will move away from concentrating on the urban markets, and I think a lot of fantastic new ones will be popping up around the country.”

Venues
ASM Global’s Stockholm Live has the capital’s venue market pretty well cornered. Since 2008, the company (as AEG Facilities) has operated the 6,000-14,500-capacity Avicii Arena (formerly the Ericsson Globe), the 8,100-cap Hovet, and the 3,400-cap Annexet. In 2013, it added the new Tele2 Arena in south Stockholm, with configurations for between 18,000 and 37,000, and in 2017 took over the 30,000-57,000-cap Friends Arena in Solna in Stockholm County, north of the city centre.

Last year, ASM Global signed a long-term lease to manage the Södra Teatern, a theatre venue with a capacity of up to 600, and Mosebacketerrassen, a rooftop terrace that can accommodate around 2,000 people.

“The market in Sweden has recovered great from the closedown during the pandemic, and after being up and running for a couple of months, we do see an increasing demand for live acts again,” Stockholm Live event sales director Jenny Blomqvist told IQ’s Global Arenas Guide.

“The challenge for the industry in Sweden is to get back to its previous strength again, focusing on all the staff rehires we need, at the same time as educating and developing our organisation for the coming months of events – all this while delivering the acts in our arenas today.”

“Today we face a completely new challenge in trying to foresee even the next six months”

And as for everyone, the future is suddenly harder to read, in all kinds of ways. “Today we face a completely new challenge in trying to foresee even the next six months, as the market is not acting as it did before the pandemic,” says Blomqvist. “International shows are released with shorter sales periods than previously – two to five months – so whereas in previous years we would have known by now how the summer of 2023 would be, today we are still releasing shows for 2022. So we have to be even more flexible in our calendars and have tighter deadlines in all we do.”

The change to the name of the venue known as The Globe, or Globen in Swedish, came as a tribute to local DJ and producer Avicii. The iconic building is now also a hub for initiatives focused on young people’s mental health, in cooperation with sponsors [home improvement store] Bauhaus and [insurance company] Trygg-Hansa.

Also new, in a very different vein, is the introduction of AXS’s new AXS Mobile ID ticket across the Stockholm Live venues. The ticket is non-transferable, except through AXS, and is intended as an antidote to the illicit secondary market.

“What we see with Rammstein, Ed Sheeran, and these other big artists is they want personalised tickets; they don’t want their tickets to end up on the secondary market at ten times the price, and this is a way to guarantee that,” says Jay Sietsema, AXS general manager, Sweden.

Other key venues in Sweden include the Malmö Arena, which has a capacity of 13,000 for sports (predominantly ice hockey) and 15,500 for concerts, and, of course, the Ullevi Stadium. The stadium’s all-time crowd remains the 70,144 pulled by local boy Håkan Hellström on 5 June 2016 – beating the old record of 70,091 set the previous night, and comfortably exceeding the 69,349 that came through the turnstiles two days later.

 


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