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AXS takes over NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory

AEG-owned ticketing firm AXS is taking over the ticketing operations previously handled by NEC Group’s internal ticketing arm, The Ticket Factory.

As part of the deal, AXS will now provide its ticketing services to NEC Group’s venues, the Resorts World Arena (cap. 15,685) and Utilita Arena Birmingham (15,800).

In addition, AXS will establish a ticketing hub in Birmingham adjacent to the NEC Campus, and all existing employee roles within The Ticket Factory at the NEC Group will become part of the firm.

“We want to make every customer’s experience brilliant, from the moment they think about buying a ticket, to the experience they have at our venues, and every interaction beyond,” says NEC Group CEO Mel Smith, who last year succeeded Paul Thandi.

“The AXS platform opens new and exciting opportunities for us to connect with customers and enhance their journey with us. We are delighted AXS has chosen to establish a centre of ticketing operations in Birmingham and look forward to a long-term partnership for the benefit of customers and the community.”

“The AXS platform opens new and exciting opportunities for us to connect with customers and enhance their journey with us”

Bryan Perez, CEO, AXS, adds: “We have long admired the NEC Group and The Ticket Factory and are therefore thrilled to welcome them into the AXS family. We share their vision for transforming the entire customer journey for fans at Resorts World Arena and Utilita Arena Birmingham and look forward to deploying our industry-leading AXS Mobile ID for fans and Apex platform for arenas to meet that goal. We are also excited to establish another base of operations in the West Midlands that will help grow and service our partners throughout the UK.”

AXS is the ticketing partner for more than 500 venues, sports teams and event organisers across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. With offices in London and Manchester, the global ticketing firm’s clients include USGA, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Crypto.com Arena, Coachella, Stagecoach, Stockholm Live, The O2, and B. League (Japan).

In the past fortnight, AXS has acquired a majority stake in event tech firm WRSTBND and secured a partnership with TikTok on an in-app ticketing feature.

AXS’s parent company AEG was reportedly interested in acquiring Vivendi-owned See Tickets but the UK-headquartered ticketing company was snapped up by CTS Eventim earlier this month.

 


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Bradford Live unveils first launch season events

New UK venue Bradford Live has unveiled two events that will form part of its launch season this autumn.

Thank you for the Music, The Ultimate Tribute to ABBA will take place at the 4,000-cap venue on Friday 8 November, while Legend – The Music of Bob Marley will land on Friday 29 November.

Developer Bradford Live will hand the art deco former Odeon cinema over to operator the NEC Group by mid-2024, before the group completes the final fit out in the following months.

“We’ve now arrived in our year of opening and to be able to start announcing events is extremely exciting,” says general manager Darren Moore, who previously served at Bonus Arena Hull, York Barbican and First Direct Arena Leeds.

The West Yorkshire venue’s 1930s ballroom will also become a 500-person capacity space for entertainment, conferencing and banqueting events.

“It is great to confirm that the venue’s transformation is now at the phase where we are able to formally contract events”

“It is great to confirm that the venue’s transformation is now at the phase where we are able to formally contract events,” says Moore. “We expect to attract 300,000 visitors each year through hosting a calendar of 200+ world class music, comedy, and family entertainment events, as well as providing the city with great conference, meeting, and banqueting spaces.

“Anticipation for the grand opening continues to build in and around Bradford, and we are committed to delivering exceptional experiences for all.”

Under its former name of The Gaumont, the historic building welcomed legends such as Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in the 1960s. The building then became an Odeon cinema and Top Rank Bingo club, before closing its doors in 2000.

Following a successful campaign to save the building, Bradford Live came in to find a long-term viable use for the venue in 2012 and secured the NEC Group as the venue’s future operator in 2017.

“Our vision is to create a cultural hub for the region that will celebrate the city and venue’s heritage, whilst ensuring world-class event spaces for generations to come,” adds Bradford Live’s Lee Craven. “It’s been a long journey, but the launch season is now in sight.”

 


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Darren Moore named GM of Bradford Live

NEC Group has named Darren Moore as general manager of its latest venue, Bradford Live, which is scheduled to open in spring/summer 2024.

Moore boasts extensive experience in UK venue management and event operations, having previously served at Bonus Arena Hull, York Barbican and First Direct Arena Leeds.

As GM, he will oversee all aspects of the 4,000-cap West Yorkshire venue’s operations, including event planning, client relations and staff management, and will be instrumental in curating a diverse range of live events. Bradford is UK City of Culture for 2025.

“I am honoured to be appointed as the general manager of Bradford Live,” says Moore. “This is such an exciting opportunity to bring this historic venue back to life and attract even more events to the region, I am eager to build and lead a team dedicated to delivering amazing experiences for our guests and the wider Bradford community, who can expect top music acts from the British, Asian and international music scenes, comedians and family entertainment with catering to suit everyone – a la carte dining through to street food, vegan to halal.

“NEC Group’s hospitality arm, Amplify, will also host a variety of options to upgrade event experiences to include VIP seating areas and pre-show hospitality. The venue will boast the renaissance of the beautiful 1930s ballroom, which will become a 500-person capacity space for conferencing and banqueting, whilst the impressive double height main auditorium will be reinstated as a 4000-capacity live events venue.

“Our vision to be a destination events venue with a unique heritage, combining this with fantastic service to curate unforgettable memories, I look forward to collaborating with our talented team and industry partners to bring the vision of this venue to life that will entertain and inspire our guests for years to come.”

NEC Group currently owns and operates NEC Birmingham, ICC Birmingham, Vox Conference Venue, Uitlita Arena Birmingham and Resorts World Arena. It also operates national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory, service brands Amadeus catering and Amplify hospitality.

“We are so excited to welcome Darren as the general manager for Bradford Live,” adds Daniel Boulger, head of venue developments at the NEC Group. “With his proven leadership and in-depth knowledge of both the industry and community, we are confident that Darren will drive the success of Bradford Live, positioning Bradford as a premier destination for exceptional entertainment.”

 


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NEC Group chief Paul Thandi to become chair

Birmingham-based NEC Group has announced that Paul Thandi is to move into the position of chair after 16 years as CEO.

NEC Group manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,700-cap Resorts World Arena and 16,118-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, as well as national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

Under Thandi’s leadership, the group has secured record levels of growth and hosted events from the G7 Summit and Conservative Party Conferences, to Crufts, Concert for Ukraine, Wireless Festival and last summer’s Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

In recent years, he has also spearheaded an NEC Masterplan initiative and steered the group from public sector ownership to private ownership through two management buyouts.

“To be at the helm of this incredible business for so many years has been an honour and I look forward to maintaining a key role”

Thandi will succeed current chairman, Peter Phillipson, who is stepping down from the board in September, while Melanie Smith will take on the role of NEC Group CEO.

Smith was most recently CEO of Ocado.com, and previously held senior roles at Marks & Spencer, Bupa and TalkTalk.

“To be at the helm of this incredible business for so many years has been an honour and I look forward to maintaining a key role in driving the growth of the group,” says Thandi. “We have been lucky to secure Mel to take on the leadership position. The importance of our people and my belief in giving them the best leadership, support and strategy, are all values that Mel shares close to her in her business and personal life, and I look forward to working with her over the coming years. It has been the greatest pleasure being CEO – there are more incredible things to come for the NEC Group.”

In addition, Paul Reeve expected to join the Group as Chief Financial Officer in October, succeeding Richard Ashton. Reeve has spent the last 10 years of his career in senior finance roles at AEG, most recently as CFO.

 


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Q&A with NEC Group’s Allie Bishop & Lily Tomkins

To mark International Women’s Day, IQ catches up with senior event manager Allie Bishop and event manager Lily Tomkins, to find out more about their day-to-day in the (predominantly female) events management team for NEC Group’s Resorts World Arena and Utilita Arena Birmingham.

What does your day usually look like?
Allie Bishop: Every day is different! But generally, I make sure the wider event management team have the time, resources and training they need to be able to deliver successful events. I also have my own event workload, which involves getting as much information as possible out of a tour, then translating it into an event that will fit safely and successfully into our buildings. Day-to-day this requires a lot of liaison with different people and departments to ensure everyone is working to the same information and objectives. I tend to find myself getting involved in wider projects too, offering operational input into projects that improve our customer journey.

Lily Tomkins: My role is split between planning and utilising information and being the duty manager for shows during the open period. When advancing shows I receive details from the client which is disseminated to our internal arenas teams to ensure the show can be run successfully. As a duty manager you are responsible for the safety of the public during the show, helped very much by the security event manager and event safety representative.

“Following Covid, it’s taken a long time for workers to fully return to the industry, and with events coming in quickly there are still gaps in experience across the board”

How did you start working in the events industry and more specifically for the NEC Group?
AB: I joined the NEC Box Office straight from finishing university, selling tickets in the contact centre. That was 16 years ago! I spent around 10 years in various roles there, before moving over to the event management team around six years ago.

LT: I started in events by volunteering at local festivals and events. Whilst completing a master’s degree in live events at Birmingham City University, I made invaluable contacts during Event Week Live – the NEC Group’s work experience programme for degree-level students – and then as a member of its subsequent Elite mentoring programme, which led me to this role.

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy?
AB: I enjoy problem solving and coming up with different ways of doing things. We’re given great opportunities in our position to challenge the norm and come up with new ideas and solutions, which is very satisfying.

LT: I love the production side and seeing what goes on behind the scenes to put a show together.

What can be the most challenging aspect of your job?
AB: Following Covid, it’s taken a long time for workers to fully return to the industry, and with events coming in quickly there are still gaps in experience across the board, with people often juggling a lot more. Our role has become a lot more reactive as opposed to proactive, which for people who love to plan, can be difficult.

LT: I’ve not been in the role long so learning all aspects of the job has been quite challenging and finding my way around each arena! Also remembering everyone’s names…

“I think arenas have led the way when it comes to bringing on board new talent into operational roles, regardless of gender”

Is there a project or particularly rewarding moment you can highlight?
AB: It’s always rewarding to enjoy the ‘calm before the storm’ – usually a five-minute window between the show being built, but not yet being open to the public. It’s just a snapshot view of the work you’ve put in over the last few months to get it to where it is.

LT: I found the first event I planned and managed last August most rewarding as it felt like a rite of passage into the team!

What is your favourite thing about working in a team of women?
AB: We’re a tight-knit team that always looks out for each other. If someone has had a rough day on a show or with their workload, there will always be someone who will offer to help in whatever way they can.

LT: The team are very supportive of each other as we all know how demanding the role can be, so we all look out for each other.

Do you feel there is a gender imbalance across the live events industry as a whole and if so, do you think enough is being done to address it?
AB: Looking out on the arena floor at 6am for a load in, often you’re one of a handful of women who make up the 100-plus people there to get the show built. It isn’t always the case though, and there are certainly more female reps, touring personnel and security than there were a few years ago. I think arenas have led the way when it comes to bringing on board new talent into operational roles, regardless of gender.

LT: I have been fortunate that most of the teams I have worked in have been mostly female-led and I have never felt held back or discriminated against as a female in any of my roles. However, I have found that when you hit a more senior level within an organisation these roles can often be predominantly male-led. I do think more industries are acknowledging this now and making changes where possible.

 


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NEC Group unveils new senior commercial team

NEC Group Ticketing & Arenas has unveiled its new senior commercial team.

The Birmingham-based team is spearheaded by commercial director, ticketing and arenas Andy Price and leads on business for the group’s premium hospitality provider Amplify and national ticket agency The Ticket Factory, as well as programming Utilita Arena Birmingham and Resorts World Arena.

“Despite the ongoing challenges our industry faces, performance has been extremely positive for the commercial division this year”

“Despite the ongoing challenges our industry faces, performance has been extremely positive for the commercial division this year, most notably with The Ticket Factory who have had an extremely busy year,” says Price. “As we look to drive future growth, it’s important we harness the experience we already have in the business and I’m excited to see its impact on revenues as we move into the new year.”

The new-look team incorporates three internal promotions. Ben Sharman becomes head of venue programming after bringing a string of major live events to the business, including the Concert for Ukraine, which was delivered with just three weeks’ notice last March.

In addition, Noel Edwards is stepping up to ticketing director and will be responsible for establishing The Ticket Factory as one of the UK’s leading ticketing agents.

The team is completed by Gareth Coleman, who will continue as ticketing general manager, and Nicky Burgess who was appointed as head of sales (premium & groups) last year.

PHOTO (L-R): Ben Sharman, Gareth Coleman, Noel Edwards, Andy Price, Nicky Burgess

 


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NEC Birmingham signs up to festival trade bodies

The NEC Birmingham has joined the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) as it seeks to explore new opportunities within its events diversification strategy.

The NEC is the UK’s largest exhibition venue, with 18 interconnecting halls in addition to more than 387 acres of hard-standing ground and 59 acres of woodland.

Post-pandemic, the campus has adapted its commercial approach to broaden its festival proposition, staging the 45,000-cap Wireless Festival outdoors with Festival Republic in July last year. It also hosted Slam Dunk Festival in 2014.

“We work closely with many trade bodies across the live music and events industry, contributing to policies, key initiatives and lobbying activity. It is important that we listen to the wants and needs of more event genres as we diversify our offer” says Richard Mann, new business director for the NEC, which also owns ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

“We are in discussions with festival organisers about events for this year and beyond”

“We’re a large site with big ambitions to bring a greater mix of events to the Midlands. We are in discussions with festival organisers about events for this year and beyond. Our audience database for the NEC and our arenas is comprehensive. The challenge for us is bringing new events to the region which can revitalise the local festival and events landscape.”

AIF CEO John Rostron says the move represents a big addition to the AIF membership.

“Not only does it demonstrate creative thinking from NEC Group, it also points to the value of AIF as a resource to businesses connected to the festival industry, alongside the promoters themselves,” he says. “We look forward to working closely with the NEC, carving new opportunities for both the venue and our festival members, and promoting the interests of the sector more broadly.”

Steve Heap, general secretary of the AFO, adds: “We are delighted that the NEC has joined us. AFO’s credibility has built gradually since we formed in 1987, and we now have more than 150 grassroots festivals, many of whom move sites from year-to-year, that would welcome engagement with the venue. We look forward to working more closely with the NEC as the year progresses and beyond.”

 


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NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan’s 2023 arenas forecast

NEC Group’s ticketing and arenas MD Guy Dunstan has reflected on the past 12 months for the business and offered his forecast for the year ahead in a new interview with IQ.

Birmingham-based NEC Group manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,700-cap Resorts World Arena and 16,118-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, as well as national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

The arenas have welcomed acts including Kasabian, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, N-Dubz, Kaiser Chiefs, Nightwish and Evanescence this month alone, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Olly Murs, Blink 182, Michael Bublé, Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Paramore lined up for 2023.

Overall, however, Dunstan describes the arena sector’s first full year since returning from the pandemic as “decent” rather than “stellar”, and expects 2023 to provide a similar story.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years”

“When we get to November, you have a good feel for how things are going to look next year and – in terms of what we’ve got confirmed, on sale and pencilled – I’m hoping we’re going to be where we’ve been this year,” he says. “We’ve hit the level of business that we expected. It’s not been a stellar year, but it’s been a decent year in terms of getting back to business. We’ve been hit hard in terms of increased costs right across the board, which obviously then snowballs into costs for consumers and playing venues in the arena market.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years. It hasn’t been as positive as that but it’s been good enough from a level of shows point of view and I think that will continue next year. I think it’s going to be good, but not spectacular.

Nevertheless, the venues have seen “unprecedented” demand for tickets for British comedian Peter Kay’s first stand-up arena tour in over a decade. The tour, which currently includes 16 Birmingham dates, begins next month and is scheduled to run until July 2025.

“It’s the highest demand we’ve ever seen for an onsale on our website, it was just through the roof,” says Dunstan. “We knew from previous experience with him that it would be really strong, but this was off the chart, absolutely amazing.”

Dunstan is further buoyed by the strong sales performances of recent and upcoming first-time arena headliners such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi, Machine Gun Kelly, Dave, Yungblud and Tom Grennan, as well as non-music productions like The Masked Singer Live, Disney on Ice, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Cirque du Soleil.

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging”

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging,” he adds. “The last month was a real litmus test based on the doom and gloom that we’d been hearing throughout the media. We get it that people’s incomes and costs have been squeezed on utilities and the last couple of months are where people were seeing their energy costs jump up significantly. But we’ve seen in previous recessions that people still want to come out and be entertained and hopefully that will continue.”

The former National Arenas Association chair also weighs in on the current volatility of the pound to dollar exchange rate and its impact on US acts coming to the UK.

“We might see a reduction in international acts over the next couple of years,” he surmises. “We’ve had some decent onsales with those acts from across the Atlantic, so I’m hoping that drives confidence but if we do see a slowdown, hopefully that gap can be filled by domestic acts and we still see the same levels of business.

“It is something we’re keeping an eye on, but right now the level of business is in line with what we were forecasting when we came back to business 12 months ago, so hopefully we’ll get to where we need to be.”

 


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Ed Sheeran announced for UK’s Concert for Ukraine

Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Emeli Sandé, Snow Patrol and Gregory Porter are among the first batch of acts announced the UK’s Concert for Ukraine fundraiser.

ITV, STV and Livewire Pictures have joined forces with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and media and entertainment group Global to stage the concert at NEC Group’s Resorts World Arena in Birmingham on 29 March.

The televised event is expected to raise more than £3 million (€3.55m) for the humanitarian appeal in Ukraine. All sponsorship and advertising revenue from the broadcast will also be donated to the appeal by ITV. Tickets went on sale today, priced from £52 (€62).

“The NEC Group stands with the people of Ukraine,” says Guy Dunstan, MD of ticketing and arenas. “Whilst the live entertainment industry is shocked and deeply saddened to see the humanitarian crisis unfold, it has the power to make a difference. That’s, of course, through people’s love of music.

“As a charity fundraising event, Concert for Ukraine will be a fantastic show that brings together some of the UK’s biggest artists at one of our leading entertainment venues, Resorts World Arena, to help raise money for humanitarian relief.

“We look forward to working with promoters and organisers in the lead-up to the concert to ensure that we put on an incredible show”

“As a Birmingham-based group, we’re delighted to host an event with such meaning and a cause that will, of course, resonate with people up and down the country. We look forward to working with the promoters and organisers in the lead-up to the concert to ensure that we put on an incredible show which, at its heart, shines a positive light on the people of Ukraine.”

Nile Rodgers + Chic, Manic Street Preachers, Tom Odell, Becky Hill and The Kingdom Choir have also been confirmed for the concert, which will be screened across ITV, STV, ITV Hub and STV Player.

Polish television company TVP is also spearheading a global charity TV marathon with a live music element in aid of Ukraine. Broadcasters in Estonia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Albania and Latvia have already signed up for #SaveUkraine, which is earmarked for Sunday 27 March at 4.30pm GMT.

A spate of benefit concerts held in Europe over the past week together raised around €20 million for related causes. Sound of Peace, a televised live concert that took place on 20 March in Berlin and raised more than €12m, according to the organisers. Elsewhere, Together with Ukraine, a televised live concert held at the Atlas Arena (cap. 13,000) in Łódź, Poland, organised by promoter Follow the Step, reportedly raised more than €6m.

A pair of events spearheaded by Dutch promoter Alda also raised upwards of €1m for the Romanian Red Cross. We Are One took place at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, while Dance For Ukraine was staged at Poland’s Tauron Arena.

 


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NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan on the UK arena business

NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan says the high rate of no-shows at concerts is continuing to cause uncertainty for the UK’s arena business.

Promoters reported the typical level of no-shows to be around 25-35% – rising up to 50% in extreme cases – when touring first returned from the Covid-19 shutdown last autumn. While numbers have stabilised to nearer 15%, the knock-on effects remain significant.

Dunstan is MD, ticketing and arenas for the Birmingham-based NEC Group, which manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,685-cap Resorts World Arena and 15,800-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, plus national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

“No-shows have been a big issue for us since coming back to business late last summer,” Dunstan tells IQ. “We’ve seen good levels of attendance and minimal no-shows for events that have gone on sale more recently, but we’re seeing a bigger impact on shows that have rescheduled two or three times. It tends to increase the more times the show has been rescheduled, and the longer ago the show was originally scheduled to be.”

Dunstan points out that, pre-pandemic, no-show rates at the venues hovered closer to 5%.

“It was always within that range,” he adds. “But we’re now measuring it on a show-by-show basis and trying to build up as much insight and looking at the trends to see whether it is mainly linked to the shows that have moved dates, rather than to do with customer confidence, because we’ve had shows that have gone on sale since last summer where both the attendance and the level of no-shows have been back to normal levels.

“We’re seeing on average, around about 15% no-shows on rescheduled dates and that has a big impact for venues because our business model’s based on food and beverage spend, merchandise spend, car parking spend… And so 15% of customers not coming into a venue is a significant hit on our expected revenues.

“The level of business is looking good over the next 12 to 18 months”

“We have to be prepared for every ticket holder turning up. We can’t start thinking, ‘We’ll reduce our costs by 15% and reduce our staff by 15%’ because we’ve got to make sure we are geared up for everybody turning up. So it’s a real challenge for us in this current climate, but I think as we start getting through all those rescheduled shows, it will get back to normal levels.”

Utilita Arena has concerts coming up with the likes of Stormzy, Royal Blood, Sam Fender, Dua Lipa, Celine Dion, The Script, Alicia Keys and Billie Eilish, while Resorts World Arena will welcome Stereophonics, Little Mix, Years & Years, Alice Cooper + The Cult, Frankie Valli + The Four Seasons, Pet Shop Boys and Kings of Leon, among others.

“There are shows that are not selling as well as we would expect them to, but others are absolutely flying,” notes Dunstan, a former National Arenas Association chair. “From December into early January, some shows lost momentum in ticket sales because of Omicron. The A-list artists are all selling out and doing really well, but the mid-tier isn’t selling that well, although we have seen some mid-tier artists doing better than they’ve done before, and others not as well. We’re all trying to work out what the level of business is going to be and it’s almost like starting again, because there have been some very strange trends.

“In December, January and even into February we saw a much lower level of on-sales than we would normally see in that period and I think that is because of Omicron. When we got into December, the industry sat tight and waited to see how Omicron was going to play out, so a lot of tour plans were put on hold. But we’re starting to see a lot of shows now planned to go on sale in March, which is encouraging and hopefully starts getting us back on track.”

He concludes: “Like other venues,  we’re doing our budgeting and planning strategy for the next three years and it’s quite a difficult exercise, with so many anomalies being thrown at us. But positively, the level of business is looking good over the next 12 to 18 months so I think the bounce back is going be prolonged as everybody catches up. There are a lot of pencils going in for ’23 and even for ’24 as well, so a lot of promoters and artists are looking longer term in terms of their touring plans because it is going to be very busy over the next couple of years.”

 


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