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Remote control: New Zealand market report

With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, concerts have returned to New Zealand, or Aotearoa as it is increasingly being referred to by many inhabitants, and touring is back in full force – mostly – in the world’s most remote market. Lars Brandle reports.

The home of the legendary Flying Nun Records, and the birthplace of Lorde, Broods, Benee, The Beths, stadium-fillers Six60, and many others, New Zealand has a thriving music scene.

With a population of more than 1.6m, Auckland remains NZ’s biggest market. But a glance at touring itineraries reveals the country’s touring landscape has hotspots on both islands.

Ed Sheeran’s 2023 Mathematics Tour of New Zealand (promoted by Frontier Touring) dropped into Sky Stadium in the capital, Wellington, and Auckland’s Eden Park – the nation’s home of rugby.

Rod Stewart played Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay in April 2023, and blink-182 will visit in February 2024 (both Live Nation) with dates at the 12,000-capacity Sparks Stadium in Auckland and the 9,000-capacity Wolfbrook Arena in Christchurch.

When the Foo Fighters drop by in January 2024 for Frontier Touring, Dave Grohl and co will rock out on both islands with a trek that includes Auckland’s GO Media Stadium (Mt Smart Stadium), Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium, and Wellington’s Sky Stadium.

“The top end of the New Zealand market is doing incredibly well with huge success for P!nk across three stadiums, Harry Styles and arena acts Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Blink-182 also looking at sold out dates,” says Mark Kneebone, managing director of Live Nation NZ.

“It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational”

“We are back from the pandemic,” notes Brent Eccles, director of Eccles Entertainment, the full-service booking agency and concert promoter. “It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational.” Venues and cities all across Aotearoa have “become more professional” and are “keen to work with promoters to get international artists to come to town”.

Formed by Brent and Helen Eccles in 2000, Eccles Entertainment exclusively represents Frontier Touring, Illusive Presents, Chugg Entertainment, Arena Touring, and Roundhouse Entertainment in NZ.

The challenge, he continues, is making shows work on all levels in a busy marketplace. The sweet spot for ticket prices “is all-important, and we need to set these uniquely for NZ.”

The good; the not so good
NZ’s music scene is vibrant, and Kiwis rarely miss out on the big tours, although the problems promoters are faced with are many and varied. The tyranny of distance can’t be adjusted; it’s a challenge doing business in this stunning part of the world, whose Scottish influences can be spotted in town names from Invercargill to Dunedin, Balfour and more.
Caroline Harvie-Teare, chief executive at Venues Ōtautahi, reports “a strong return in international acts” and, “in some respects, exceeding pre-pandemic levels”. Mark Gosling, general manager for Spark Arena, says business “has been fantastic this year,” with shows “selling well albeit later than pre-Covid”.

Rising costs across the live music ecosystem are another issue giving promoters headaches. And the spectre of a recession was confirmed in June 2023 when NZ’s central bank raised interest rates to a 14-year high. The country is now in a “technical recession” as the economy shrank in the first quarter. Locals, who are already feeling the pinch from inflation, will also feel the sting of higher mortgage repayments. Whether it has a marked impact on discretionary spending, for concert tickets and food and beverage at shows, remains to be seen.

“NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia”

The NZ market “on most levels has always been solid, and they love their music”, says legendary Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg. “NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia,” and its fans plug into a “club and university circuit, with a few wineries and some beautiful regional town halls”, he notes. “It’s a strong local market for local and Australian bands and smaller internationals.”

Venues sizes, however, have always been a problem, notes Chugg. “For decades, you played outside, or you did venues up to around 3-4,000 [capacity].” Wellington, the capital, “desperately needs an indoor arena,” he adds. Having to use ferries to move equipment between islands, and “the cost of sitting around for two to three days makes it tough.”

Chugg Entertainment produced Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road dates in NZ, his business is behind The Chicks’ trek, which includes two concerts this October at Christchurch’s Wolf brook Arena, and Robbie Williams’ return, which will see him perform to 50,000 fans at two Mission Estate Winery shows. The outdoor winery network in NZ is, like its bigger brother, Australia, a popular destination with older, concert-loving audiences.

The plight of grassroots live music venues has an advocate in Save Our Venues NZ. When the pandemic closed music rooms around the country in 2020, the organisation, with support from industry support groups MusicHelps and Boosted NZ, raised almost NZ$500,000, to support 30 “crucial small music venues” across NZ.

Save Our Venues NZ celebrated a win in April 2023 when Christchurch City Council endorsed the commencement of planning changes and non-regulatory initiatives to protect live music venues in the South Island city. The organisation worked alongside venues to develop a solution with council that “mitigates noise conflict with residents and ensures there is a plan for the future of live music in the city,” reads a statement. It’s hoped councils in other populated areas will follow suit.

“We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale”

The live music industry’s mortal enemy, Viagogo, doesn’t have any friends in New Zealand, where the Commerce Commission took the rogue ticketing agent to court for a civil trial. The Commission is tasked with policing the Fair Trading Act and launched proceedings at Auckland’s High Court in early 2023 following a flood of consumer complaints over Viagogo’s practices. At the time of writing, the court case was ongoing. The live music industry is monitoring the outcome.

As NZ tries to squash Viagogo, the country welcomes an international ticketing brand, AXS, whose domestic operations are led by Andrew Travis, CEO of AXS Australia and New Zealand. The AEG-backed operation has quietly ticketed a couple of major shows for Frontier Touring, also a partner with AEG Presents, including Foo Fighters at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

The incumbent ticketing companies in Australia and New Zealand “have real structural issues that have resulted in systems that don’t compare well to global standards in terms of reliability and capacity”, comments Dion Brant, CEO of Frontier Touring. “We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale.” Ideally, he adds, the promoter “shouldn’t have to worry that your ticketing company might have issues handling the load if you put them up at the same time. We hope that the entry of AXS into the market will sharpen competition and force all players to improve. As the proverb says, ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’”

The great outdoors… Festivaland
Iconic festivals like Rhythm and Vines, which is now in its 21st year, regularly put up the “sold-out” sign and have become a rite of passage for young New Zealanders. The three-day music festival this year is held from 29 December at Waiohika Estate, Gisborne, with various packages currently on sale. A three-day GA festival pass with camping comes in at about NZ$525, inclusive of fees.

Endeavour Live operates a portfolio of festival brands including Spring City, The Golden Run, and Gardens Festival, in addition to touring talent at greenfield locations such as The Auckland Domain.

“There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events”

Endeavour Live event producer Hamish Pinkham is confident there’s untapped opportunities. “There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events,” he tells IQ.

Catering to an “elderly raver” market has proven a “strong proposition,” he continues, with recent tours from Groove Armada and Fatboy Slim selling out. Both British acts were able to play multiple outdoor venues around the country, including wineries. Also, legacy drum ‘n’ bass music acts like Wilkinson and Sub Focus “continue to do the business up and down the country,” with the former hitting three arenas, a “just reward for over ten years’ touring history in the region.”

Smaller club tours are facing the challenge of tightened discretionary spending and competition from the raft of stadium and arena tours that passed through during the busy southern summer. “It’s been difficult to flood new artists into the touring circuit recently,” says Pinkham.

Eccles has the last word. “As we recover from the Covid period, we seem to be seeing more and more artists on all levels touring Aotearoa and, in most cases, having successful tours.” When the big shows come to town, it’s creating a buzz and “everyone wants to participate.”

 


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