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Market report: From Russia with live

Global election meddling, Novichok, Syria, Ukraine, London house prices – it’s not hard to find things to blame “the Russians” for. Then again, as Juha ‘Richie’ Mattila, veteran Finnish promoter and frequent Russian tourer points out, how would the rest of us like to be judged for the sins of our leaders and our oligarchs?

“We shouldn’t tour Russia because of Putin? Yeah, well, everybody should quit touring the USA then,” he hoots. “It’s [like] the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Russia’s renewed role as the villain of international politics is so entrenched in the western narrative that it’s easy to forget there’s a real country under there – unimaginably huge, rich in culture and with plenty of good guys.

“You need to remember, Russia is part of Europe, even if politically it’s a little different,” says Mattila.

The international sanctions in place since Russia annexed the Crimea nearly six years ago have put a drag on the economy, destabilised the ruble and, from a live perspective, punctured the growth of cities other than St Petersburg and Moscow.

There was a period, not long after the beginning of the sanctions, when the prospect of seeing international acts in even Russia’s wealthiest two cities seemed in doubt. “Moscow Can’t Afford Foreign Performers,” read a 2015 headline in English-language newspaper The Moscow Times, citing a 95% fall in shows by western acts due to unaffordable fees.

“We shouldn’t tour Russia because of Putin? Yeah, well, everybody should quit touring the USA then”

In Moscow and St Petersburg, the market has bounced back – if not all the way, then enough that the relatively lighter schedule of international shows has sharpened demand for what tickets there are.

“It’s an interesting tendency in Russia lately,” says Ed Ratnikov of leading promoter Talent Concert International (TCI), which in October sold a 51% share to CTS Eventim.

“The market is going down due to sanctions and government politics, and people’s income is not getting any better but the business is growing.”

In the absence of a full complement of international stars, Russian acts including Basta, Max Korzh and Zemfira have graduated to stadium status. Leningrad, formed in the 1990s in St Petersburg, the city formerly of that name, made Russian music history this summer with a stadium tour, playing Kaliningrad, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod in June, amidst a series of dates in arenas. Hot local pop stars include Zivert, Artik & Asti, Cream Soda and Shortparis.

“We have a new generation of kids who were born and live in the digital era,” says Ratnikov. “They have their headphones on 24 hours a day, they share tunes fast and make unknown artists well known in hours. Those kids are the majority of our ticket buyers now and are eager for quality entertainment.”

Russia’s instinct, where international music was concerned, was always to go big, and its early outdoor spectaculars – the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival at Luzhniki Stadium (featuring Bon Jovi, Ozzy and Scorpions), 1991’s Monsters of Rock at Tushino Airfield (Metallica, AC/DC et al), The Prodigy in Manezh Square in 1997, Chili Peppers and McCartney in Red Square in 1999 and 2003 – live long in the memory.

“The market is going down due to sanctions and government politics, and people’s income is not getting any better but the business is growing”

In spite of ups and downs, that pattern of serial one-offs has given way to a steady, professional business in the past decade or so. The most seasoned Russian promoters now have three decades of experience to draw upon, and the main cities have taken big steps too.

“Russian infrastructure has improved significantly,” says Ratnikov. “We have new airports, world-standard sports arenas and stadiums as well as recognisable hotel chains. Russia has improved very well during the last decade.”

Estimates of the size of the ticket market in Russia range from R45billion (£545m) to R60bn (£727m) per year [source: PwC]. Subject to more favourable economic and diplomatic conditions, there is still an enormous amount of room for growth. Moscow has a population of 12.4m, St Petersburg 5.4m, and in the comparatively dormant secondary markets there are 13 more cities of more than a million, led by Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Partly because prices are often out of reach for average incomes, concerts sit behind cinema and theatre in turnover terms. But an ever-growing contingent of promoters is working hard to shift the balance.

“The market is getting more and more competitive, while the incomes of Russians don’t tend to rise,” says SAV founder Nadia Solovieva. “But we are used to this economic reality –that’s the way things usually are here.”

As infamous art collective Pussy Riot can attest, politicians and the country’s legal system are not against interfering with the Russian music scene. Homemade hip-hop has come under fire for its poor moral character, and a spate of small shows were shut down last year in a crackdown on allegedly seditious youth music that affected artists including Siberian rapper Husky and teen band Frendzona.

Increasingly, big business is taking an interest in the Russian live sector

But increasingly, big business is taking an interest in the Russian live sector. European giant Eventim’s move into promoting follows its ownership of ticketing operation Parter.ru since 2006. However, in practice, the major corporate influence on the Russian live business comes from domestic tech, mobile and finance juggernauts, which have claimed entertainment tickets as a feature of their own wider online offering.

Russian Internet titan Yandex took its share of the e-ticketing market to an estimated 20% in the summer with the acquisition of TicketSteam. Yandex’s rival Mail.Ru Group invested in ticketing aggregator TIWO’s Moscow-based Ticketing Platform at the same sort of time, while Russian bank Tinkoff has held a 20% stake in concert ticketing market leader Kassir.ru since 2018, when mobile giant MTS also snapped up leading ticketers Ticketland and Ponominalu.

“It is about creating ecosystems and marketplaces,” Ticketland CEO Vitaly Vinogradov told the IQ International Ticketing Yearbook 2019.

The next step for Russia and elsewhere, believes Katerina Kirillova, co-founder of local blockchain distribution ventures Tickets Cloud and Crypto.Tickets, will be a shift to smart ticketing. When promoters and vendors can track and control tickets using blockchain technology, she suggests, data, marketing and anti-touting value will follow, while consumers are rewarded with secure tickets and music-driven social networking opportunities.

Existing tickets needn’t be threatened by the dawn of crypto, according to Kirillova, who adds that Tickets Cloud is in the process of securing its next funding round. “None of the traditional resellers wanted to integrate with us, because they considered us competitors, but now we have almost all the key resellers integrated as partners,” says Kirillova. “We don’t want to compete with them, but we want to provide the technology.”


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New AEG-backed MTS Live Arena bound for Moscow

MTS, Russia’s leading telecommunications operator and digital services provider, has signed an agreement to be the branding partner of, and help equip, a new 11,500-capacity arena in Moscow, set to open in 2020.

MTS (Mobile TeleSystems) – which also partially owns Russia’s two biggest entertainment ticket sellers – will provide high-speed mobile data network coverage throughout the venue, including 5G connectivity, and install ultra-high-resolution screens and smart parking, navigation, security and access control systems at the new MTS Live Arena, which is being built by developer Safmar Group near the Skolkovo Innovation Center (aka ‘Russia’s silicone valley’).

The deal between MTS and Safmar’s AND Corporation provides for an initial ten-year period of cooperation, with an option to extend. AEG is also on board as an international partner, says MTS – the US venues giant’s first property in Russia, after negotiations to operate Moscow’s VTB Arena fell through.

Alexey Kornya, MTS president and CEO, says the telco will help market events at the new arena via its ticketing platforms, Ticketland and Ponominalu, as well as broadcast performances via on-site VR streaming.

“We continue to expand into the experiential sphere,” explains Kornya. “The MTS Live Arena project complements our strategy to develop an entertainment ecosystem by leveraging synergies across our business lines, including e-ticketing, virtual and augmented reality, interactive OTT [over-the-top] content distribution and our proprietary mobile apps.

“Combining the expertise of AND Corporation, one of Russia’s largest developers, with MTS’s digital product capabilities will enable us to provide a new level of entertainment, including both world-class live performances by leading global stars [and] online content delivery to smartphones and other devices.”

“The MTS Live Arena project complements our strategy to develop an entertainment ecosystem”

When it opens in mid-2020, MTS Live Arena (pictured), the company says, will feature multiple seating levels “with optimal viewing from all areas”, as well as “world-class stage, lighting, and sound equipment”. “AEG’s participation will ensure the arena is on par with leading global concert venues,” it adds.

In addition to the VTB indoor arena, which has a capacity of 13,000 for concerts, other rival venues in Moscow include the 13,926-seat Megasport Sport Palace, CSKA Arena (14,000-cap.) and the 35,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, or Olimpiyskiy.

“Safmar Group is executing a variety of ambitious projects across the full spectrum of commercial real estate. The entertainment complex that we are building near the Skolkovo cluster will be a flagship platform for large-scale concerts in Russia,” comments Sait-Salam Gutseriev, general director of AND Corporation.

“The venue features a unique combination of advanced technologies, architectural solutions, design concepts and logistics accessibility standards. We are confident that MTS is the perfect partner to help develop this project, which can bring the perception of performances in our country to a new level.

“The innovative solutions that our partner plans to install at MTS Live Arena will provide viewers and attendees an unforgettable experience.”


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Russia’s Ponominalu investigated over drip pricing

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has opened an investigation into leading ticket agency Ponominalu over alleged drip pricing.

According to the competition regulator, Ponominalu misrepresented the price of tickets for a January show by Kasta (Каста), a popular hip-hop group, in an advertisement on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent.

The advert, placed in late 2018, said Kasta would play a large show in Moscow, with tickets priced at 1,500₽ (€21). However, says FAS, when the buyer reached checkout on Ponominalu.ru, the minimum price payable was 1,650₽.

“The advertisement did not contain any information about service fees and commission for purchasing tickets on the internet, and it is impossible to purchase tickets on the site [Ponominalu.ru] without paying a service fee,” reads a statement from FAS’s Moscow office.

“The advertisement did not contain any information about service fees and commission”

If found guilty, Ponominalu.ru is liable for a fine up to half a million rubles (€7,000). An initial hearing took place on 26 June.

According to Moscow Ticketing Forum MD Katerina Kirillova, promoters who consciously rely on sales through Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, in 2017 sold an average 30% of their tickets through the service.

According to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2018, Ponominalu is Russia’s second larger ticket seller, after Kassim.ru, which generated revenues of 7.1bn₽ (€88m) in 2017. Ponominalu was acquired by Russia’s largest mobile network, MTS, last February.

Several other ticket sellers have been warned or sanctioned for not including the full cost in the price of tickets, including in the UK, the Netherlands and, most recently, Canada, where Ticketmaster was slapped with a $4m fine.


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Russia telco MTS makes grab for concert ticket market

Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Russia’s largest mobile network operator, has acquired majority stakes in Ticketland and Ponominalu, two of the country’s leading event ticketing companies.

MTS – which turned over US$6.5bn in 2016, and is also the biggest mobile telco in the CIS (most of the former Soviet Union) – paid ₽3.25bn ($57.2m) for for a 100% stake in Ticketland owner MDTZK, and around ₽387m ($6.8m) for 78.2% of Ponominalu parent Kulturnaya Sluzhba, in a major play for control of the Russian live event ticketing market.

According to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2017, Ticketland and Ponominalu are two of the leading primary ticketers in Russia, with also Kassir, Muzbilet, RedKassa and CTS Eventim-owned Parter among other players. MTS says Ticketland is dominant in theatre shows, musicals and classical concerts, and also owns the largest distribution network in Moscow, while Ponominalu is no1 for concert ticketing.

Mikhail Minin (pictured), founder and CEO of Pomominalu, retains a 21.8% stake in the business, which is valued at ₽495m, with an option to sell his share to MTS before 2020. MTS may also increase its share to 100% by the end of 2020 based on “key business metrics”.

“We expect to soon be in a leading position in the intriguing, developing market of mobile ticketing”

Ticketland and Ponominalu will both continue under their current management, with MTS overseeing strategic development and exercising financial control. Both deals have already received regulatory approval.

Vyacheslav Nikolaev, vice-president of marketing at MTS, says the company hopes to drive further adoption of mobile ticketing throughout Russia, where paperless ticketing is already on the up.

“Buying a ticket to a live event, whether it is a concert or a theatre production, should absolutely be done through a smartphone,” he explains. “The convenience is too great not to bring these types of services to our customers, and it is obvious that MTS – with its size, scale and scope – should be at the forefront, driving growth in a significant market throughout Russia. On the basis of both Ticketland.ru and Ponominalu.ru, we expect to soon be in a leading position in this intriguing, developing market.”


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