ARA launches manifesto for safe return of live
The EAA’s Arena Resilience Alliance (ARA) has launched its manifesto outlining the next steps required for the safe return of live events across Europe.
The ARA, a special-purpose initiative created by members of the European Arenas Association, unveiled the four-point action plan at its second virtual conference, A Game of Two Halves: The Return Leg, which took place yesterday afternoon (18 February).
The manifesto, entitled Rationale for a Resilient Return, centres on four core concepts:
- Creation of an advisory body
The ARA is proposing the creation of an advisory body that will work in tandem with European political interest groups to guide and instruct on the workings of the live events ecosystem and maximise resource for an effective return
- A hub for return and for change
The ARA, through its extensive network of large-capacity arenas across Europe, can offer its venues as a hub for the renewal of the music and sporting industries. The ARA believes its members’ venues can provide the physical space the live events ecosystem needs to build towards a safe return: a space for practice, for collaboration, for communities and for medically conditioned tests that will measure the feasibility, and act as a catalyst for the return, of fan-attended events
- Adapting for the future of live events
The ARA is ready to lead the discussion on the need for arenas to provide the physical space for the development of new environmentally sustainable and digital practices, within the context of the provision of community-based and fan-based group gatherings
- A safe and sustainable post-Covid-19 ecosystem
The Rationale for a Resilient Return manifesto has been prepared to face a critical moment for the events industry. The ARA believes we must embrace the opportunity to get arenas back to working for our communities; preserve the key elements of Europe’s cultural identity by bringing back live music and sporting events; and bring the different parts of the ecosystem together to create safer, greener and more efficient environments where European citizens can meet to relax, socialise and enjoy themselves
“As the advocacy platform for European arenas, the ARA’s manifesto will be an important tool as we prepare for a return to live events while working to protect the health and wellbeing of our communities and the sustainability of our industry,” says Robert Fitzpatrick, ARA co-founder and CEO of the Odyssey Trust, which owns the SSE Arena Belfast (an EAA member).
“The ARA’s manifesto will be an important tool as we prepare for a return to live events”
The second A Game of Two Halves conference followed the live music experiment organised by the Rockhal arena in Luxembourg last week, which saw a series of five live shows take place between 10 and 14 February as part of the Because Music Matters showcase.
Audiences were limited in capacity to 100 people each night, with allocated seats set up around a central stage to ensure a certain level of proximity to the stage while ensuring social distancing controls were in place throughout the venue. Attendees had to wear masks at all times inside the venue, and every participant and audience member was tested before and after each show.
Other safety precautions included contactless audience security screening and access control and guidance inside the venue. Full results from the experiment are expected in around two weeks.
A short behind-the-scenes video from the Rockhal test concerts were screened as part of the conference, following an introductory keynote from Sam Tanson, Luxembourg’s minister of culture.
Speaking at the conference, Tanson praised the efforts of Rockhal and Luxembourg’s health authority, saying she felt these tests were “very important” and showed the potential for live events to return with the “appropriate measures” in place.
Olivier Toth, EAA board member, ARA co-founder and CEO of Rockhal, says: “After almost a year without live events, experiments like our Because Music Matters showcase and other test events that have been taking place across Europe are an important and positive step forward in testing the safety measures we can employ to support our back-to-business strategies, building confidence among all our stakeholders that live events are a safe environment is so important.
“We were pleased to share initial feedback from the experiment at the ARA conference and we look forward to reviewing the findings fully, with a view to building towards a model that can be scaled as the industry continues to work towards the safe and sustainable return of live events.”
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Operation Restart: How EAA members plan to reopen
When the European Arenas Association (EAA) celebrated its 20th birthday back in 2011, the live entertainment industry was in the infancy of a record-breaking run, as live music, in particular, grew in popularity, and venues throughout the continent enjoyed the challenges of ever bigger visiting productions, attracting more and more eager fans.
A year ago, many of the EAA’s 36 member venues were predicting 2020 would deliver yet another record year, but the Covid-19 pandemic soon obliterated such optimism and ten months on from the beginning of lockdown measures, there is still no clear indication about when Europe’s arenas will be able to resume operations.
As a result, the EAA finds itself as the central hub for discussions about strategies for getting back to business, with members in constant contact to help plan how they can safely welcome artists and audiences back into their buildings while also protecting their staff and production crews.
“Our EAA conversations over the past year have highlighted that although we are all in a different situation, country by country and city by city, we’re all actually in the same situation when it comes to the use of the venues,” reports current EAA president John Langford.
“But having conversations facilitated by EAA membership between venue managers in Germany, France and the UK, for instance, alerts you to how people are responding differently and gives us the opportunity to learn from others.”
“Although [countries] are all in a different situation, we’re all in the same situation when it comes to the use of the venues”
One topic that arena bosses all agree on is that any solutions for reopening need to be universal to facilitate artist plans for international touring, meaning that the discussions that the EAA is hosting will be crucial to the recovery of major live events on this side of the Atlantic.
“Communication with our colleagues across Europe is as important right now as it has ever been,” states Mantas Vedrickas, events manager at the Žalgirio Arena in Kaunas, Lithuania.
“The EAA helps us communicate easily, and the sharing of experiences helps us all deal with the situation that we are placed in. It allows the exchange of ideas, and helps find the best ways to implement solutions.”
That sentiment is echoed by arena management across Europe, who are carefully making preparations to get back to business as soon as authorities give them the green light.
Preparations behind closed doors
Many of EAA’s member venues last hosted concerts in March 2020, meaning that they are but a handful of weeks away from having an entire year without shows.
That situation also means that thousands of people have been made redundant, further complicating the task of arena bosses when it comes to opening their venues for audiences.
“Whenever hosting events will be allowed, [Žalgirio Arena] will be all ready to restart”
However, some venues have been more fortunate than others. Vedrickas notes that the Žalgirio Arena has remained open for local basketball team, Žalgiris Kaunas, albeit without fans at games.
“Throughout this entire situation, we have been in constant dialogue with event organisers [and] whenever hosting events will be allowed, we will be all ready to restart,” he pledges.
Representing both the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin and the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Uwe Frommhold VP & COO of AEG Germany tells IQ, “Due to the generous furlough programme of the German government, we have been able to keep our staff on board throughout these tough times for our business. So we will be able to ramp up our workforce fairly quickly, once the situation calls for it.
“Furthermore, we were able to stage several non-concert events – fairs and sports – with reduced capacity, where our hygiene and social distancing protocols were put in practice. So we feel well prepared to gradually bring people back when the pandemic eases.”
In Portugal, Jorge Vinha da Silva, CEO at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, says that outside of the complete lockdown restrictions, the venue had permission to run events at 50% capacity, respecting regulations such as social distancing, reserved seats, hand sanitisers, thermal cameras, a renovated air-conditioning system, and a complete contingency plan approved by health and safety authorities.
The Altice Arena in Lisbon had permission to run events at 50% capacity, respecting regulations
Silva notes, “Of course, there were no international acts, but it was possible to have smaller events with local artists. We also used the venue for TV productions without audiences, and for the corporate side of the business, [we created] virtual or hybrid events.”
Across the border in Spain, the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid has been put to similar use.
“We did some film and TV shooting during the pandemic while we were not in lockdown or confined, as they need a big space now for the actors, separate dressing rooms, and different and isolated space for extras and bystanders,” says CEO Juan Carbonel.
“In the meantime – with zero income – we invested and did improvements in the facilities as we upgraded air systems and natural air venting, together with [audience signage], new protocols for security and extra cleaning, etc.”
Carbonel says the venue has also created new protocols regarding access strategies to protect arena workers and visiting crews.
Detailing the plans for a return to hosting events at the Arena Riga in Latvia, chairman Girts Krastins says, “Our approach will be based on local health regulations, but as the summer and first months of autumn were relatively relaxed we were able to host some events with spectators and test some procedures.”
Among those tested protocols were designated entrances, sales of socially distanced tickets, disinfection procedures for visitors and staff, clean zones for sports teams, shielded concessions, and safe food packaging.
“Our ice hockey team is still playing at Arena Riga, without spectators, and that allows us to routine our procedures”
Like Vedrickas in neighbouring Lithuania, Krastins has been able to hone some systems thanks to a sports team that calls Arena Riga home. “Our ice hockey team is still playing at our venue, without spectators, and that allows us to routine our procedures and keep [our] employees.”
And highlighting the importance of local trade bodies, as well as the EAA, on a bigger scale, Krastins adds, “Together with our local venue association we have been in touch with health authorities regarding possible solutions for crowd management under Covid-19 and that is one of the reasons why we were able to operate in summer and autumn.”
That foresight in testing and training is a common theme among EAA members.
At Münich’s Olympiapark, general manager Marion Schöne says, “During the first lockdown, we developed and implemented hygiene concepts for all our venues, and leisure and tourism facilities. We also trained employees as hygiene advisors in an in-house training course.
“From mid-May, we received permission to reopen under certain conditions. We were also able to hold daily concerts in the Olympic Stadium for six weeks in the summer, but only for a maximum of 400 people.”
“We were able to hold daily concerts in [Münich’s] Olympic Stadium for six weeks in the summer for a maximum of 400 people”
In Prague, Robert Schaffer, CEO at the O2 arena, reveals that the venue has been used several times, including for online concerts, but otherwise arena staff have taken the time to carry out maintenance programmes. But he remains cautious about the doors reopening.
“We hope that from the second [half of the year] we can start to return to normal,” he says. “Specifically, from September, we can start hosting concerts, especially by domestic artists.” International artists will likely not return until 2022, he predicts.
“Protecting the health of all involved is a top priority for us and we will certainly comply with all effective regulations, whether on capacity, time-segregated entrances to all sectors, temperature measurement, staff testing and, of course, regular disinfection,” continues Schaffer.
At the SEC in Glasgow, which includes the SSE Hydro Arena on its campus, director of live entertainment Debbie McWilliams notes that because it hosted a temporary hospital during the pandemic, staff have benefitted from National Health Service advice when planning for the venue’s return to action.
“We are fortunate to have the input of NHS Scotland as they have implemented best practice in managing hygiene and cleaning of the NHS Louisa Jordan [hospital],” she says.
“We hope that from the second half of the year [the O2 arena, Prague] we can start to return to normal”
And McWilliams acknowledges that instilling confidence among fans will be a major part of the rebuilding process. “Customer communication is pivotal in informing and encouraging responsible fan behaviour,” she says.
“In partnership with Ticketmaster we have enhanced our ticket purchase process to include allocated entry arrival times, potential for carpark advanced bookings, a switch to fully mobile ticket delivery to support reduced contact entry, and we are transitioning all F&B and merchandising to cashless. Our comms plan is being developed to take cognisance of individual audience profiles and their needs.”
Meanwhile, in Paris, AccorHotels Arena director general Nicolas Dupeux applauds his team’s flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing situation. “Since last March, we have been able to organise a number of events,” he says.
“The first one, in June, was part of the annual Fête de la Musique celebrations, broadcast on French television. In record time, we had to prepare to welcome more than 30 artists, and then reorganise in less than three days to welcome 3,000 people, taking into account all the sanitary measures.”
That ability to rapidly reorganise staff and systems to host major events is one of the arena sector’s unique skills. And facilitated by the communication networks that have developed through EAA membership, arena management across the continent are currently updating plans, often daily, for Covid-safe systems that will help relaunch their businesses and welcome fans back into their buildings.
“Since last March, we have been able to organise a number of events [at AccorHotels Arena, Paris]”
While there is still no set date that will allow arenas to reopen for business, the EAA’s members are working tirelessly to ensure they remain up to speed with government guidance, as well as best practice procedures advocated by the association.
AccorHotels Arena boss Dupeux sums up the role EAA will have in the venues sector recovery. “Being part of the EAA gives us a great space to exchange with other venues that face the same challenges – managing venues and re-welcoming our fans – and this has proven extremely useful, especially in the current context.
Membership also gives us access to industry benchmarks on recovery stimulus and actions. Being that our venue is so large and specific, EAA is the only space available to do this on a European level.”
Highlighting just how eager he is to kickstart the recovery, Dupeux discloses, “We have been working since the first lockdown on our reopening protocols to ensure the strictest respect for health and safety: social distancing, reinforced cleaning and disinfection procedures, establishing one-way circulation paths, implementing mandatory face-covering rules and deploying hand-sanitiser stations. Our protocol was successfully tested last June.
“On the digital side of things, we have sped the deployment of our touchless solutions (click&collect and cashless payment) to be ready for reopening. We are also ready to gradually reopen with design offers for production with smaller gauges, all with a ready-to-use setup to limit costs.”
“From autumn, business must be running again to some extent, otherwise we see black for the future”
Addressing her expectations for the coming year, Marion Schöne at Olympiapark in Münich, comments, “In our economic plan for 2021, we have assumed that we will not have any operations in the first quarter; from the second quarter, we hope to be able to reopen our tourism facilities but with limited capacities, and in the summer, the first open-air concerts and festivals must be possible again, albeit with conditions.”
But she warns, “From autumn, and at the latest in the fourth quarter, business must be running again to some extent, otherwise we see black for the future.
“We are represented in various nationwide working groups and are trying to convince politicians to develop a roadmap for the restart, together with the event industry. Our great hopes are the vaccinations, certified and inexpensive corona [rapid testing], as well as further studies that show that events can be held safely.”
In Scotland, McWilliams is equally realistic about the path to doors opening. “Assessing the year ahead, we expect promoter focus to be on the summer and the crucial return of festivals. We expect arena business to return in September following a successful festival programme,” she reports.
Noting that forecasts are reliant on the success of the UK’s vaccine programmes, McWilliams explains, “Following this timeline, we are working with Scottish government on a road map back to full capacity, which will include some test events at reduced capacities, building to full capacity.”
“we are working with Scottish government on a road map back to full capacity, which will include some test events”
Arena Riga’s Krastins is similarly pragmatic about the coming year. “Our plan for this year is mainly sports,” he states. “We will probably host the World Championship in ice hockey (with or without spectators) in May till June, then some international competitions in ‘bubble’ format, and then the regular ice hockey season starts in August.
“And if shows resume in September or October, we will be ready. In general, I feel that 2021 will be better than 2020, but definitely nowhere close to 2019.”
In Germany, AEG’s Frommhold is also counting on a revival in the second half of the year. “We are clearly looking at late Q3 and Q4 for larger crowds to be allowed back into the venues,” he comments. “Currently, a lot of shows and concerts are moving out of 2021 into 22.
“In Berlin and Hamburg we are in ongoing conversations with local and regional promoters about shows with limited capacity, whenever this is allowed, to bridge the gap to the start of regular touring. We are hoping for May for such shows to take place, but that is hard to predict. Obviously, a sustained business case and social distancing are mutually exclusive, but those events would send a positive message and get people working,” observes Frommhold.
Altice Arena chief Jorge Vinha da Silva is more optimistic that science can help reduce the impact of Covid-19 and allow mass gatherings to become commonplace again. “I hope by mid-year we can start recovering, especially in the third and fourth quarter when I hope our venues progressively return to full capacity with the evolution of the vaccination process or by mass [use] rapid testing.
“Fan research confirms pent-up demand for live, however, we need to be aware of consumer disposable income levels”
“I believe events will return first in a regional setting, as one of the most important factors is to rebuild consumer confidence and none of us can really evaluate the effect of an inevitable economic crisis. On the other hand, after the pandemic, everyone will be willing to share collective experiences such as concerts and festivals and this will be positive for the industry.”
Advocating “Clear, consistent, positive messaging on all customer touchpoints,” McWilliams agrees with Silva’s summary and concludes that ticket pricing could be a key factor to the success of the industry’s relaunch.
“Fan research confirms there is pent-up demand for live events, however, we need to be aware of the impact on consumer disposable income levels,” she warns.
“In a post-Covid world, there may be lots of choice but attendance could be stifled by a change in purchase practice, with consumers displaying self-protection and a need for security in their spending habits. If ticket prices were lower for a period of time this may help mitigate risk.”
Read this feature in its original format, with additional insight from EAA president John Langford, in the digital edition of IQ 96.
ARA set to reveal manifesto for Europe’s return to live
The Arena Resilience Alliance (ARA), the purpose-driven initiative created by the European Arenas Association (EAA), is set to launch a manifesto detailing the essential next steps for a safe return to live music and sport across Europe.
The action plan will be revealed during the industry body’s second conference, ‘A Game of Two Halves: The Return Leg‘ in association with IQ, which will be streamed live on Thursday 18 February at 1 pm GMT on the EAA’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The free virtual event will feature contributions from a range of speakers including John Langford (AEG Europe COO and EAA president), Sam Tanson (minister of culture for Luxembourg) and Alex Jäger, (sport director at Champions Hockey League).
The free virtual event will feature contributions from speakers including John Langford, Sam Tanson and Alex Jäger
A Game of Two Halves: The Return Leg will also feature a keynote speech and presentation by Sam Tanson, minister of culture for Luxembourg, featuring behind the scenes footage and in-depth analysis from a series of test concerts taking place in Luxembourg at Rockhal arena’s club venue.
Alongside the Rockhal test events presentation and ARA manifesto launch, the event will also feature two panel discussions titled ‘Ready to Rock and Play’ and ‘Working out Way Back To You’ which will explore what support the live events sector needs from policymakers on both a national and EU level to enable long-term resilience and future growth.
Opening addresses will be delivered by Rita Brasil de Brito (chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, Portuguese presidency of the council of the EU and Viviane Hoffmann (deputy director general at the European Commission Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture).
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ARA conference to analyse Rockhal test concerts
The Arena Resilience Alliance (ARA), a newly formed purpose group created by the European Arenas Association (EAA), has announced part two of its virtual conference, A Game of Two Halves, in association with IQ.
A Game of Two Halves: The Return Leg will hear key representatives from EU institutions, national governments, and live event sectors explore how large capacity venues across Europe are preparing for a safe reopening, particularly using test concerts.
The conference will reflect on a series of test concerts taking place in Luxembourg at Rockhal arena’s club venue between 10–14 February.
Taking place under the banner of ‘Because Music Matters’, each event in the five-night series will be limited to 100 people – all of whom will be required to take a Covid-19 test prior to the event and again seven days later, wear a mask throughout the event, and socially distance inside.
The series is hosted in conjunction with the national health inspection authority.
Behind the scenes content and insights from the Rockhal test concerts will be screened as part of the conference, offering an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned and next steps and helping to frame the discussion around what still needs to be done.
“[The Rockhal tests] are an important step forward in testing the safety measures we can employ to support our strategies”
The event will also explore what support the live events sector needs from policymakers on both a national and EU level to enable long-term resilience and future growth.
Olivier Toth, CEO, Rockhal in Luxembourg and co-founder of the ARA says: “Building on the success of our first #AGameofTwoHalves webinar in December, we are proud to return with a second event that will explore how we are working towards the safe return of live music and sport. Our Because Music Matters showcase at Rockhal is an important step forward in testing the safety measures we can employ to support our back to business strategies. I look forward to sharing our experience and insights from these events.”
Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO, The Odyssey Trust, owners of The SSE Arena, Belfast and co-founder of the ARA added: “As the advocacy platform for European arenas, the ARA is proud to provide an opportunity for the industry to come together with key EU decision-makers to prepare for a return to live events, whilst working to protect the health and wellbeing of our communities and the sustainability of our industry, which will be central to the economic and societal recovery of countries across Europe.
“Together, we can build regional and national frameworks, with international collaboration that will help us get back to business.”
ARA’s first virtual conference in December 2020 is available to watch online here.
ARA conference: “Arenas are the workhorses of the biz”
Industry pros from music, sport and the EU yesterday came together for a virtual conference organised by Arena Resilience Alliance (ARA), a newly formed purpose group created by the European Arenas Association (EAA), in association with IQ.
The conference, titled A Game of Two Halves, opened a dialogue about the need for a pan-European strategy for the return of live music and sports events indoors.
The live music session invited speakers MEP, Monica Semedo; Herman Schueremans, CEO, Live Nation, Belgium; Olivier Toth, CEO, Rockhal, Luxembourg and Jason Danter, production manager/director for artists including Madonna, Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden.
The panel’s central focus was the role of arenas in the industry’s ecosystem, which heard speakers explain why it is important to keep the venues open.
Danter says that from a touring point of view, arena shows are what bands often strive to achieve at the peak of their careers.
“There’s a huge difference in the number of arena bands versus the number of stadium bands. Not every band can sell the number of tickets to play stadiums but many will play arenas,” he says.
“If arenas are not a spoke in the wheel, they’re the hub… a very important part of the touring world”
He goes on to emphasise the importance of arenas as a major employer in the music industry, as well as a substantial revenue source.
“Arenas have a huge amount of shows with a huge capacity of people coming through it. The shows demand a level of production and a budget which means we get to employ more people, and we get to give contracts to more companies. Essentially, arenas workhorse of the touring world. If arenas are not a spoke in the wheel, they’re the hub… a very important part of the touring world,” he concludes.
Rockhal CEO, Toth, ran with the analogy, adding that if arenas close for good, it’ll have a knock-on effect for the industry: “The different stakeholders in our industry are the spokes to that hub, helping it operate as a full wheel. If you take out that hub, obviously the spokes are not of any good use. It’s not about getting arenas back to business tomorrow or next week but it’s about starting to plan because we need six months–nine months to get started again.”
Speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on the live music industry, Live Nation Belgium CEO Schueremans, says: “We were in shock. A cultural industry that didn’t exist 45–50 years ago, that started from nothing and created a lot of jobs and VAT was going to be destroyed. As a live industry, we were not internationally well organised, even though we organise tours all over the world.”
“We need harmonised and co-ordinated Covid measures within the EU in order to have clarification”
MEP Semedo followed that point, emphasising the importance of pan-European co-ordination with the restart of European and international touring.
“We need harmonised and co-ordinated Covid measures within the EU in order to have clarification on whether artists and people can cross borders and whether they need to quarantine or not. There needs to be a one-stop-shop with conditions for artists, arenas and events, reducing the bureaucratic burden. It’s important that all actors in this cultural and creative industry work together,” she said, wrapping up the session.
Closing the event, Gordon Masson, editor of IQ Magazine, hosted a discussion with ARA co-founders: Olivier Toth, CEO, Rockhal in Luxembourg; Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO, The Odyssey Trust; the owners of The SSE Arena, Belfast; and Adrian Doyle, Board Member, EAA.
The event also featured addresses from a range of speakers including John Langford, EAA president; Tamas Szucs, director for culture and creativity at the European Commission and a keynote speech by Sam Tanson, minister of culture, Luxembourg.
Commenting after the event, Langford said: “Arenas play a crucial role in communities right across Europe. This event has opened important dialogue around why we need unified conditions that will allow music, culture and sports to return to arenas and enable arenas to reopen. We would like to thank our speakers for their valued contribution and for all of our industry colleagues for joining us. With continued discussion and collaboration, we will create a framework that will help us to rebuild these important industries.”
EAA announces Arena Resilience Alliance conference
The Arena Resilience Alliance (ARA), a special purpose group created by the European Arenas Association (EAA), will host a free virtual conference in December exploring the urgent need for the development of a pan-European strategy for the return to live events.
The conference, titled A Game of Two Halves, will take place on 8 December and focus on why ‘getting fit for purpose’ will be essential to bringing live music and sports events back to arenas and large-capacity venues across Europe, according to the association.
“This event will open important dialogue around why we need unified conditions that will allow music, culture and sports to return to arenas and arenas to re-open their doors for fans of live events,” comments John Langford, president of the EAA.
The virtual conference will address the essential role of arenas as the central hub of the live event ecosystem across Europe, and as key partners to those who organise, promote, play and perform, says the EAA. According to the newly formed ARA, venue closures this year have resulted in the loss of more than 35,000 indoor live events, representing over 113 million lost ticket sales.
Through the event, the ARA hopes to open dialogue with ministers, MEPs and European commissioners with the aim of developing a regulatory framework for the mandatory requirements and measures that enable venues to re-open and facilitate the return of live touring. “A single framework will facilitate business continuity, provide job security and protect the wellbeing of all citizens, employees, freelancers, third-party contractors, players, performers visitors and fans,” the EAA says.
A Game of Two Halves speakers will include Sam Tanson, minister of culture, Luxembourg; MEPs Tomasz Frankowski and Monica Semedo; Tamas Szucs, director of the European Commission’s directorate-general for education, youth, sport and culture; Jason Danter, production manager/director for artists such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden; Adrian Doyle, board member, European Arenas Association; Ole Hertel, GM, Mercedes-Benz Arena, Berlin; Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO, The Odyssey Trust Company (owner of the SSE Arena, Belfast); Luca Scafati, director, business operations, Euroleague; Herman Schueremans, CEO, Live Nation Belgium; Szymon Szemberg, CEO, European Hockey Clubs Alliance; and Olivier Toth, CEO, Rockhal, Luxembourg.
“We are at a pivotal moment in terms of the planning needed to protect and rebuild the live events ecosystem across Europe”
The first session, focussing on sport, will be a discussion around ‘Aligning product and place: delivering a new fan experience.’ Following a short break, the focus will turn to live music and will explore ‘why a pan-European approach is crucial for live music’s return.’
Closing the event, Gordon Masson, editor of IQ Magazine, will host a fireside-style discussion with ARA co-founders, Oliver Toth and Robert Fitzpatrick.
“We are at a pivotal moment in terms of the planning needed to protect and rebuild the live events ecosystem across Europe,” explains Toth. “Through this special event, the ARA hopes to open important dialogue between the industry and key EU decision-makers to ensure we move forward with a single framework to facilitate the safe return of live events.”
Robert Fitzpatrick adds: “Arenas are central to the cultural fabric of countries throughout Europe and are a key player in the national and regional tourism ecosystem. Without them, event promoters, artists, indoor sports teams and a host of third-party service contractors are at risk of going out of business. The importance of wellbeing for all venue staff and stakeholders cannot be underestimated; our industry is on the precipice of a major mental health crisis.”
The ARA’s A Game of Two Halves virtual conference takes place on Tuesday 8 December 2020, from 14.00–16.30 CET (13.00–15.30 GMT), and is free to attend. The conference, hosted in collaboration with the European Arenas Association and IQ Magazine, will stream live on the EAA YouTube channel.
The Associates: EAA, FAC, Iceland Music
Covid-19 has impacted every business sector around the world, but with live entertainment likely to be one of the last industries to return, given social distancing regulations, the associations that represent its millions of employees have never been more important.
As restrictions in many countries enter yet another month, for issue 91 IQ found out more about some of our association partners and discovered just what they are doing to help their members navigate and survive.
Following the last instalment with the BPI, CLMA and Dansk Live, this time we check in with the European Arenas Association, the UK’s Featured Artists Coalition and Iceland Music.
European Arenas Association
Representing 33 arenas across 20 countries, the aim of the European Arenas Association (EAA) is to provide consistency, support, best practice and networking opportunities for its members, to allow and encourage them to share experiences and common ground. Membership usually costs €4,000 per year.
The arena industry has been hit particularly hard in the pandemic, so support for the EEA membership during these challenging times has included:
- Surveys to establish the different protocols and procedures followed in the initial stages of the outbreak
- Discussion platforms to allow all members to have direct contact with each other and share concerns/questions
- Cancellation of 2020 membership fees to alleviate financial pressure
- Lobbying the EU via the EU sub-group network
The EAA cancelled its 2020 membership fees to alleviate financial pressure
Featured Artists Coalition (UK)
The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) is the UK trade body representing the specific rights and interests of music artists. It is a not-for-profit organisation, serving a diverse, global membership of creators at all stages of their careers. The FAC was formed by artists, for artists, and places this ethos at the centre of all it does. It advocates, educates, collaborates and researches on behalf of artists, coming together to provide a strong collective voice within the industry and to governments domestically and abroad.
Formed in 2009, by seminal artists including Billy Bragg and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, the FAC’s board still represents some of the most recognised names in the music world, with current artists in residence that include Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Imogen Heap, Katie Melua, Sandie Shaw, Howard Jones, Fran Healy (Travis) and Blur’s David Rowntree. There are around 3,500 FAC members, whose fees are £5 (€5.60) monthly or £50 (€56) per year.
During the pandemic, the FAC has focused on different areas at different times (as is the nature of the impact). It moved quickly to survey members to assess the immediate impact of the lockdown. That data hugely supported its lobbying efforts both within the industry and to government. FAC’s Covid-19 directory has been keeping members up to date, while the organisation’s events have moved online to boost the community aspects of their work.
Iceland Music has been lobbying government to get funds into the system to assist with the drop in revenue for musicians and promoters
Iceland Music is an information agency and music export office. It does not have a membership system, but provides all sorts of information and support to the music community in Iceland, and promotes Icelandic music abroad.
The organisation runs IcelandMusic.is (in English) which offers a portal into the country’s diverse music scene, and Uton.is (in Icelandic), which provides a large range of tools, news and information for the local music community.
Iceland Music also administers the Music Export Fund, which distributes travel grants monthly and marketing grants quarterly. It also runs projects like Record in Iceland, which is a programme offering a 25% refund for projects that are recorded in Icelandic studios, and Firestarter Accelerator, which provides support for small businesses within the music community.
During the pandemic, the organisation has been lobbying government to get funds into the system to assist with the drop in revenue for musicians and promoters, venues, record stores and related operators.
Iceland Music has also been updating its educational materials, creating webinars, podcasts and educational videos that enable those working in the industry to learn more about the business.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
A new reality: Arenas talk reopening challenges
Strict hygiene protocols, contactless technology and fewer queues are likely to form the future of Europe’s arenas, as venue operators shun social distancing but nonetheless prepare to open to a changed reality.
Venue owners and event organisers across the continent have been grappling with new restrictions as many major markets around Europe begin to reopen, striving to strike the balance between providing a safe environment, maintaining financial viability and keeping their business alive.
Strict capacity limits and social distancing regulations have meant many venues have kept their doors closed, even if they are technically allowed to reopen.
With a current upper limit of 30 people at indoor events in the Netherlands, there is really “no model” for shows, Jurgen Hoekstra, manager of entertainment and sports at Rotterdam Ahoy tells IQ.
Hoekstra calculates that the Rotterdam Ahoy team could make an “attractive venue” operating at 30% capacity, maintaining 1.5 metres between guests, with a seating plan on the floor. But, really, “in our field of business, the aim is to let people enjoy experiences with a lot of others – the more people there are, the more special it is.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal.”
AEG Europe COO and Europe Arenas Association (EAA) president John Langford agrees that socially distanced shows are “financially and practically challenging – and in many cases impossible – for both venues and promoters”, although the early phase of recovery offers little other possibility than hosting events with lower capacities.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal”
“This scenario is however not viable or sustainable beyond just a handful of events.”
In the UK, Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall and chair of the National Arenas Association (NAA), says none of the venues she works with “can viably reopen while social distancing measures remain in place.”
Two-metre distancing would require using only 15% of the Hall’s full 8,000-person capacity, with a capacity of around 85% needed to make events financially viable.
So, what is the answer for venues? And how can they reopen while both keeping staff, artists and audience safe, and generating enough money to keep going?
A focus on a contactless customer journey, the use of protective gear, air filtering and upgraded hygiene protocols are among options listed by AEG Germany COO and VP Uwe Frommhold.
The allocation of time slots will also be important for “avoiding unnecessary mingling”, says Frommhold, whereas “tools to track down infection chains” are vital in case infection does spread at an event.
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer – not even a vaccine will do it alone.”
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer”
The AEG Europe team has also been working closely with ASM Global in the development of the VenueShield programme, a toolkit comprising best practice solutions that can be employed in response to public health guidance.
For Noble, a permanent move towards contactless payments and ticket scanning, as well as pre-booked food and drinks, will characterise the gig of the future.
The NAA has put together a proposal for the UK government which would allow venues to reopen at full capacity, including procedures such as heightened entrance and exit controls, increased sanitisation, the use of protective equipment and contactless service processes.
Noble gives the example of a production of the Phantom of the Opera, which has been running in Seoul, South Korea, throughout the Covid-19 crisis. The theatre used disinfectant mists, temperature checks and questionnaires to ensure safety standards were met.
“If we are to find a solution, it is going to be a combination of numerous measures, from increased access points to hand sanitisers, Perspex screens and PPE for staff,” says Noble.
Rotterdam Ahoy’s Hoekstra speaks of the possibility of repurposing space to allow for a wider variety of events in the short term.
With a variety of spaces at their disposal, including a 16,500-cap. arena, conference centre and exhibition halls, there is the possibility to host trade fairs and exhibitions at the venue, event formats which have seen some success in reopening so far.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together”
Even though restrictions in the Netherlands remain stringent – capacity limits are set at 30 until July, when they may be increased to 100 – Hoekstra hopes that signs of success in other markets, such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland, may lead to a further lifting of measures.
“I am convinced that in the end that people will enjoy a show in a full arena again, as long as we can guarantee a safe place, and I really think this will be the case.”
For Noble, reassuring staff, artists, crew and audiences that it is safe to attend events will be “the biggest challenge” for venues wishing to reopen fully.
“People will understandably be nervous, and it’s our job to not only find a way for events to take place safely, but also to instil confidence that we’ve done so. That’s going to be a question of transparency and communication.”
Safety is, of course, at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment, and will continue to be for a long time in the future. However, it is important to remember that the very essence of the live show is also at risk, and this is something that has to be factored in while considering the best ways to reopen.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together,” says Noble.
“We are all missing that.”
Venue leaders optimistic for 2020 reopening
Venue professionals expressed confidence that doors will reopen before the end of the year, but shared doubts as to whether social distancing is the answer, in the latest IQ Focus panel.
Available to watch back now on the IQ website, as well as on Facebook and Youtube, the session saw John Langford (AEG Europe), Lucy Noble (Royal Albert Hall/NAA), Olivier Toth (Rockhal/EAA), Oliver Hoppe (Wizard Promotions), Tom Lynch (ASM Global) and Lotta Nibell (GOT Event) reflect on when they will return to business and the tactics that venues will use to ensure the show goes on.
All panellists were optimistic that some shows will return before the end of 2020, although next year will see the true restart of indoor live events, with many speaking of “packed 2021 calendars”.
For Toth, CEO of the 6,500-capacity Rockhal in Luxembourg, smaller capacity shows with strict social distancing measures will be the most likely to restart before the new year. Rockhal’s intimate club venue, which typically has a capacity of 1,100, can hold 90 people with two metre distancing measures in place, but “we can increase capacity as we go”, said Toth.
“For shows of a bigger scale, I am optimistically hoping for the end of this year, but it is more likely to be 2021,” said Toth.
Rockhal is one of a number of venues in Luxembourg acting as a temporary medical facility.
For GOT Event, which operates nine venues in Sweden, sports fixtures are the most likely to return in 2020, with all matches played behind closed doors. “For music and other shows, I think it’ll be next year,” said Nibell.
Even though Sweden has not entered a full lockdown unlike many of its European counterparts, a ban on shows over 50 people has left the Swedish live industry in much the same position as elsewhere.
“For shows of a bigger scale, I am optimistically hoping for the end of this year, but it is more likely to be 2021”
ASM Global has already seen some success with the return of sporting events, hosting Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events behind closed doors at venues in the United States.
Lynch said ASM Global’s VenueShield, a post-coronavirus reopening programme, has played a big part in allowing the sports powerhouse to get back up and running. “Next I’d like to see how, or if, we can introduce fans with social distancing and in a safe and clean environment.”
Social distancing has been a “hot topic” of late for the events industry, said Langford, asking Wizard Promotions’ Hoppe if it is a viable solution for event organisers.
While it may work for some kinds of shows and events, “I don’t think social distancing will be a part of what we will be looking at,” said Hoppe. Drive-in concerts offer an example of social distancing success, added Hoppe, but “are horrible for an artist in my opinion”.
Noble, artistic and commercial director at London’s (5,272-cap.) Royal Albert Hall and chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association (NAA), agreed that social distancing is not part of the plan for reopening as “it just doesn’t work financially”.
“We do know we can run our venues in world class ways to facilitate shows going on, be it by contact tracing, temperature checks, questionnaires, disinfectant mists etc.”
Noble noted the lack of clarity given to the live industry by the UK government, which is yet to give a date for when events of any size will be permitted again. “If they don’t give us clarity, then we need to give them clarity,” said Noble. “We are suggesting to them how we can operate.”
“I am really positive about the future of live events, but we just need to find a way of operating in this situation, if it recurs”
The EAA has also taken up a lobbying position, working with the European Commission to develop a reopening plan for the live industry.
“We’ll be facing very different requirements and expectations from our customers,” said Toth. “Scenarios will be very different, from artist hospitality to audience experience, not even mentioning social distancing, so the ambition was to put major concerns out there and open up the discussion.”
Consumer demand has been another worry for the live industry, with surveys indicating a potential cautiousness on behalf of some about returning to public events. However, Toth pointed out that the majority of fans are holding on to tickets for postponed events, indicating that “people are looking forward to coming back”.
Noble said that the Royal Albert Hall is expecting confidence will take a while to return and is modelling accordingly.
“We certainly won’t be selling to full houses when we reopen,” said Noble. The venue is adjusting its programming to focus on shows that attract younger audiences first, the demographic most likely to make a quick return to events.
“I am really positive about the future of live events,” said Noble, “but we just need to find a way of operating in this situation, and for if it recurs.”
The next IQ Focus session, The Innovation Session, is taking place on Thursday 28 May at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET, chaired by Mike Malak (Paradigm), and featuring speakers Sheri Bryant (Sansar), Tommas Arnby (Locomotion Ent.), Amy Oldham (Dice), Ben Samuels (MelodyVR) and Prajit Gopal (Looped).
EAA works on recovery plan for live
The European Arenas Association (EAA) has opened discussion with its members to help build a post-Covid-19 recovery plan for the live events industry.
The EAA, which represents 33 arenas across Europe with an annual collective audience of over 20 million, is the latest industry body to develop guidelines for reopening, following the publication of guides produced by the Event Safety Alliance and Society of Independent Show Organizers in the US and Research Institute for Exhibition and Live Communication in Germany.
The EAA’s European Union subgroup, which is working with the European Commission to develop a recovery plan for the live industry, has created a document covering all the key areas that will need to be addressed before venues across Europe can safely reopen their doors.
The document looks at both the infrastructure and systems that must be implemented to meet required safety standards, and the messaging and communication that will be necessary to regain customer confidence.
“It is vital that all decisions regarding venue strategy are made on the basis of first-hand experience and knowledge from people working in the business”
The document is one part of the EAA’s strategy to support current European Commission initiatives designed to strengthen the European live industry and aid its recovery.
“There is no precedent to follow and decisions taken over the next few weeks will have a long-lasting impact on a key industry,” comments Olivier Toth, head of the EAA’s EU subgroup.
“It is vital that all decisions regarding venue strategy are made on the basis of first-hand experience and knowledge from people working in the business who are best placed to ensure delivery.”
Toth will be speaking alongside John Langford (AEG Europe), Lucy Noble (Royal Albert Hall/NAA), Oliver Hoppe (Wizard Promotions), Tom Lynch (ASM Global) and Lotta Nibell (GOT Event) in next IQ Focus panel, The Venue’s Venue: Building Back, tomorrow (21 May) at 3.30 (BST)/4.30 (CET).