The big return to the fields
Last year saw the return of festivals across Europe after the pandemic break. And it was a comeback full of excitement and joy – but also many challenges in what some are describing as the toughest year to date. In this feature from the European Festival Report, we look back at some of the themes that dominated summer 2022.
When live concerts returned after the lockdowns, there were predictions of “the roaring twenties,” as music-starved fans flocked to see their favourite artists once more. But by the beginning of the festival season this year, that bullishness was being tempered by loud notes of caution.
At May’s ILMC in London, DF Concerts CEO Geoff Ellis, whose company runs Scotland’s TRNSMT festival, correctly predicted some of the themes that would come to dominate the summer: increasing costs, exacerbated by supply chain and staffing issues.
“In the UK, costs are going up at least 25% from 2019 prices, which is really difficult,” he said. “And it’s the scarcity of kit as well, so stages, barriers – we’re having to beg, borrow, and steal barriers from different arenas because there are so many shows on. There are shows that have moved from 2020 and didn’t happen in ’21, all happening, plus the festivals, plus the outdoor business that would have taken place in ’22.
“Also, staff – lots of stewards left the industry during the pandemic. Lots of sporting events are taking certainly the high-end toilets, maybe not the actual Portaloos but the flushable toilets and trailers, so that’s a real challenge.”
And he noted that simply putting up prices to cover these additional costs this year wasn’t an option, coming off the back of the loyalty of people who held their tickets for years and with a cost-of-living crisis already biting.
So, here’s a round-up of how things worked out this year.
High production costs, low staff availability
One of the most significant challenges of 2022 was the massive increase in costs for production. Issues associated with Covid and Brexit and longstanding problems of low pay and long hours, finally came home to roost. There just weren’t enough crew, security, drivers, trucks, staging, toilets, and everything else needed to fulfil all the concerts that were held over during the lockdowns as well as fulfil the festival season.
One of the earliest casualties was Belgium’s 25,000-capacity Rock Werchter Encore, which was called off just a month after being launched, due to “high production costs, staff shortages, and low consumer confidence.”
Typically, festival companies reacted with pragmatism. As an example, Mojo Concerts in the Netherlands launched a new website to advertise the hundreds of festival jobs available, in a collaboration with partner companies operating within the sector. The platform included full-time, part-time, and flexible posts in roles such as security, medical services, production, office, hospitality, cleaning, and tech.
Many of the employers listed on the website worked with festivals including Lowlands, Pinkpop, NN North Sea Jazz, Down The Rabbit Hole, and WOO HAH! x Rolling Loud.
“We’ve all been hit with price increases, with logistical problems, with lack of security, lack of stagehands, lack of riggers, lack of materials”
The severity of the crisis was seen across Europe, including at one French festival where it was reported that a headliner almost pulled out because the staging equipment was delivered so late that it almost wasn’t complete by the time the event was due to open.
As the season drew to a close, Detlef Kornett of Germany-based, Europe-wide promoter DEAG, reflected: “We’ve all been hit with price increases, with logistical problems, with lack of security, lack of stagehands, lack of riggers, lack of materials,” he told the International Festival Forum conference in September. “But I found this year particularly challenging, hearing and experiencing all the stories of our long-term suppliers being in the dark.
“For some of the festivals, the price increases could not be captured because we’d already sold the tickets [in 2020]. So, our results have not been as we wanted them to be, but generally, we felt lucky because we could stage our events. We were not hit by weather; we didn’t have to shut down because we couldn’t get security. Our long-term suppliers across the group worked with us. So, we somehow got there but how, at times, you can only talk about at night when nobody’s listening.”
The problems were Europe-wide, as Federico Rasetti from Italian live music industry association KeepOn Live explains: “As well as the staff shortages, we saw a significant growth in the number of festivals – there were a lot of independent festivals in Italy, some of them less than 50 kilometres away from each other, which increased competition for artists on line-ups.
“We saw a great return to live events as people wanted to go out again, but there were too many events.”
He adds that worries about inflation meant that spend at festivals was down this summer.
The spectre of Covid
While 2022 was the first year back for most festivals, any notion of the world being “post-Covid” was quickly disavowed as many festivals saw artists being forced to pull out due to illness. Spain’s Primavera is one of the first major events of the season, and although it was a resounding success – seeing more than 400 artists perform across two weekends in June and attracting nearly half a million people – The Strokes, Bleachers, Bikini Kill, Clairo, Holly Humberstone, Pink Pantheress, and Massive Attack were among the acts forced to pull out due to health issues. Covid also hit a significant number of the event’s hospitality team, leading to problems in the first weekend, including large queues for bars. However, as the company’s Marta Pallarès reflected afterwards:
“I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so much love from the artists – everyone was thrilled [to be back]. Everyone was saying this was the best show they’ve played.”
“Like many other businesses in our industry, due to Covid our landscape has changed, and to stay ahead we have had to adapt and be agile. It’s been a very tough few years”
Issues caused by Covid continued to have an impact on many company finances. The UK’s largest independent festival, Boomtown (76,999-cap), sold a 45% stake to Live Nation, Gaiety, and SJM Concerts. “Like many other businesses in our industry, due to Covid our landscape has changed, and to stay ahead we have had to adapt and be agile. It’s been a very tough few years,” said the festival founders in a statement. “One of the decisions we came to in the last few months, as a direct result of the rising costs in staging such an epic and complex show, was to seek investment.”
There was also consolidation across Europe.
Live Nation GSA acquired a majority stake in Berlin-headquartered festival, booking, and services agency Goodlive, which runs festivals including Melt!, Splash!, Full Force, Heroes, and Superbloom. Backed by venture capital money, live giant Superstruct Entertainment bought stakes in professional action sport and music festival Nass (30,000-cap), run by Vision Nine, and Blue Dot (25,000-cap), both in the UK. And Warner Music Poland bought a minority stake in Big Idea, one of Poland’s leading concert and festival promoters.
Event discovery and booking platform Festicket collapsed in September, owing more than £22.5m. Many festivals were among the creditors, some of whom were owed millions. While the assets were bought by ticket exchange Lyte, so the businesses continued, many events remain uncertain about the cash they’re owed.
UK-based music, travel, and experiences start-up Pollen also went into administration, citing “turbulent trading conditions of the company’s subsidiaries as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It owed £75m to investors.
The European music industry stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine when Putin’s Russia invaded in February 2022
War in Ukraine
The European music industry stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine when Putin’s Russia invaded in February 2022.
Among the support from festival organisers was Czech Republic’s Rock for People, which built a small village for refugees on its site, aided by donations. And the festival site where Dutch festivals Lowlands and Defqon. 1 are held each year was turned into a shelter for more than 1,000 refugees.
Many other events helped by raising money for Music Saves UA, a fundraising initiative created by the Ukrainian Association of Music Events to provide humanitarian help in the country. The European Metal Festival Alliance, made up of 13 festivals from across the continent, created a “Metal United” charity shirt, with all proceeds bring donated to the non-profit organisation. Contributing events were Bloodstock (UK), Alcatraz (Belgium), Art Mania (Romania), Brutal Assault (Czech Republic), Dynamo (Netherlands), Into The Grave (Netherlands), Leyendas del Rock (Spain), Metal Days (Slovenia), Midgardsblot (Norway), Motocultor (France), Party.San (Germany), Resurrection (Spain), and Summer Breeze (Germany).
Barracuda Music, the organiser of Austrian festivals Frequency and Nova Rock, ran a 40,000-capacity charity concert in Vienna, raising €1m, which was matched by the Austrian government. The money was donated to charities Volkshilfe and Nachbar in Not.
Romanian festivals Electric Castle, Jazz in the Park, and Untold supported the humanitarian movement Un Singur Cluj to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees by selling solidarity tickets.
Having a border with Ukraine, Slovakian festival Pohoda organised a charity concert on Bratislava’s main square, which was streamed on YouTube, with recommendations for charities to support. Festival CEO Michal Kaščák also called for a Ukrainian music quota in Slovakia, to support musicians.
And YOUROPE members including Finland’s Ilosaarirock and Flow festivals, OpenAir St. Gallen (Switzerland), Off Festival (Poland) and Way Out West (Sweden) supported a variety of charities working in Ukraine by donating a share of their ticket sales.
The weather (of course!)
Taking place mainly outdoors, a key talking point is always the weather. As Europe saw record-breaking heatwaves and severe weather incidents, our events are among those at the sharp end of climate change.
In June, 40,000 people were evacuated from French festival We Love Green after violent storms forced organisers to cancel its Saturday evening programme. The same month, Eurockéennes de Belfort cancelled its Thursday and Friday evenings following a major storm, which saw seven people injured, according to French daily Le Figaro. The following two days went ahead as planned, with 60,000 people in total.
The heatwave across Europe led to local government officials in France banning outdoor events over one particularly hot weekend. Among those affected was the 10,000-capacity Freemusic Festival, which was forced to cancel at the last minute.
“We are so happy to be back doing what we love and seeing music fans experiencing these great shows”
It’s not all doom and gloom
Despite the issues above, there was also much to smile about this summer. Anyone attending a festival this year couldn’t have failed to notice the sheer joy and exuberance of everyone involved. Performers enthused from stages across Europe at how happy they were to be back, and audiences roared their agreement. Plenty of festivals sold out, including BST Hyde Park in London, from where AEG European Festivals CEO Jim King said: “Like everyone in the festival business and across live music, we are so happy to be back doing what we love and seeing music fans experiencing these great shows. The calibre of artists we have had in Hyde Park was incredible, with so many outstanding performances. The demand for tickets was huge, and we are very proud to have sold out the series.”
And Live Nation Belgium CEO and Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans said this summer was a “happy rebirth of festivals after two years of Covid,” describing this year as “even better than 2019,” with his flagship event selling all 66,000 combi-tickets and 80,000 one-day tickets by early February – months earlier than usual. Fellow festivals Werchter Boutique and TW Classic also sold out at 60,000-capacity each, and after increasing capacity by 2,000 to 52,000, Graspop Metal Meeting in Dessel also was fully booked.
Selling 20,000 tickets, Latvian festival Positivus saw its largest audience “in years,” after relocating from a small beach town to the capital Riga, said CEO Girts Majors.
And the positive experience this year has led to record-breaking sales for 2023 at events such as Wacken Open Air (Germany), Glastonbury (UK), and others.
“Independent festivals are a key part of the music landscape. The economic sustainability of these kinds of events is really important because they bring culture and freedom of expression”
Independent festivals also were delighted to be back. As Rasetti from KeepOn Live notes: “Independent festivals are a key part of the music landscape because they not only are an opportunity for the local area, as many people don’t travel far to see artists, but the economic sustainability of these kinds of events is really important because they bring culture and freedom of expression across Italy. It means they bring music to rural areas not just the big cities. They’re also key for artist development.”
New festivals launched, too – demonstrating a level of confidence in this dynamic sector. Among them was Superbloom in Munich, Tempelhof Sounds in Berlin , and dance music brand Ultra Worldwide, which opened an edition in Spain – Ultra Beach Costa del Sol. Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter partnered for Core – a two-day boutique event in Brussels, while House of Fun and Last Tour – the company behind events such as Bilbao BBK Live, Azkena Rock Festival, Cala Mijas, and BIME Live – launched MEO Kalorama (cap. 40,000) in Lisbon.
Farewell to a godfather of the festival industry
Just before headliner Pearl Jam took to the stage at Pinkpop – one of the longest-running festivals in the world – 60,000 fans witnessed a historic moment. Jan Smeets, godfather of the European festival scene and founder of Pinkpop in 1970, said goodbye – or, more accurately for this Dutch stalwart – tot ziens. His team arranged a heart-warming farewell on the main stage of the festival, and the crowd waved “Mr Pinkpop” off into retirement with cheers after he’d spent more than five decades as head of the festival.
The work of the 77-year-old is undisputedly trendsetting, has inspired countless festivals, and was celebrated with numerous awards, including the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the European Festival Awards 2009 and the Dutch Order of Orange- Nassau. His legacy will undoubtedly remain in the future, while Smeets lives up to his long-time motto: “Keep on rocking in the free world.”
“Why shouldn’t we use this crisis as an opportunity to fix systemic issues – that are more deep-rooted and insidious than a virus – instead of as an excuse?”
The enforced hiatus could have seen a slowdown in progress being made on diversifying line-ups. And it remains a mixed picture. While some festivals are achieving gender balance on their bills, the European Festival Survey (see pages 15-22) indicates that the average proportion of female artists performing at festivals this year was 32%. However, addressing this remains a high priority – coming in as the third most important pressing issue in our survey. As Primavera’s Marta Pallarès wrote in IQ last year: “Why shouldn’t we use this crisis as an opportunity to fix systemic issues – that are more deep-rooted and insidious than a virus – instead of as an excuse?”
Ensuring the future of festivals – and the planet
In other good news, the challenges of 2022 didn’t dampen festivals’ resolve to become climate neutral. As we see from the European Festival Survey 2022, 86% of events who responded said they plan to reach this goal. Many have made significant reductions in their fuel usage, shifted to environmentally friendly power options, or are using energy-efficient technologies, plus there have been big changes to food and drink offers, leaning towards plant-based produce and locally sourced ingredients.
So, how did it end up?
The first ‘proper’ year back after Covid-19 was a story of stormy challenges and bright, shining joy. Many teams will be left feeling exhausted but delighted to be back doing what they love after the enforced break.
Many will share the sentiments of Martin Wacker, managing director of KME, which produces DAS FEST in Germany, who summed up the experience this year: “We are proud and grateful that we were able to break even despite the adverse circumstances. DAS FEST 2022 cost around €4m. That’s a good 30% more than before Corona. We could only break even with great efforts and savings from everyone. The great solidarity of the DAS FEST family and the good beverage sales also played a part in this. A big thank you also goes to our long-standing sponsors, service providers, and partners, who have supported beyond the usual and made some things possible at short notice.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
European Festival Survey 2022
For most festivals in Europe, 2022 was the first year back after the pandemic. What did it take to survive the last few years, and what lies ahead? Our survey of hundreds of festivals across the continent reveals some fascinating insights.
Festivals are a key part of cultural life across Europe – in some places for more than 50 years. Opportunities to see
multiple bands, hang out with friends, have new experiences, and see various types of art from around the world, they are often the highlight of people’s year.
Yet, the last few years have been extremely tough. Lockdowns across Europe and the ban on live events taking place saw the fields fall silent. Some festivals couldn’t cope, and businesses failed, leaving a hole in cultural life.
Most of those that survived saw their first return this year, although some lucky ones were able to take place in 2021. So, what has it taken for them to get through, what have they learned, and what are the lasting effects of Covid on an industry that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of euros in economic activity across the continent?
To find out, the European Festival Survey asked festivals across Europe to answer questions on topics from ticket pricing and length of festival to concerns in the industry, no–show rates, staffing issues, and the effects of Covid-19 on their businesses and the wider industry.
A total of 157 festivals from 29 countries across Europe responded, reflecting a broad variety of events
A total of 157 festivals from 29 countries across Europe responded, reflecting a broad variety of events from very small capacity to those attracting more than 50,000, those taking place in city centres to those on greenfield sites.
What we discovered highlights the enormous impact the pandemic had – not just on the festival businesses themselves but the associated suppliers working with such events, as well as audiences and artists. The survey results also show the effects of financial support from governments as well as the resilience and determination to succeed that is the hallmark of people working in this business.
We’ll delve into the details of the survey results, painting a picture of European festivals’ return after Covid, and we’ll look ahead to some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The big picture
A total of 94% of responding festivals were multi–day events. Most were three (33%) or four (27%) days long, with just 13% coming in at two days, 10% at five days. The average length of a festival was 3.9 days.
So where do these events take place? Some 46% described themselves as city–based festivals and 54% were on greenfield sites. 12% were multi–venue events, taking place across a variety of existing venues and infrastructure.
The average age of a festival that responded to the survey was 19.9 years – highlighting the length of time such events have been a key part of cultural life. However, perhaps it also indicates that being well–established – with long experience, a secure financial footing, and committed audience – was a key factor for surviving the pandemic. Only a handful of respondents were less than five years old.
Of the festivals that responded to the survey, 2% were very small (500–2,500 capacity), 11% were between 2,501–5,000 capacities, 17% could accommodate between 5,001 and 10,000, while the same percentage had 10,001–20,000 capacity. Reflecting a fairly even spread across capacities, a total of 16% of events were between 20,001–30,000–capacity, 15% were 30,001–50,000, and 22% were 50,000 and above.
The price of an average day ticket in 2022 was €74.70, while average whole-event tickets were €176.85
There were multiple ways to buy tickets to these events, ranging from whole event passes to single day and others. On average, festivals offered 4.94 categories of tickets. Most festivals had both whole-event (79%) and single-day ticket options (78%), with just 7% offering people the opportunity to come to single shows.
In terms of costs, the price of an average day ticket in 2022 was €74.70, while average whole-event tickets were €176.85. When it comes to getting tickets, there’s good news for younger people, who often make up large numbers of audiences – a large proportion (26%) of festivals offer discounts for this demographic and 20% make it cheaper for students to attend. Only 5% offer discounts for senior citizens, while just 6% offer cheaper tickets for people on lower incomes.
For those looking to save money, 66% of festivals incentivise people to buy early by offering early–bird discounts on tickets, and 29% say they just have one price no matter when you buy. 5% use dynamic ticket pricing.
If money is less of a concern and you’re looking for a premium experience, plenty of festivals have some sort of VIP offer – with 41% providing regular VIP passes and 22% having a premium VIP ticket. 22% have glamping, while 19% don’t provide any kind of VIP treatment.
With so many festivals not happening in 2021, half of festivals say they had up to 25% of their tickets held from a previous year
Audience travel is a significant contributor to festival emissions, and some events aim to ameliorate this by offering transport solutions with their tickets. Of the people we asked, 15% offer festival shuttle buses, 10% have offers with local bus companies, and 6% have a general local transport offer.
7% give festival goers the option of including a regional train fare, and just 1% have national train fare ticket options. 66% of festivals do not provide transport and ticket bundles at all.
With so many festivals not happening in 2021, half of festivals say they had up to 25% of their tickets held from a previous year; 13% saw between a quarter and a half of their tickets held from an earlier year; while just 5% had almost all (91–99%) of their attendees coming on passes from another year.
How close were festivals to selling out?
Whether or not people kept tickets from another year, the level of ticket sales in 2022 was a mixed bag. Of the respondents, 11% said their sales were “much worse” than 2019 and 25% said they were a “little worse”; 20% said they had the same level of ticket sales as the last time their event took place, while 28% said they were somewhat better and 16% said they were much better than pre–pandemic.
Demonstrating how much people value festivals as social events (and probably the fact that people were spending on average €176.85 on a ticket), no–show rates were low – 70% of respondents said they had less than 5% no-shows. 20% saw between 6–10% of people not turn up and just 9% had 11–20% no-shows.
14% of festivals said they saw an increase in the proportion of people coming from another country
Festivals continue to attract people across national borders, with a fifth of festivals drawing between 11% and 20% of their audience from outside their own country. 59% draw less than 10% of their audience from abroad. Interestingly, 5% saw more than half their audience come from abroad.
Perhaps reflecting a pent–up demand for experiences after the lockdowns, 14% of festivals said they saw an increase in the proportion of people coming from another country, while 67% said their proportion of foreign visitors remained the same. 20% saw fewer people come from abroad.
Effects of Covid
Respondents were asked about the effects of Covid–19 on their business, and the responses make for depressing reading, with plenty of comments such as “a disaster” and “a catastrophe.” All describe huge financial impacts, some reflect on the decline in consumer confidence, and many talk about the resulting reduction in available workforce, as people left the industry for other – more secure – jobs. The period also had a major effect on people’s mental health, as noted by a significant number of festival organisers.
Other impacts included the effects of young people getting out of the habit of going to festivals or not having their first experiences – which could affect audience numbers in future.
Yet some festivals were able to put the enforced hiatus to good effect, including the opportunity to review and reframe initiatives and focus on new projects. Others found the pandemic forced them to be more creative whilst others carried out restructures to become more efficient. As one festival put it: “We learned to dance in the rain.” And another said: “Our industry took a huge hit. But we got through it.”
A fifth of festivals said they had to cut back or reduced their activities at this year’s festival as a result of the pandemic
A fifth of festivals said they had to cut back or reduced their activities at this year’s festival as a result of the pandemic. Among the changes were things such as programming fewer artists, reduction in festival decoration, fewer ‘nice to have’ elements or other items that enhance the personality of a festival, or reducing the size of the festival site. Others were forced to cut back on sustainability measures because things such as reusable cups are more expensive than single-use. Some stopped offering free tickets for media.
But as one festival noted: “Fortunately, the cuts were hardly noticeable to the audience.”
What seems to have been key to the survival of these important cultural events was government support programmes. Some 80% of festivals say they had some form of government help. Without it, there’s a strong argument that many of these events wouldn’t have survived. And for the 20% that did make it through without any assistance, it’s testament to their resilience.
Perhaps as a result, 42% say they feel “well prepared” for another pandemic wave (let’s hope not!) and 25% feel “a little prepared.” Just 11% feel “not really prepared” and 4% say they are “unprepared.” Showing just how unpredictable the pandemic situation has been, 19% say they just don’t know.
So, what measures did festivals take to survive the pandemic? 56% say they relied on ticket roll– over, while most had some sort of state support systems, even if they didn’t cover all the losses.
34% ran alternative events, 24% engaged in lobbying and campaigning, while 10% saw fans spend money on merchandise.
Half of festivals said they made “big” changes to their events in 2022, and 57% plan to next year
Half of festivals said they made “big” changes to their events in 2022, and 57% plan to next year – perhaps reflecting a more optimistic outlook for 2023.
Some of the changes festivals made in 2022 included marketing or programming initiatives to encourage younger festivalgoers to come back to events, while many said they improved their sustainability measures or introduced Covid–safe measures. Going cashless was a popular change. Some city–centre festivals said they changed some of their venues. In positive news, some festivals increased capacity and others added days to the event.
Among the changes festivals plan to make to their 2023 editions is an increased focus on gender equality on the bill – as referred to by a large number of those who made changes. There was also a strong focus on increasing diversity and on improvements to accessibility for disabled people. Others said they were aiming to be more sustainable, while some plan to increase the size of their festival site and add more stages or wider food and drinks choices or even increase capacity.
The well-documented problem of staff shortages across the live music business was felt at many events – 53% of respondents said they were short staffed. Of these, 69% were 1–25% down on staffing levels, while 25% said they faced shortages of 26–50%. And this is continuing to be a worry for festival organisers looking to 2023.
Almost half (46%) said they were worried about staffing next year.
We asked what other challenges were ahead, and rising production costs – with their potential to affect profits or force ticket prices to increase at a time of inflation – was the top concern, with 90% of festivals saying this was a major issue for them.
Of course, one major inflationary driver is rising energy bills for everyone, driven up in most places by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, it’s not surprising that 35% of festivals feel that political outlook is likely to figure in the 2023 festival season.
Sticking with costs, artist fees were a worry for 63% of respondents, while 51% said they felt “selling tickets” would rank highly as a challenge.
European festivals are very conscious of the important role they can play in reducing their impact on the environment
Sustainability is a key issue for festivals. Attracting thousands of people; building production and staging; providing food and drink; and more requires significant energy–use, waste, travel emissions, and other effects on the planet.
European festivals are very conscious of the important role they can play in reducing their impact on the environment – a
massive 86% plan to be a climate neutral event. Of these, 42% expect to be climate neutral within three to five years and 46% say they will be by 2030. Impressively, 4% of festivals say they already are and 8% expect to be within two years.
There are many initiatives aiming to help festivals and their audiences be more environmentally friendly.
Diversity of line–ups has been a focus of the industry for some time. A 2019 survey of UK festivalgoers showed that 29% of people felt there wasn’t enough diversity on line–ups, and 29% of people said a gender–balanced bill played a role in their festival selection. The good news was that 49% of people thought that line–up diversity had improved over the years.
While many festivals are taking their own measures to address this issue, there are a variety of formal initiatives aimed at creating gender–balanced line–ups at festivals. Among them are Keychange, a global network and movement that aims to reach full gender equality across the music business, and UK– based major company Festival Republic’s Rebalance, which supports female musicians.
Our survey shows that in 2022, the average proportion of female artists on bills was 32%. There’s still some way to go when it comes to achieving gender equality across line–ups, but as the results of cross–border talent programme ESNS Exchange shows, things are looking up. The top 11 acts that saw the most bookings through the scheme were majority female or female–fronted.
In terms of the number of women working in the festival industry, the picture looks much better. Our survey shows that on average, 52% of staff were female.
The European Festival Survey was originally published as part of the European Festival Report (EFR), a packed annual summary of the biggest trends, happenings, and initiatives on the continent’s festival scene. Read the report in full below.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Festival Focus: Stephan Thanscheidt, FKP Scorpio
As FKP’s head of festival booking, Stephan Thanscheidt is responsible for a programme of over 25 festivals across Europe. The company’s festival repertoire includes Southside, Northside Highfield, M’era Luna, Rolling Stone Beach, Metal Hammer Paradise, A Summer’s Tale, Plage Noire and Deichbrand. In addition, FKP joined forces with DreamHaus and Loft Concerts to launch open-air festival Tempelhof Sounds in Berlin last year.
In an excerpt from IQ and Yourope’s European Festival Report, Thanscheidt talks gender-balanced lineups, sustainability and lingering challenges in the festival sector.
How did you and the FKP Scorpio team manage during the pandemic?
The pandemic was challenging for all of us, although I think it ultimately strengthened our team spirit. Experiencing something this drastic brought us closer together, but for that to happen, open and frequent communication was key. We also offered anonymous professional mental health counselling for employees through an external institution.
Additionally, we made it clear from the start that all jobs would be safe. As a result of these measures, we had a strong team to get a head start for the very busy period that followed. Financially, of course, the pandemic was a disaster. However, we’re fortunate to have had some very successful years before 2020, which enabled us to fall back on funds to keep everything together.
All the more, I’m very grateful that we succeeded in bringing back our festival brands like Hurricane, Southside, Highfield and M’era Luna in a way that didn’t feel downscaled – quite the opposite, in fact. All were sold out and were intense reunions for artists and fans, resulting in 2023 seeing the best presale onset ever. We’re very fortunate and extremely proud of this strong comeback and our incredible team, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible.
“[Tempelhof Sounds] was the first major festival in Germany with a gender-balanced line-up”
After many delays, you finally managed to bring Tempelhof Sounds to life. It felt like a progressive event with a core philosophy of diversity, inclusion, sustainability, gender balance, and so on. Can you talk us through your thinking behind taking that approach?
From the get-go, we wanted to create a festival revolving around diversity and social, economic, and cultural sustainability. I think it’s clear why these things matter, especially nowadays. As a team, we created a company charter detailing our business ethics – these matters are integral for the people working for us and hence for the company. In truth, all our festivals have detailed sustainability measures in place, and Tempelhof Sounds offered the chance to build on them.
As for the diversity of our line-up, we’re very happy that it worked out the way it did and that we were the first major festival in Germany with a gender-balanced line-up. We aspire to more diversity at all our festivals, although this is an ongoing process.
“We’re seeing rising production costs of about 30% across the industry, and there remains a shortage of qualified personnel”
What trends do you think we will see play out in the next few years at festivals?
I’m not comfortable with calling it a mere ‘trend,’ but I’d say that social and ecological awareness will continue to play an integral role in the future, not because it’s beneficial to claim those words for your events but because it’s a necessity. We’re working hard on backing those claims with meaningful measures while being open regarding the things we’d still like to change.
What challenges does the festival industry face? And how are you aiming to address them?
We’re still facing challenging times. The last crisis wasn’t really over when the next one started. While (with some exceptions) demand for culture is still somewhat dampened after the pandemic, Russia’s horrible war in Ukraine has profoundly changed our society and economy. We’re seeing rising production costs of about 30% across the event industry, and there remains a shortage of qualified personnel because people left the business during the pandemic in order to make a living. That being said, we’re very confident that we’ll overcome yet another challenge because we’ll have some very strong acts on our stages.
“Given the many challenges we’re facing globally, the escape from everyday life that a well-made festival offers is important”
What role do festivals play in the cultural landscape?
Festivals are extremely important for large parts of our society. This is true for all kinds of live entertainment, but festivals offer a safe space for creativity, freedom, and congregation over several days. Given the many challenges we’re facing globally right now, the escape from everyday life that a well-made festival offers is an important and much-needed factor for recovery and mental well-being for a lot of people. And although our festivals tend to be international events, they wouldn’t be possible without the support of local communities. For example, it’s great to see how proud the inhabitants of Scheeßel are about Hurricane and how much they contribute to making the festival distinct and successful. These events fulfil a very important role in society and ultimately bring people closer together.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Festival Focus: Tamás Kádár, Sziget
Since it launched in 1993, Hungary’s Sziget has evolved into one of Europe’s largest festivals, featuring more than 1,000 shows on six stages over six days. With a strong focus on diversity, it attracts people from more than 100 countries and includes a broad range of entertainment including circus, theatre, a museum quarter, and much more. In an excerpt from IQ and Yourope’s European Festival Report, CEO Tamás Kádár looks back at the festival’s return since the pandemic.
What was it like for you and the Sziget team during the pandemic?
First of all, it was a great pleasure to see so many happy faces again on Sziget, the Island of Freedom, in August this year. To be together again and to enjoy music and freedom is always the highlight of my year, but this edition was even more emotional for our entire team after almost three years of pause and waiting.
Financially, it was a very tough ride for our company because the Hungarian government wasn’t willing to provide sufficient support for the culture and live sector during the pandemic, so we had to rely on ourselves. We managed to keep the core team onboard and to somehow keep our heads above water, despite these huge financial and emotional challenges.
Sziget is renowned for its broad international audience – what do you think is the cultural value of attracting people from so many countries to the festival?
I think Sziget is really a Pan-European get-together where young people from all over the world become ‘Szitizens’ of the Island of Freedom. We welcomed fans from over 100 countries in 2022. The festival’s programming is a broad church, from the weirdest of the weird to the most mainstream acts on Earth. We welcome them all. We believe in embracing diversity, respecting human dignity, and looking out for each other.
“I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic”
What trends do you think we will see play out in the next few years at festivals?
I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic. The real comeback for festivals will happen next year, and I think that major festivals will become increasingly successful. I’m conscious of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but I strongly believe that festivals can provide a safe haven for our souls where we can enjoy life and hopefully celebrate peace very soon.
What challenges does the festival industry face? And how are you aiming to approach them?
Most of the challenges are things such as inflation, staff shortages, and increasing energy prices, but I think Sziget has learned to manage these things over the past 30 years.
What do you think is the importance of festivals to the cultural landscape?
I think festivals have proven not only to have a strong positive economic impact on local and national level, but they also add a lot [of colour] to the cultural landscape of a society. Sziget is not only a music festival with a very strong international line-up but also a place for local acts and world-class performances from all kinds of genres and artforms. So, it is really a 360-degree performing arts festival, way beyond music.
Read the European Festival Report in full below.
European Festival Report 2022 out now
The European Festival Report (EFR), a packed annual summary of the biggest trends, happenings, and initiatives on the continent’s festival scene, is out now.
A new annual publication from IQ and festival association Yourope, the EFR is available to read online for free.
The inaugural edition contains results of the European Festival Survey, with input from 200+ festivals, review of the 2022 festival year across the continent, in-depth Q&As with festival pros including Melvin Benn, Stephan Thanscheidt, Fruzsina Szép and Tamás Kádár and the latest sustainability initiatives and profiles of critical organisations pushing for vital change.
The review of the festival year also includes a look at the best brand partnerships and activations in Europe, the festival year in Health & Safety and Yourope working group updates and association news.
“Our European Festival Survey highlights just what it took to get through the last few years and addresses some of the challenges ahead for next year”
“It’s been a year of ups and downs – the spectre of Covid is not yet behind us, and there are plenty of challenges resulting from everything we’ve all been through,” says EFR editor James Drury. “But there is also much to celebrate and that’s thanks to the creativity and hard work of everyone involved in festivals.
“Our European Festival Survey highlights just what it took to get through the last few years and addresses some of the challenges ahead for next year. It also demonstrates just how important the sector is financially, as we take a look at some of the economic impact studies events have carried out.”
The EFR is a project of Future Fit Festivals, co-funded by the EU. Read the report below.
Rising prices and reduced attendance for EU festivals
Despite a seemingly successful year, IQ’s European Festival Report 2018 shows that a continuation of ticket price rises and event attendance reduction is a major concern for organisers of European music festivals in 2018.
Ticket prices for European festivals again rose last year, having stabilised over the 2017 festival season. Festivalgoers paid €178 on average for a 2018 festival ticket, a price hike of 8.3% and an increase well above inflation rates across the continent. Of the 105 festivals that disclosed pricing details, 44 froze prices from 2017 to 2018, 2 lowered prices, and 59 (56.2%) charged more.
The continuing escalation of artist fees, along with increasing production costs, are the main contributors to such increases. Eric van Eerdenburg of Dutch powerhouse Mojo Concerts says the “crisis in talent” is responsible for “pushing up the price that the consumer has to pay”, making it hard to attract a young crowd.
“We’re pricing ourselves out of the business by potentially alienating the next generation of fans and not enough people seem to care about that situation,” says Eerdenburg.
Indeed, in contrast to previous years, festivals reported a slight fall in average capacity last year. On average, events saw a decrease of 2.7% in attendance, from 40,575 in 2017 to 39,475 in 2018.
“We’re pricing ourselves out of the business by potentially alienating the next generation of fans and not enough people seem to care about that situation”
Fewer events sold out in 2018 than during the previous year, with 45% of events selling all tickets as opposed to 53% the year before. Of the surveyed festivals, 18% reported a downturn in ticket sales.
Organisers gave a wide-ranging list of reasons for reduced attendance and ticket sales, citing market saturation, competition from new, small festivals, unfavourable weather, lack of headliners, fear of terror attacks and uncertainties surrounding Brexit.
A record number of 130 events took part in the European Festival Report 2018, reflecting the continual expansion of the European festival market which, despite challenges, shows no signs of slowing down.
Get the full lowdown on Europe’s festival summer, including insights into capacity and attendance, staffing, ticketing and pricing, overseas attendance, VIP options, major improvements and more, in the European Festival Report 2018.
European Festival Report 2018
Compared to recent years, where weather and terrorism had massive impacts on Europe’s festival business, 2018 was infinitely more calm, with few cancellations and promoters across the continent pretty much reporting healthy visitor numbers.
But the hangover of such drama has had a lasting affect, with organisers still citing the events of previous years as hitting their overall business during the most recent festival season.
Unsurprisingly, security at large-scale events has become a major consideration, as noted by one of the continent’s biggest festival organisations, FKP Scorpio, whose Jasper Barendregt states, “Due to fear of threats, the authorities planned to check all personnel working at our festivals, in order to [identify any] individuals with terrorist ties, by feeding the names into national security databases. Due to GDPR regulations and public awareness of them, this became a huge project, binding great resources within the company and the festival structure.
And FKP are not alone. Finland suffered its first ever terror attack in 2017 and Mikko Niemelä, production manager at Ruisrock Festival, tells IQ, “[We made] a lot of investment into security solutions with more security personnel and technical solutions. One interesting pilot project this year was an airport-style camera device that was able to see if a person had any objects hidden under their clothes.”
My main worry is the crisis in talent which is inevitably pushing up the price that the consumer has to pay and that makes attracting new, young consumers very tricky
Undoubtedly, investment in safety and security measures has stepped up in the past couple of years, while some event managers who filled in this year’s European Festival Report survey voiced fears over a lack of trained security personnel in the future. Indeed, at this year’s E3S conference in London, where the industry’s top security leaders gathered to debate the current state of the sector, that very point was made time and time again, with tales of even the largest companies having to beg, borrow and steal personnel from rivals in order to fulfil staffing quotas at festivals and concerts.
Eric van Eerdenburg, from Dutch powerhouse Mojo Concerts, tells IQ that the 2018 season could scarcely have been healthier for the company’s portfolio of festivals, but he is gravely concerned by the long term future. “For us everything went as well as we could hope for: Lowlands was sold out with 60,000 people, Down the Rabbit Hole sold out for the first time with 35,000 people and elsewhere North Sea Jazz did very well and our new hip-hop festival Woo Hah! sold out, so it was a terrific season.”
But he warns of storm clouds on the horizon. “My main worry is the crisis in talent which is inevitably pushing up the price that the consumer has to pay and that makes attracting new, young consumers very tricky,” he states. “We’re pricing ourselves out of the business by potentially alienating the next generation of fans and not enough people seem to care about that situation.”
Another trend to emerge from this year’s report is the festival community’s desire to operate in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. This is summed up by Boomtown, one of Europe’s big success stories. Having grown from 1,000-capacity to 66,000 in just a decade, organisers of the UK festival are under no illusion about the challenges this entails.
In Germany, there are far too many festivals and the competition is big, the most important thing is to be really individual and creative
“Protecting the planet and ensuring we reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible is the driving force behind Chapter 11: A Radial City,” Boomtown says of one of its latest site additions. “The festival will continue to implement initiatives and policies to raise awareness of sustainability whilst at the same time look to educate the public to encourage them to protect Boomtown and the land it inhabits – and to take those lessons home and implement them across their normal lives so that collectively we can make a bigger impact protecting the future of our planet.”
Highlighting the seemingly ever-expanding festival market, 130 events took part in this year’s survey – a record number for IQ’s European Festival Report. And while the following pages track some of the trends and quantitative measures of the business as a whole across the continent, on a territory-by-territory basis, there are many issues to take into account.
In the remote Faroe Islands, Fred Ruddick, creative director at G! Festival comments, “As as an organisation in the Faroe Islands we are central to the music business and projection of the country’s music, so we have our own struggles that are in many ways probably quite unique to us.” That observation underlines the vital importance of many events to their local scenes, and Ruddick adds, “We’re a very small event, 3,850 tickets in 2018, but we do receive a fair amount of press attention due to our unique location.”
In Europe’s biggest live music market, Germany, the experience is very different. “The season was challenging for many,” notes Lollapalooza Berlin’s Fruzsina Szép. “The ones who thought they would sell out did not sell out. In Germany, there are far too many festivals and the competition is big. But the most important thing is to be really individual and creative and crazy enough to create special places, venues and spaces at your festivals that are outstanding and have the WOW effect for visitors. It’s crucial to be the first with new ideas and not to copy others.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 81, or subscribe to the magazine here
Price rise slows as 11% of European fests slash ticket costs
The increase in ticket prices for European music festivals slowed this year, reveals IQ’s new European Festival Report 2017, with the average cost of a ticket increasing only marginally after a huge jump from 2015 to 2016.
Reflecting increased costs for talent and production, ticket prices spiralled 8% in 2016, with OpenAir St Gallen’s Christof Huber pointing to a combination of rising security/infrastructure costs and, especially, artist fees. In 2017, that growth has largely stabilised, increasing just 1% to €148.36 (from €146.22).
Keeping that average price pegged are a number of factors: while 49% of European Festival Report 2017 survey respondents raised their ticket prices in 2017, 36% maintained pricing at last year’s levels. With artist fees, production costs and security, in particular, costing more year on year, increasing ticket prices hardly come as a surprise.
However, a significant 11% of festivals around Europe decided to decrease their ticket prices in 2017. Some reasoned that fewer festival days warranted a price break, while others simply could not secure big-name headline acts and were therefore able to keep prices down.
One area of ticketing that has undergone significant surgery in the past 12 months is the way in which our surveyed festivals sell their tickets. In our 2016 report, we noted that, overall, 51% of tickets were sold via the festivals’ own websites, while third-party online sales accounted for 27% of total sales.
This year, the dominance of online sales outlets was even more pronounced, with online sales via festivals’ own websites increasing their share to an impressive 60%, while third-party website sales also gained a bigger slice of the pie with 30% of overall festival ticket sales.
Underlining the growing importance of online sales, two years ago our 2015 report recorded sales by festivals’ own websites of just 42%, while third-party online sales were 39%. This could suggest that festival management have determinedly taken control of their own ticketing inventory to try to improve profit margins, rather than pay percentages to third-party sellers. However, the fact that those third-party online platforms increased their share of sales in 2017 might point to a marketing fight-back by the ticketing specialists, albeit at the expense of call-centre workers.
Get the full lowdown on Europe’s festival summer, including insights into capacity and attendance, staffing, VIP options, overseas attendance, new tech and RFID, safety, concerts and more, in the European Festival Report 2017.
European Festival Report 2017
A total of 120 festivals took part in the 2017 European Festival Report and most of those events reported successful business for the year, despite the numerous challenges that promoters face when it comes to booking talent, securing licences, enhancing site security and planning for inclement weather. Costs across the board may be rising, but the public appetite for music festivals still appears to be on the increase too, so the takeaways from this year’s report are thankfully more positive than negative.
For the purposes of our quantitative reporting (ie the number crunching), we called upon the services of Live Data Agency’s Claire Buckle and Chris Carey, whose analytic skills and economist backgrounds have helped make sense of the data that so many of you trusted us with. Thanks go to both Live Data Agency (LDA) and everyone who took the time to fill in our survey forms.
One caveat is that, for reasons of accuracy, we only collated the numbers from festivals whose daily capacity was above the 10,000 mark. The data submitted by smaller events has nevertheless been invaluable, notably through the commentaries that organisers shared regarding results and strategic planning, but in our efforts to deliver you meaningful information that you can use to help your business, when it comes to data such as pricing, VIP uptake, attendance and staffing, we have discounted the quantitative information for those events with daily audiences of less than 10,000 people.
Europe’s festival organisers had a relatively problem-free summer compared to previous years, when the weather, in particular, played havoc across the continent
As with all European festival seasons, 2017 of course claimed a number of casualties. In the UK alone, the final day at Y Not Festival in Derbyshire fell victim to a muddy fate, Flashback in Nottingham was canned because of poor ticket sales and Hope & Glory in Liverpool folded mid-event amid rows concerning overcrowding and artist cancellations. But generally, Europe’s festival organisers had a relatively problem-free summer compared to previous years when the weather, in particular, played havoc across the continent.
And that sunny overview is underlined by the confidence being shown by promoters such as the people behind Exit, which is expanding to five countries in 2018 with the addition of Festival84 in Bosnia and Herzegovina next year, joining Sea Dance in Montenegro, Sea Star in Croatia, Revolution in Romania and the classic Exit Festival in Serbia. Indeed, cashing in on the confidence infused in fans through their enjoyable 2017 festival experiences, the number of early announcements regarding line-ups and headliners for summer 2018 has been relentless in recent weeks, while early-bird ticket offers for 2018 have been running since the day after some 2017 events ended – and were even on sale at a number of festivals during the 2017 season.
Read the European Festival Report 2017 in the digital edition of IQ 75: