Dutch courage: Netherlands market report
As a barometer for the health of the international live music industry, the Netherlands is a pretty good bet. The nation’s promoters have bounced back post-Covid, albeit with a series of challenges that their peers internationally will recognise. But Adam Woods learns that a clampdown on tourism in Amsterdam might provide the rest of the nation with opportunities…
Industrious, outward-looking, and well-located in the heart of Europe, The Netherlands isn’t immune to bad times – but when there are good times to be had, you can generally assume the Dutch are getting their share of them.
In August, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF) Poppodia and Festivals in Figures 2022 report, showed that 48 key music venues and 55 festivals drew 7.6m visits in 2022, compared to 883,000 in 2021 and 8.6m in the last pre-Covid year of 2019.
And while rising costs and an accompanying spike in ticket prices offer their own challenges, the anecdotal health of the business in 2023 – proclaimed by just about everyone in the industry – indicates that we can probably declare The Netherlands’ comeback to be complete.
Mojo Concerts, the local Live Nation arm and by some distance the biggest promoter in The Netherlands over 55 years, has had another banner year, to add to a barnstorming 2022.
“2023 again is a record year, specifically for stadium shows”
“This whole year has been an amazing year for us again,” says Mojo head promoter Kim Bloem. “Last year was already crazy because in nine months, we had more visitors than we normally had in a year. And 2023 again is a record year, specifically for stadium shows.”
Mojo chalked up 17 of them in 2023, most in Amsterdam’s 55,855-cap Johan Cruijff ArenA (AKA Amsterdam ArenA) – four Coldplays, three Bruce Springsteens, three Harry Styles, two apiece for The Weeknd, Metallica, and Beyoncé, and one for Guns N’ Roses.
“We never have that many stadium shows in one year,” says Bloem, “but for obvious reasons, 2022 was not a good year for those acts – it’s such a huge investment to tour on that level, and with all the uncertainties and travel restrictions still in place, it just didn’t make sense. It was a challenge to get everything lined up, and it’s amazing that it all fitted in so well.”
The Netherlands has form for fitting things in. With a population of around 17.5m in just 41,526 sq km, it is more densely populated than any other substantial country in Europe, and its level of consumer demand puts it firmly on the agenda of any tour of any significance.
Its festivals – Lowlands, Mysteryland, Pinkpop, Amsterdam Dance Event, Awakenings, Best Kept Secret, North Sea Jazz, and the rest – have local appeal and major international pull; and secondary markets such as Rotterdam (while very much ancillary to Amsterdam), have a growing appeal of their own. So, what’s the secret of Dutch success? Joost Aanen, co-founder and CEO of Amsterdam-and Eindhoven-based ticketing platform Eventix, thinks he knows.
“Dutch culture and government governance was always quite lenient here, so festivals developed very early on, and that side of the industry is very experienced”
“What I think is unique about The Netherlands and Dutch culture is that because it’s such a small country, without a lot of natural resources, the culture is very much focused around trading with neighbours,” he says. “It’s always been a country of merchants, with a global orientation.
“So, it’s a good foundation to build an entertainment industry. If you look at the Dutch DJs, they also have this global focus. And meanwhile, Dutch culture and government governance was always quite lenient here, so festivals developed very early on, and that side of the industry is very experienced.”
That doesn’t entirely account for the bulletproof demand, however. Friendly Fire promoter Lauri van Ommen believes the market in 2023 might have already outstripped its pre-Covid form.
“I think it may be even stronger than it was,” she says. “A lot of people realised during Covid that they want to go out, they want to enjoy a concert, that it’s their time to relax. And I think people also want to travel again, and The Netherlands is convenient for the UK, for Belgium, for France. It’s so easy to get to.”
But while promoters, venues, and the vast majority of festivals report good times, like most European markets, The Netherlands has certain structural issues to contend with.
“More and more venues have stopped booking support acts because it’s too expensive to have one due to longer working hours, higher wages, and more catering costs”
Last year’s staff drain has not entirely been reversed, with reports of elevated rates for experienced technical professionals. Supplier costs have bitten hardest among areas of the market that can least afford it, including free festivals, and the increasing conservatism of ticket-buyers, while good news for well-known names, has left smaller venues and newer artists struggling for their share of attention.
“At the moment, I think the excitement is mainly at the financial departments of the promoters who promote the big shows and festivals,” says Jacco van Lanen of independent Double Vee Concerts. “Doesn’t matter what the prices are, the people buy tickets.
“On the smaller level, I see more challenges than excitement. More and more venues have stopped booking support acts because it’s too expensive to have one due to longer working hours, higher wages, and more catering costs. The most exciting thing is that there are, luckily, still many very talented young people who are incredibly creative in getting attention and trying to build their way up.”
While Mojo remains dominant, the well-told story of the past dozen years or so among the promoters of The Netherlands has been the rise to prominence of a healthy range of big-hitting competitors. These include FKP Scorpio’s Friendly Fire, the independent Greenhouse Talent, and the Dutch-talent-focused Agents After All, which last December became the latest acquisition of the increasingly sizeable All Things Live group. The clear impression is of a market that can accommodate a bit of healthy rivalry.
“It is a competitive market, but it is a good one. It just feels stable,” says Greenhouse Talent head promoter Wouter de Wilde, who believes international agents appreciate a range of choice.
“This year we have had Måneskin and George Ezra, Snoop Dogg, Cigarettes After Sex, Hans Zimmer”
“We see a lot of dropouts coming to us,” he says. “We can offer something different to Live Nation, and we have proven ourselves as a promoter for really big shows.”
This year, Greenhouse promoted Rammstein across two nights at Groningen’s Stadspark in July, selling 110,000 tickets. The same month, the promoter put three Taylor Swift shows on sale for summer next year at Johan Cruijff Arena, 150,000 tickets in total, and promptly sold the lot.
“That’s tremendous business to have as an independent promoter,” says De Wilde, who notes that such demand comes even in the face of rising ticket prices.
Of the other key promoters in The Netherlands, Friendly Fire was founded in 2009 and became part of FKP Scorpio three years later. Like its Dutch competitors, it operates across the board, from clubs to stadiums.
“This year we have had Måneskin and George Ezra, Snoop Dogg, Cigarettes After Sex, Hans Zimmer,” says Van Ommen. “It’s a great year for promoted shows, and we also had a great year for our festival, Best Kept Secret.”
In August, All Things Live also took a majority stake in festival promoter Loveland Events
Dance giant ID&T is another huge presence in the Netherlands and further afield. It was bought by Superstruct Entertainment from owners Axar Capital for an undisclosed sum in September 2021. The promoter has 70 events, including Amsterdam Open Air, Mysteryland, Thunderdome, Awakenings, Defqon.1, Milkshake, and Sensation, as well as two talent agencies and a creative workshop.
Booking agent, management stable, and promoter Agents After All, meanwhile, has operated since 2004, and its 30-strong team is involved in 1,500 concerts annually, to add to festivals such as Royal Park Live, HIER Festival, and Concert at SEA.
In August, All Things Live also took a majority stake in festival promoter Loveland Events, whose events include Loveland Festival, 909 Festival, Music On Festival, and Loveland Van Orange Festival, as well as several ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) events.
Double Vee, founded by Dutch live veteran Willem Venema, is another busy indie, promoting, booking, and co-promoting around 400 to 500 shows a year, varying in capacity from 150-cap rooms to arena shows. Its acts include new international artists like Alix Page, Daisy The Great, Deijuvhs, and L.A. Edwards, and Dutch artists such as Lov3less, Leah Rye, Annelie, and Lotte Walda.
So, where next? Does the post-Covid boom carry on into 2024, or are we in for a slow-down?
“I think if you compare it to 2022 and this year, then of course the big difference you’ll see is the number of stadium shows”
“I don’t know if it’s going to be a quieter year,” says Bloem. “I think if you compare it to 2022 and this year, then of course the big difference you’ll see is the number of stadium shows. My feeling is that it’s going to go back to ‘normal’ again, where you have many big acts touring one year, and then the next you have a bit less but more new talent coming up.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in the number of shows. Since I have been working in the music business, every year there has been an increase, and artists grow quicker into theatres and arenas.”
Where festivals are concerned, The Netherlands has some of Europe’s crown jewels. The world’s longest-running electronic music festival, ID&T’s Mysteryland, chalked up its 30th anniversary in August and celebrated by announcing that 80% of the festival’s power consumption would come from green grid power, while the remaining 20% would be largely made up of flexible, sustainably generated energy.
Live Nation’s Pinkpop is the longest-running open-air festival in the world, and this year returned with P!nk, Robbie Williams, and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the top of the bill, drawing 62,500 a day to Megaland in Landgraaf across three days in June.
As well as Pinkpop, Mojo has Lowlands, North Sea Jazz, and Down the Rabbit Hole, and its experience offers an indication of the market’s elastic demand in a tough consumer environment.
“They are not buying a new house or car, they are not making those big investments, but they are spending their money on experiences and memories”
“Costs are hitting everyone, and that has resulted in increased ticket prices this year,” says Bloem. “At the same time, Lowlands and Down the Rabbit Hole sold out in a heartbeat. So, we see and feel that people are spending money on entertainment, restaurants, and going out. They are not buying a new house or car, they are not making those big investments, but they are spending their money on experiences and memories.”
Most Dutch promoters have a stake in the festival business, with the odd exception. “We deliberately don’t organise our own festival,” says Van Lanen at Double Vee. “Mainly because we don’t want to compete in that way with the multinationals. On the other hand, try to find an empty weekend in The Netherlands…”
Greenhouse, whose Ghent-based Belgian arm this year recovered the Ghent Jazz Festival from bankruptcy, organises a yearly concert series called Zuiderpark Live, at The Hague’s open-air Zuiderparktheater.
Friendly Fire’s portfolio includes Indian Summer and Best Kept Secret, which received an overhaul this year. “For Best Kept Secret, we changed the whole identity, gave it a new look and feel, new website, new logo, and changed the set-up of the festival field,” says Van Ommen. “We also have the Indian Summer festival, which is mainly domestic artists, and we have Tuckerville, Ilse DeLange’s festival, and it’s the last edition this year.”
Tuckerville’s retirement after six editions, attributed to rising costs and the difficulty of remaining accessible to a large audience, nods to challenging times in the broader festival market, and it is not the only one.
“More and more free festivals are disappearing”
Dutch hip-hop festival Oh My! announced in July that it would no longer take place this year, citing the cost-of-living crisis, increased production costs, and last-minute safety and crowd regulations. The ALDA-promoted festival, touted as the biggest urban festival in Europe, was due to take place on 15 July at Almere Beach, in the province of Flevoland, and would have
been the sixth annual instalment. Likewise, DUCOS Productions’ free festival Parkpop in The Hague, which drew 250,000 visitors annually and ran for 40 years, drew a hard line in 2023 in response to the rising costs of production and safety requirements.
“More and more free festivals are disappearing,” says Hilde Spille of Nijmegen-based independent booking agency Paperclip. “They either are not there anymore, like Parkpop, one of the biggest European one-day free festivals, or they are turning into paid festivals.”
Production and talent are not the only inflationary factors. Insurance, for instance, must be increasingly comprehensive in the light of recent extreme weather events and warnings.
But with extreme weather taking its toll on many European summer events this season, some local operators report that policies covering acts of God can now be four times what they previously were.
Accordingly, a number of Dutch festivals were disrupted by the threat of extreme weather in July. Awakenings, a techno festival in Hilvarenbeek, Brabant, promoted by ID&T and attracting more than 100,000 visitors across three days, called off its third and final day in anticipation of severe thunderstorms that didn’t fully materialise.
“When the Ziggo Dome was built, it was envisioned for the big touring artists from the US, maybe the UK. The thinking was that Dutch artists can’t fill this place – and that is not the case”
On the same weekend of 8 and 9 July, Weert-based annual rock festival Bospop, which welcomes around 50,000 people each year, and electronic music festival Wildeburg, a three-day event that takes place in Kraggenburg, Flevoland, were also cut short due to the predicted weather conditions.
Amsterdam’s 17,000-capacity Ziggo Dome is the largest concert hall in the Netherlands. Last year, it welcomed over 140 events in nine months, and its busy calendar in 2023 is straightforward evidence of the health of the market at its top end, with Fred Again, Diana Ross, Lizzo, Madonna, Dua Lipa, Depeche Mode, and the Arctic Monkeys among those passing through.
“It is the year after the busiest year ever in our history,” Ziggo Dome director of commercial affairs Danny Damman told IQ’s Global Arena Guide 2023. “In 2022, we had over 140 events in nine months – it was a hefty challenge – and we are well on target this year despite having a particularly high number of cancellations, such as Justin Bieber and Celine Dion.”
Inaugurated in 2012, the venue was built with international touring artists in mind, but The Netherlands’ homegrown talent has increasingly risen to meet the challenge.
“When the Ziggo Dome was built, it was envisioned for the big touring artists from the US, maybe the UK,” says Henk Schuit, managing director of Eventim Netherlands. “The thinking was that Dutch artists can’t fill this place – and that is not the case. More and more Dutch artists are filling the Ziggo Dome – both older reunited bands like Acda en De Munnik, who filled it six times, and newer guys like Anton, who’s just turned 21 and played two shows [in December], which is quite healthy, I think.”
“The new generation of creators want to be the boss of their own community, their own ticket sales and so on”
Other developments at the Ziggo Dome also appear to have broader significance. In 2022, the venue added blockchain ticketing specialist GUTS Tickets to its preferred ticketing partners. In addition to preventing unwanted reselling and ticket fraud, blockchain tickets allow for every attendee to claim their ticket as an NFT collectible – while also offering promoters and artists access to the data generated by their audience.
“The Ziggo Dome offers the possibility to people who rent out the arena to have their own ticketing system,” says GUTS Tickets CEO Maarten Bloemers. “And what we see is that the younger artists, the independent artists, tend to choose us. The new generation of creators want to be the boss of their own community, their own ticket sales and so on. I think bi-weekly or weekly we do a show in the Ziggo Dome, and they’re a dream partner of ours, obviously.”
The Netherlands’ other key arenas are the 16,426-cap Rotterdam Ahoy, now 52 years old, and Amsterdam’s AFAS Live – once the Heineken Music Hall – whose Black Box main room can contain up to 6,000. The Ahoy has undergone a total renovation in recent years, as well as introducing a new mid-size arena, the 7,842-cap RTM Stage, at the end of 2020.
“The new stage is also designed to transform into the biggest auditorium in The Netherlands, with a capacity of 2,816 and an XL-seated variant of 4,174 seats,” says Ahoy head of entertainment and sports Arnaud Hordijk.
Events at the Ahoy complex this year include Mojo’s North Sea Jazz festival and Rolling Loud Rotterdam, as well as Rotterdam Reggae and hard techno fest Rotterdam Rave. “We’ve welcomed almost 200,000 visitors for these festivals this summer, which include three new ones compared to last year,” says Hordijk. The Ahoy is also busy with a range of sustainability initiatives, including 8,700 sq m of solar panels and 1,300 sq m of sedum roofs and, most recently, a plan for an urban water buffer, which allows rainwater to be collected, retained, filtered, stored, and reused for purposes such as window and floor cleaning.
“Of course, when Stromae cancels shows or Adele farts, it’s in the media. But it’s very, very hard to get any attention for new developing artists at the moment”
In a time of big-ticket shows, the fortunes of such venues seem assured. Of greater concern, says Schuit, are those of the smaller players. “The top of the market is getting the visitors, but underneath it’s a little bit of a problem,” says Schuit. “When you have 800,000 visitors to the Amsterdam ArenA, that maybe causes a rupture somewhere else in the channel, maybe lower down the line. I think young musicians starting out are struggling a little bit and have a tougher environment to break through.”
At Double Vee, Van Lanen agrees. “It feels like extremes to both sides. It looks like the major acts can’t deliver enough tickets for everybody who wants to see the show. And the prices are extremely high, so they take most of the money out of the market. As a result, the smaller and newer acts suffer.
“On the other hand, for new acts, it feels like the media also sort of disappeared after Covid. Of course, when Stromae cancels shows or Adele farts, it’s in the media. But it’s very, very hard to get any attention for new developing artists at the moment. I hope this will change soon, otherwise we won’t have acts to fill the medium-sized rooms in a year or five.”
The strength of Mojo contributes to making Ticketmaster the comfortable market leader in The Netherlands, leaving its rivals to find ingenious ways to carve out market share. Eventim recently launched an in-house agency to provide marketing and promotional support to promoters, particularly international ones, seeking to stage one or two shows in The Netherlands.
“If you are touring with a certain production setup and you can take care of that, then we are a perfect fit,” says Schuit. “We know the market; we have the reach. So I think, especially for foreign visitors to The Netherlands, we are a perfect fit to cater to their needs.”
As Schuit points out, The Netherlands is a busy, highly competitive market. But it is also one that carved itself out with hard work and smart thinking – and, as recent years have shown, one that rewards independent spirit.
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