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Spend, no-shows and demand all up in UK, say promoters

Leading promoters in the UK live industry say they’re experiencing mixed fortunes following the full reopening in England on 19 July.

As the sector launches into recovery mode, executives are reporting high levels of pent-up demand for many shows.

Denis Desmond, chairman of Live Nation UK and Ireland, says: “Artists, promoters, production and marketing teams are champing at the bit and ready to meet the demands.

“Thankfully our festivals happened, and we were very pleased with sales which proves that the demand for live music is still going strong. Now we’re moving into touring season and we have a busy schedule lined up for the rest of the year and into 2022.”

As the live sector prepares for what looks to be its busiest year ever from 1 January, promoters say the UK’s next challenge will be keeping up with demand given that much of the supply chain has yet to recover.

“We’ve got 18 months of touring coming up across the UK and all of the suppliers are going to be hugely stretched,” says Richard Buck, CEO of TEG MJR, the UK subsidiary of Sydney-based live entertainment and ticketing firm TEG.

“Artists, promoters, production and marketing teams are champing at the bit and ready to meet the demands”

Desmond agrees, adding: “Going forward there are still challenges including issues with the supply chain and many talented specialists have been forced to leave the sector, plus there remain complexities for touring in Europe post-Brexit.”

And as an autumn period of touring kicks off, the ongoing spectre of Covid-19 is a continued source of uncertainty for promoters who say the rate of no-shows at concerts is far higher than usual.

Buck reports “anywhere up to 50% no-shows, especially on postponed shows. It’s a little less if the show is taking place closer to the time when it was announced but at sell-out shows, there has been significant no-attendance”.

Buck believes the no-shows are down to an “amalgamation of low confidence, forgotten tickets and isolating” and predicts three to six months for the levels of attendance to go back to what they were pre-pandemic.

UK-based promoter and venue operator DHP Family is also experiencing high rates of no-shows and says it’s increasingly hard to predict attendance post-Freedom Day.

“[Attendance] varies by artist and how many times the show has been rescheduled etc,” says DHP’s director of live, Anton Lockwood.

“[There has been] anywhere up to 50% no-shows, especially on postponed shows”

“We’ve seen 20–30% on bigger shows. Typically smaller shows are less predictable; it can be 100% attendance or, if it’s the kind of show where the artist has been relying on their friends and family to turn up, it can be up to 75%. It’s all over the place.”

While refund requests are reportedly very low, most events are currently offering a refund to ticket holders who can’t attend due to a Covid-related illness on a discretionary basis.

“If it’s a rescheduled show, you’re entitled to a refund, the end,” says DHP’s Lockwood. “But there’s a debate about if you’ve got Covid, whether you’re entitled to a refund or we should just give a refund out of kindness.”

Fortunately, DHP has also not seen huge numbers of refund requests so far: “It’s not caused a problem but it is a worry because if you settle the show with the artist and then some of the refunds come in, you’ve got a problem.”

Buck says TEG MJR is being “lenient” when it comes to refunds but they are dealing with it on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re being a lot more liberal with refunds because we want people to buy in confidence when the market opens which is a slight double-edged sword,” he explains.

“2022 and 2023 sales have been disproportionately strong… probably 20-25% up on forecast”

“Previously, if you had a sold-out show it was sold out. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to settle on the other side because you’ve got refunds post-event,” Buck concludes.

But while Covid continues to cause operational complexities, Buck says the increase in spend-per-head at concerts is “dramatically up” versus pre-Covid and ticket sales for new shows have soared.

“2022 and 2023 sales have been disproportionately strong,” he says, “Probably 20-25% up on forecast.”

And with the threat of last-minute venue closures due to staff being ‘pinged’ (told to self-isolate by the NHS app) or contracting the disease, alongside similar worries with touring parties, many say recovery feels like a gradual process.

“We don’t know whether the shows are going to happen or not, whether the artist is going to be able to travel or they end up catching Covid,” says Lockwood.

“People assume it is all back to normal but everything is just much harder. It’s great to be back, don’t get me wrong, but the uncertainties have ramped up.”

 


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Ireland’s MCD: “We are angry and disappointed”

MCD Productions boss Denis Desmond says the Republic of Ireland’s live sector is “frustrated, disappointed and angry,” by the prolonged shutdown of the industry.

Industry representatives held a two-hour meeting with ROI’s minister for arts yesterday (18 August) but still, no date was set for the return of live concerts and cultural events.

“There are 35,000 people who are employed in the sector who haven’t worked in 525 days and it’s terrible,” Desmond tells IQ. “It’s very hard on people who have families and mortgages to pay. The government support is a small amount of money. A lot of people are struggling – not only financially but mentally.”

In comparison, the UK’s live industry has been fully open for a month and Scotland lifted most restrictions on 9 August.

Festival Republic director Melvin Benn told RTÉ’s News at One that the failure to allow live music events to return, including Electric Picnic (co-promoted with MCD), is “unnecessary and wrong,” given Ireland’s high vaccination rate.

He went on to say that Ireland’s situation contrasted with “political leadership” in other countries, including the UK. “It isn’t a different virus [in Ireland].”

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK”

The promoters’ comments come after their event, Electric Picnic, was denied a licence by the local council on the grounds of the current restrictions.

“We’re still looking at the options and we have written to the government asking why they made the decision. We’ve been assured that we’ll get an answer by next Monday so we’ll wait until we get a reply to review what happens next,” says Desmond.

The government has also promised a roadmap for reopening by the end of next week but it won’t be a silver bullet for the industry, says the MCD boss.

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK,” he tells IQ. “The most important thing about the UK’s scheme is that the insurance package is valid for 12 months because Covid is not going away. We’ve got to learn to live with it but there needs to be support for businesses.”

Desmond believes the lack of support for Ireland’s live music industry – and other markets in Europe – is down to a lack of understanding. “The reality is, there is little understanding of the contribution this industry makes to the economy and to the wellbeing of people,” he says.

The Republic of Ireland’s perceived lack of understanding is likely exacerbated by a lack of representation in political spheres. It was recently revealed that minister for arts Catherine Martin – whose plan to reopen the sector was snubbed by government – is not yet on the cabinet committee on Covid-19.

The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) says the lack of representation is “disastrous” for the industry.

 


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Festivals cancelled as Ireland outlaws events over 5k

The Republic of Ireland’s major summer festivals, including Longitude, All Together Now, Life Festival, Body & Soul and the new-for-2020 Sunstroke, have been called off after the Irish government confirmed there would there would be no licences issued for events over 5,000 people until the end of August.

A statement issued by the Irish prime minister (taoiseach), Leo Varadkar, says while licensing decisions in Ireland are usually reserved for local councils, local authorities “have been advised by government that event promoters should be informed that events requiring licences in excess of 5,000 will not be considered for the period up to the end of August”.

MCD Productions, which promotes Longitude (3–5 July) and Sunstroke (13–14 June), as well as Electric Picnic on 4–6 September, says while it is “obviously devastated” Longitude isn’t going ahead, “the health and safety of our fans and staff is paramount and we fully respect the government’s decision. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the frontline workers currently giving their all to keep us safe.”

Longitude’s 2020 line-up featured headliners Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and Asap Rocky, along with Mabel, Young Thug, J Hus and Charli XCX.

As for Electric Picnic, MCD head Denis Desmond says: “It’s a long shot. The chances of it happening are not good.”

“The health and safety of our audience, team and performers takes total precedence at this time of global crisis”

Restrictions on major events are also in place in the Netherlands, where large events are banned until 1 September; GermanyBelgium and Denmark, where a ban is in place until 31 August; and Luxembourg and Finland, which have prohibited mass gatherings until 31 July. France, meanwhile, has given mid-July as the earliest date when events could go ahead, while Austria has identified the end of June.

The restrictions across Europe are in line with the latest European Union guidance.

“Like everyone across the world, we’ve been watching the ongoing effects that Covid-19 is having on our everyday lives,” say All Together Now (31 July–2 August) organisers Pod Concerts and Aiken Promotions, which had booked Iggy Pop, Lauryn Hill, Mura Masa, Goldfrapp and more for its third edition. “The health and safety of our audience, team and performers, plus the extended communities to which they belong, takes total precedence at this time of global crisis.

“Being ‘All Together’ has never been more poignant. While for now, we can’t be together physically, we must be together in spirit by following HSE [Health Service Executive] and government guidelines [and] supporting frontline staff, our local communities, independent businesses and artists who need our support more than ever.”

Avril Stanley, promoter and festival director of Body & Soul (19–21 June), says: “While we may not be able to gather in person this summer, we are with you in spirit. We’re not going anywhere.”

 


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LN-Gaiety’s purchase of MCD cleared by CMA

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has cleared the acquisition of Ireland’s MCD Productions by the UK-based Live Nation-Gaiety joint venture, after finding last month the merger does not raise competition concerns in Britain.

The UK competition watchdog referred the merger for an in-depth, ‘phase-2’ investigation, after finding the coming together of Live Nation and MCD could lessen competition in Northern Ireland.

However, the findings of the phase-2 inquiry said the opposite: that the merger is “not likely to raise competition concerns, as Live Nation would not be expected to have the incentive to harm rival music promoters by making it harder for them to sell tickets through Ticketmaster”.

“Having consulted on this provisional finding”, the CMA today (19 December) confirms the merger has been cleared.

“Having consulted on” its provisional findings, the CMA has formally cleared the merger

LN-Gaiety Holdings – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced last August it planned to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions. Cork-born Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland in 2015, although MCD – founded by Desmond and Eamonn McCann in 1980, and now co-owned by Desmond and his wife, Caroline Downey – remained independent of Live Nation/Gaiety.

The company is one of the big two promoters and venue operators in the Irish republic, alongside Peter Aiken’s Aiken Promotions.

The LN-MCD merger has already been cleared by the CCPC, the CMA’s counterpart in the Republic of Ireland.

 


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LN-MCD merger doesn’t raise competition concerns after all, says CMA

The latest phase of a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) inquiry has found that the acquisition of MCD Productions by Live Nation-Gaiety does not raise competition concerns, paving the way for regulatory approval of the long-delayed merger in the UK.

The CMA’s preliminary ‘phase-1’ inquiry found, somewhat implausibly, that a merger of Live Nation and MCD could lessen competition in Northern Ireland by restricting the ability of rival promoters to sell tickets through LN-owned Ticketmaster.

The preliminary findings of the regulator’s in-depth, ‘phase-2’ investigation, however, say the opposite: that the merger is “not likely to raise competition concerns, as Live Nation would not be expected to have the incentive to harm rival music promoters by making it harder for them to sell tickets through Ticketmaster”.

The UK competition watchdog is asking for views on its provisional findings by 28 November, with the deadline for final report set for 8 January 2020.

LN-Gaiety Holdings – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced last August it planned to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions. Cork-born Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland in 2015, although MCD – founded by Desmond and Eamonn McCann in 1980, and now co-owned by Desmond and his wife, Caroline Downey – remained independent of Live Nation/Gaiety.

The company is one of the big two promoters and venue operators in the Irish republic, alongside Peter Aiken’s Aiken Promotions.

The LN-MCD merger has already been cleared by the CCPC, the CMA’s counterpart in the Republic of Ireland.

 


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Arenal Sound promoter acquires Benicassim

Spanish promoter the Music Republic has acquired the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (FIB) from Maraworld.

The Music Republic, owned by brothers David and Toño Sánchez, promotes festivals including Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Granada Sound and Madrid Salvaje.

In a statement, the Sánchez brothers state they will “take over the festival and run it for successive years.” The new FIB owners also note they intend to “maintain [FIB’s] essence and position it once more as a leader on the global scene.”

According to El Mundo, the acquisition of FIB signals the end of Maraworld, which is majority owned by MCD Productions and SJM Concerts.

“We have been told that we are shutting down but we do not have any more details,” a representative from Maraworld’s offices in Madrid told the publication.

“We intend to maintain [FIB’s] essence and position it once more as a leader on the global scene”

Former FIB festival directors José Luis and Miguel Morán founded Maraworld in 1997. Irish promoter Vince Power acquired the company in 2009, selling his share to MCD Productions owner Denis Desmond and SJM Concerts director Simon Moran four years later, after encountering financial difficulties.

With Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn as festival director, the new team revived the struggling festival, putting on “the best FIB of the decade” in 2017, which saw 177,000 festivalgoers view performances by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kasabian and Foals, among others.

The 25th edition of FIB took place from 18 to 21 July 2019 and was attended by 114,000 people, almost 30% less than the previous year’s 160,000. The festival saw performances from Kings of Leon, Lana del Rey, George Ezra, Jess Glynne and the 1975.

Live Nation and SJM Concerts declined to comment.

 


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LN-MCD merger referred for “in-depth investigation”

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today referred its investigation of Live Nation’s proposed takeover of MCD Productions for an in-depth ‘phase 2’ probe.

Following a preliminary, ‘phase 1’ inquiry that found the merger could result in less competition in Northern Ireland – claiming, somewhat implausibly, that a Live Nation-controlled MCD might “stop rival promoters from selling tickets” through Ticketmaster – the competition regulatory has referred the planned acquisition for an “in-depth” set to conclude in January 2020.

LN-Gaiety Holdings (LNG) – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced last August it planned to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions. Cork-born Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland in 2015, although MCD – founded by Desmond and Eamonn McCann in 1980, and now co-owned by Desmond and his wife, Caroline Downey – retained its independence.

The new inquiry will be led by the CMA’s Robin Cohen, Anne Fletcher and chair Kip Meek (pictured).

On today’s decision, Desmond says: “We will continue to work with the CMA to allay any concerns they have.”

 


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MCD to work with CMA on merger queries

A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation has found that the proposed takeover of Irish promoter MCD Productions by LN-Gaiety Holdings (LNG) raises competition concerns in Northern Ireland.

LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Gaiety Investments – announced its plans to acquire MCD Productions in August. Denis Desmond, Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland owns both Gaiety Investments and MCD Productions, although the latter has remained independent.

According to the CMA, there are “only a few rival music promoters in the region”, and the majority of these sell tickets to events via Live Nation-owned ticketing platform Ticketmaster.

“If it [Live Nation] were to acquire MCD,” reads a CMA statement, “it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger.”

The CMA believes such an outcome could reduce the promotion services available to artists, drive up ticket prices and limit the live music events on offer.

“If Live Nation were to acquire MCD, it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger”

The regulator states that other aspects of the companies’ businesses, such as music festivals and access to venues, does not raise competition concerns.

If LN-Gaiety and MCD fail to address CMA’s concerns, the watchdog will undertake a secondary investigative phase.

Desmond comments that “we will work with the CMA to allay any concerns they have.”

The UK watchdog began investigations into the LNG-MCD merger in May, following in the footsteps of its Irish counterpart the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

The CCPC cleared the acquisition earlier this week, after a ten-month investigation.

 


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Ireland clears Live Nation-MCD Productions merger

Following an investigation, the Republic of Ireland’s Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has cleared the acquisition of MCD Productions by LN-Gaiety Holdings (LNG).

LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced last August it planned to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions. Cork-born Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland in 2015, although MCD – founded by Desmond and Eamonn McCann in 1980, and now co-owned by Desmond and his wife, Caroline Downey – retained its independence.

CCPC announced a detailed ‘phase 2’ investigation into the merger, which looked into whether it would “substantially lessen” competition in the Irish concert market, at the start of this year, following a preliminary phase 1 probe in 2018.

According to the competition watchdog, it “identified a number of competition concerns arising from the overlapping activities of Live Nation and MCD in the provision of primary ticketing services, the promotion of live events and the operation of live event venues” in the republic. “These concerns included the likely impact on competition of future acquisitions of festivals or festival operators, the potential for anti-competitive information sharing, and the potential for retaliatory action against independent live event venues because they choose an alternative ticketing services provider,” according to a CCPC statement.

“We are pleased to learn that … the CCPC have approved MCD becoming part of the Live Nation Gaiety family”

To address these competition concerns, LN-Gaiety and MCD submitted the following proposals, which were accepted by CCPC:

“A proposed transaction involving parties with interconnected activities, and a sector with a limited number of players, is particularly challenging…”

To read CCPC’s ruling in full, click here.

Isolde Goggin, chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, comments: “Today’s determination is the culmination of ten months of in-depth analysis and consultation. The assessment of a proposed transaction involving parties with interconnected activities and a sector with a limited number of players is particularly challenging and requires robust scrutiny. […]

“The CCPC’s review of the proposed transaction included economic analysis of the affected markets and evidence from third parties active at all levels of the supply chain including promoters, ticketing services providers and live event venues. Taking into consideration the commitments provided by the parties, there is no evidence that the proposed transaction will result in a substantial lessening of competition in any market for goods or services in the state.

“The commitments obtained are legally binding and include requirements in relation to compliance reporting.”

The merger remains under review in the UK, where the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating competition concerns.

Commenting on the CCPC decision, Desmond says: “We are pleased to learn that following a comprehensive investigation, the CCPC have approved MCD becoming part of the Live Nation Gaiety family.”

 


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CMA investigates Live Nation-MCD merger

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating LN-Gaiety Holdings’ (LNG) planned merger with Irish promoter MCD Productions, joining its counterpart in Ireland which launched a ‘phase 2’ investigation into the acquisition in January.

LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced its plans to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions in August. Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation UK and Ireland chairman in 2015, although MCD remained independent. The acquisition was described as the “logical next step” for the two companies.

The planned merger first caught the attention of the Republic of Ireland’s consumer protection agency, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), who launched an investigation into the deal.

“The logical next step” for LNG, the acquisition would significantly strengthen the relationship between Live Nation UK and its chairman

The Irish competition watchdog then embarked on a further ‘phase 2’, after being “unable to conclude that the proposed transaction will not lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market for goods or services”.

Now, the CCPC’s UK counterpart has announced its own investigation into the acquisition.

The CMA launched a similar investigation into Live Nation’s 2017 takeover of Isle of Wight Festival, concerned that the deal would stifle the British festival market. Live Nation was cleared in September of the same year.

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) requested a separate inquiry into Live Nation’s alleged dominance of the UK festival market in August 2017, although CMA did not act on the appeal.

CMA is expected to give its decision based on stage one of the investigation by 11 July.

 


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