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Industry divided over vaccinated-only concerts

Nearly six months after Maggie Keenan, a 90-year-old Briton, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial, opinion remains divided among international live music professionals about how, if at all, fans’ vaccination status should be taken into account as live activity resumes.

Nowhere is this more the case than in the United States, where the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) say that those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (i.e. had both jabs of one of the three vaccines, BioNTech/Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna, approved for use in the US) may once again attend indoor events, including concerts, with no need for social distancing or mask wearing.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told press at the White House earlier this month. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Following the CDC’s announcement, some of the country’s most famous concert venues, including the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden arena in New York and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl (17,500-cap.), have signalled they will differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated patrons when they reopen, with the latter planning designated vaccinated seating sections where no social distancing will be required.

MSG, along with other venues in New York, will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if patrons show proof of vaccination, under plans drawn up by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo. It hosted 15,000 people for a New York Knicks basketball game earlier this week, with vaccinated fans not required to wear a face covering.

New York venues will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination

In Florida, meanwhile, a concert promoter made headlines yesterday (26 May) after announcing plans for a ‘no-vax tax’ that would see concertgoers charged 50 times as much for tickets should they choose not to get the vaccine.

Leadfoot Promotions, which is promoting a show by pop-punk legends Teenage Bottlerocket in Saint Petersburg on 26 June, explains: “DISCOUNTED tickets are available for $18 in advance, $20 day of show. To be eligible for the DISCOUNT, you will need to bring a government issued photo ID and your PHYSICAL COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. […] If you do not care about the discount, tickets are available for a flat rate of $999.99.

“Note that all staff, volunteers, and band members will be vaccinated. Also know if you buy one of these advance tickets and show up without your vaccination card or government issued photo id [sic], you won’t be let in at this price, you will need to pay the remaining $981.99 to enter or go back and get your card. There will be NO REFUNDS. We are NOT telling you what to do here, we are making a business decision and letting the market decide. If someone wants to come in unvaccinated, they will scare off a large number of patrons and will need to pay the difference.”

Speaking to Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News, Leadfoot’s Paul Williams explains: “We’re just trying to do a show safely. And they [fans] should go out and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and their community.”

Back in New York, baseball team the Brooklyn Nets is also incentivising immunisation by charging more for tickets sold to fans who have yet to receive both vaccines, as well as introducing a Hollywood Bowl-style vaccinated-only section at its home venue, the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center.

“We are not telling you what to do – we are making a business decision and letting the market decide”

Williams says he came up with idea of a ‘tax’ after realising in Florida he probably couldn’t legally restrict entry to those who can prove their vaccination status.

In contrast to the position taken by Cuomo in New York – where a planned ‘Excelsior pass’ will verify New Yorkers’ vaccination status – Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken a hard line on vaccine certification, having signed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports earlier this month.

“Under no circumstances will the state be asking you to show proof of vaccination,” said DeSantis, “and I don’t think private companies should be doing that either. If you want to go to an event, go to an event. If you don’t, don’t. But to be requiring people to provide all this proof, that’s not how you get society back to normal.”

The launch of the Excelsior pass follows the successful roll-out of the similar green pass in Israel, where promoters were once again putting on (non-socially distanced) shows before the recent flare-up in violence. In fact, so successful is the combination of vaccination + certification that Israel will axe all restrictions – including the green pass – from the beginning of June, though health minister Yuli Edelstein says it could be re-introduced should the situation change. For now, he said, “The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe.”

Despite allowing for concerts of thousands of people in pandemic conditions, the green pass programme is not without its critics: writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today (27 May), five Israeli doctors say the scheme has ‘backfired’ by creating “two classes of citizens: the upper vaccinated and the lower unvaccinated”. This situation, they say, has resulted in a situation incompatible with the “basic principles of the medical profession”.

Talk of vaccine ‘passports’ is equally controversial in the UK, where critics warn of government overreach and an ‘us and them’ society divided along vaccination lines. As such, the UK live business is pushing for a system of certification that would also include people who have natural immunity to the virus, or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution”

Writing to the government last month, a cross-section of the UK live entertainment, events and sports sector suggested that so-called Covid-status certification is the key to reopening venues safely following the planned abolition of all restrictions on 21 June.

“Not to be confused with the term ‘vaccination passports’, the simple premise is to reduce the likelihood of people who may be infected from attending events and ensure the safety of other attendees and event staff,” say the signatories, who include AEG Europe, the Concert Promoters’ Association, Ticketmaster, ASM Global and umbrella body LIVE. “This would be managed by ensuring that all attendees are either vaccinated OR have natural immunity OR have a negative Covid test within a set period of time prior to arrival.”

Unlike restricting entry only to those who have had the vaccine, certification would not discriminate against those who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable having being immunised against the virus, they say.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution that is safe, simple, protects privacy and doesn’t cause unnecessary delays or a poor experience for visitors,” the letter reads.

Outside of live events, vaccine passports are also being trialled for international travel, with the European Union, China and Japan among those developing digital vaccination certificates to enable the resumption of overseas holidays from this summer.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Alienstock: festivalgoers fail to storm Area 51

Alienstock, which began as a viral internet meme, became a point of contention with local residents and the US Air Force and was eventually relinquished by its creators, culminated this weekend in small gatherings of people in towns near to the Area 51 military base in Nevada.

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee estimated that around 1,500 people had gathered at festival sites in the towns of Rachel (population ~50) and Hiko (population ~120), with a further 150 travelling up to the Area 51 gates. Another estimate puts the number of campers at the Rachel event at 3,000.

Nobody succeeded in ‘storming’ the facility, a highly classified and conspiracy-theory riddled US Air Force base. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, two arrests were made, one for an attempt to enter the gate and another for public urination.

The Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us event, which garnered over two million Facebook attendees, invited fans to raid the US Air Force facility and “see them aliens”.

Alienstock culminated in small gatherings of people in towns near to the Area 51 military base

A live music element was later added to the event, which was dubbed Alienstock, and scheduled to take place from 20 to 22 September in the town of Rachel in Nevada.

Following complaints from local residents, a warning from the US Air Force and concerns over public safety, Storm Area 51 creator, Matty Roberts, stepped away from the event, instead teaming up with the one-day Bud Light Area 51 Celebration in Las Vegas.

Separate events took place near to the Air Force base, with live music at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel and talks from UFO enthusiasts, artists, musicians and filmmakers at the Area 51 Basecamp event in Hiko. The 5,000-capacity Hiko event was cancelled after the first day, having attracted only 500 attendees, reports the Star.

Blink-182 took inspiration from the Storm Area 51 event, creating a Facebook page for their 20 September tour stop at New York’s 19,000-capacity Barclays Center to ‘Invade Brooklyn, They Can’t Stop All of Us (Aliens Only)’. Fans were encouraged to dress up “as aliens or nurses OR nurse aliens”.


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Alibaba founder buys Barclays Center

After months of negotiations, Joseph Tsai, executive vice-chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, has bought the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

The deal sees the Alibaba co-founder take control of the arena – home to basketball team the Brooklyn Nets – from Russian entrepreneur and politician Mikhail Prokhorov.

Tsai, who already owned 49% of the Nets, also purchased Prokhorov’s 51% controlling interest in the team. Prokhorov had held the stake through his company Onexim Sports and Entertainment.

Bloomberg reported that Tsai paid around US$3.5 billion in total for the arena, team and debt.

Granted the NBA [National Basketball Association] board of governors approves the sale of the team, Tsai will become chairman of the board of directors for the Barclays Center and NBA governor of the Nets.

“I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which puts the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful,” says Tsai. “We are committed to maintaining Barclays Center’s iconic status by bringing together culture, community, and entertainment for our fans and everyone in New York.”

The Barclays Center, which opened in 2012, is operated by AEG Facilities in conjunction with BSE Global (previously Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment).

BSE Global also operates Webster Hall, in partnership with AEG Presents/ the Bowery Presents, and the 16,800-capacity NYCB Live (formerly Nassau Coliseum), which is owned by Onexim.

“We are committed to maintaining Barclays Center’s iconic status by bringing together culture, community, and entertainment for our fans”

Brett Yormark, BSE Global chief executive, is stepping down following the sale. Yormark is the only executive expected to leave the organisation.

“It has been a tremendous honour leading BSE Global, and working alongside some of the most brilliant professionals in the industry,” says Yormark. “I have always envisioned beginning my next chapter when Mikhail and Dmitry [Razumov, Onexim chief executive] sold the arena and the team, and with today’s announcement, that time has come.”

Yormark adds that he will oversee a “smooth transition” of the Barclays Center and the Nets to new ownership and will “continue to oversee Mikhail’s other Onexim assets”.

The potential buy-out by Tsai was first reported by the New York Post in March. At the time, the Post stated that Tsai’s purchase of the Barclays Center would be welcomed by the National Basketball Association, due to the potential for growth in China.

Upcoming shows at the Barclays Center include Kiss, Shawn Mendes, Mary J Blige & Nas, Chris Brown and Blink 182 & Lil Wayne, as well as hip-hop and Latin festival Soulfrito Music fest.

Alibaba has shown a growing interest in the music industry in recent years, launching artist management, booking and entertainment ticketing businesses.

Tsai co-founded the online marketplace in 1999 along with 17 others and continues to hold the second largest individual stake in the company, behind executive chair Jack Ma.


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Alibaba founder in talks to buy New York arena

Joseph Tsai, co-founder and executive vice-chairman of ecommerce giant Alibaba Group, is reportedly in talks to acquire New York City arena Barclays Center.

The 19,000-capacity Barclays Center – home to basketball team Brooklyn Nets, of which Tsai already owns 49% – was 2018’s eighth busiest by ticket sales, according to Pollstar, selling nearly 817,000 tickets. It opened in 2012, and is currently owned by Brooklyn Events Center and operated by AEG Facilities and BSE Global (formerly Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment).

Both Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets have denied rumours of a takeover by Tsai, which was first reported by the New York Post. According to the Post, “a sale to Tsai would be embraced by the NBA [National Basketball Association], which is anxious for him to take control of the Nets so he can help the league grow in China.”

The arena hosted music stars including the Killers, Bruno Mars, Phil Collins and Muse in 2018, with shows by Twenty One Pilots, Ariana Grande and Iron Maiden planned for this summer.

Taiwanese-born Tsai co-founded Alibaba, which turned over nearly US$40 billion in 2018, with Jack Ma in 1999. The Hangzhou-based company dwarfs Amazon and eBay in online sales globally, and has in recent years staked a claim in the music industry, expanding into artist management, booking and entertainment ticketing.


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New GM for New York’s Barclays Center

Matt Felker has been appointed general manager of Barclays Center, the 17,000-capacity New York arena jointly operated by AEG Facilities and BSE Global (formerly Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment), with Joe Zino taking his place as GM of the nearby Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The internal promotions, effective 1 October, follow news of the impending departure of Barclays Center regional GM Steve Rosebrook.

“Steve and his AEG Facilities colleagues have done a tremendous job building world-class arena operations teams at both venues,” says Brett Yormark, CEO of BSE Global, which oversees both Barclays Center and the 16,800-cap. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (in full, ‘NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum’). “We thank Steve for his years of service and wish him all the best in his next chapter.

“We’re excited about the future with Matt and Joe and congratulate them on their well-deserved promotions”

“We’re excited about the future with Matt and Joe and congratulate them on their well-deserved promotions. They have been integral leaders in the operation of Barclays Center and NYCB Live.”

“We were very fortunate to have an experienced executive like Steve operating these two venues for us,” adds senior vice-president of AEG Facilities, Richard Krezwick, to whom both GMs will report. “His leadership has prepared Matt and Joe for assuming bigger roles.”

In addition to Barclays Center and NYCB Live, BSE operates Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre and Webster Hall, as well the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. In May, it expanded its advisory board to include a London chapter, comprising Mumford & Sons/Omeara’s Ben Lovett, Universal Music A&R man Louis Bloom, Barclays’ head of sponsorships and media, Tom Corbett, manager James Sandom (Red Light Management), Sarah Stennett, CEO of First Access Entertainment, and James Worrall of sports conference Leaders.


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