Music and theatre sue UK govt for pilot show data
Live music industry body LIVE and a range of theatre businesses, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh, Michael Harrison and Sonia Friedman, have commenced legal proceedings against the UK government to force it to hand over the report from its series of test events, the Events Research Programme (ERP).
The ERP is the government’s research into Covid-19 mitigations in sport, entertainment and business conferences settings. The music industry and theatre businesses have repeatedly called on the government to outline the scientific basis for its decision to maintain restrictions on events. Despite portions of the ERP economic impact assessment being leaked to the media this week, the government refused calls from many MPs in a debate on Tuesday 22 June to release the report in full.
Several UK festivals, including Kendal Calling, Truck and Let’s Rock, have cited the non-release of the ERP data as a reason for cancelling their 2021 events. “Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement from Kendal Calling, which cancelled earlier this week.
Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live (which recently acquired Let’s Rock) and co-founder of LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), the representative body for the live music industry, says: “The live music industry has been very willing to work with government for the last year to show that our industry can operate safely. But it is intolerable that after running pilot shows for the government’s Events Research Programme, at our own cost, we have been blocked from seeing the results, leaving the whole sector in limbo with the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running.
“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings, and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead due to the government’s continued unwillingness to provide some form of insurance to enable events to move forward.”
“The govt’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead”
In the legal action, lodged today, the parties assert that the government has “flagrantly breached the ‘duty of candour’ which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny”. They have asked the court to consider their application at an urgent hearing as soon as possible.
“The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead,” comments theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber. “The situation is beyond urgent.”
As well as declining to publish the ERP results, the bodies argue that the British government is yet to provide any form of insurance scheme for the sector or to make it clear what kind of ongoing mitigations may be required in the future – effectively making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business. According to recent research from LIVE the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to around 5,000 live music gigs being cancelled, as well as numerous theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.
Peter Gabriel, speaking for WOMAD Festival, says: “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.
“We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us”
“At the end of this week, WOMAD will be faced with one very difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around five thousand people are at stake. Several pilot events have been successfully run over recent months. But, like other festival teams, we need to be told what that research means for WOMAD. We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us.”
While today’s suit focuses on forcing the government to release the findings of its pilot programme, the suit is also critical of the lack of guidance for the forthcoming step four – the final stage of reopening, provisionally scheduled for 19 July. Lack of clear guidance was a contributing factor to Kendal Calling cancelling earlier this week despite it taking place after the step 4 date.
Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “The chronic uncertainty and endless indecisiveness from government, and pilot events with no published results, have damaged audience confidence and further harmed a sector that has already been decimated by the pandemic. For as long as venues like the Royal Albert Hall, and hundreds more across the country, are prevented from effectively operating with no justification, we cannot play our part in supporting the critical ecosystem of freelancers, small businesses and suppliers who rely on us and who are so desperately in need of work.”
Live entertainment and theatre generate £11.25 billion in gross value added each year, and the sectors support just under one million jobs between them.
LIVE’s members are the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), Association of Independent Promoters (AIP), British Association of Concert Halls (BACH), Concert Promoters Association (CPA), Featured Artist Coalition (FAC), The Entertainment Agents’ Association (TEAA), Music Venue Trust (MVT), Music Managers Forum (MMF), National Arenas Association (NAA), Production Services Association (PSA) and Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR).
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Cirque du Soleil announces return to the stage
Cirque do Soleil Entertainment Group has announced the reopening of four of its most popular shows, which have been closed for more than a year due to restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic.
Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest producer of circus and other touring entertainment events, was one of the first casualties of the coronavirus, filing for bankruptcy last June after having already laid off thousands of staff. It emerged from bankruptcy protection in November after striking an agreement with creditors.
Two resident shows, O at the Bellagio and Mystère at Treasure Island, will reopen in Las Vegas this summer (1 July and 28 June, respectively), with the affiliated Blue Man Group show also returning to the Luxor Hotel from 24 June. Tickets for all Las Vegas shows are on sale now.
“I just can’t wait to see the lights go back on”
Two Cirque-produced touring events will also reopen: Kooza will return to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic from November, with Luzia opening at the Royal Albert Hall in London in January 2022.
Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, says: “This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Almost 400 days have passed since we had to take a temporary hiatus, and we have been anxiously awaiting our return to the stage.
“I am so proud of the resilience of our artists and employees who persevered during the most challenging times with stages dark around the world for so long. I just can’t wait to see the lights go back on.”
“This is only the beginning,” he adds. “We look forward to sharing more exciting news in the coming weeks.”
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Neil Warnock: “It’s time to get entrepreneurial”
UTA’s global head of touring, Neil Warnock, has predicted that the demand for live entertainment when the threat of Covid-19 starts to subside “will be like opening a floodgate”, but says the industry needs to be entrepreneurial about how concerts can return.
“People will definitely want to be entertained, they will want to go and see some music and I think [live entertainment] is going to have a boom time,” Warnock told ILMC head Greg Parmley during his Eurosonic Noorderslag keynote ‘What is the Future of Live?’.
“But if we can’t go and see music the way that we hope to see it, maybe we can provide it in a different way? Let’s be entrepreneurial and think about how we can actually bring everybody together. We’ve got an audience and we’ve got artists so how we are going to actually make it work in a safe environment, in a way that maybe we weren’t looking at before?” he said.
However, the UTA chief is optimistic that the pandemic – and the subsequent shakeup in the agency landscape – has given the industry the fresh sense of entrepreneurship that is needed.
“We’re seeing seeing some very interesting developments, as we always do in these circumstances, where agents have left the major agencies to set up their own shop and, to me, that’s very exciting because I think [those agents] are the new entrepreneurs of the future,” he said.
“I think what’s going to come out of this is very refreshing because it’s shaken up the industry. It’s all made us think of what we’re going to do and I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see some exciting stuff happening. I think the strong will get stronger, the entrepreneurs will make money, and the people we lose, we should probably have lost anyway.”
“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”
Warnock said that one way agents could be enterprising in the current climate is to come up with innovative ways to utilise and develop their domestic roster, until international touring can properly resume.
“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time and how best we put bills and events together within the UK. And so we’re providing entertainment with local talent as much as we can and developing or redeveloping some of the talent that maybe hasn’t been out to a number of cities or towns in many years.
“For example, if you have an artist that has done 10 arenas, there’s nothing stopping them doing 50 theatres. Also, there’s a lot of smaller open-air events that one could look at and say ‘how can we successfully promote that?’. I think it’s just about entrepreneurship and thinking on the ground about how best we’re going to do this.”
While Warnock says the return of European touring will rely on both the safety and economic viability of shows, he’s hopeful about organising tours in Australasia in the not-too-distant future, where many countries have got the virus under control and are embracing a return to live.
“I can see artists flying independently and doing a Japanese tour, once they’ve got the situation under control, and maybe playing Singapore and Hong Kong if they are safe. Same, if Australia and New Zealand begin to open up, but they can be toured seperately or South America,” he said.
“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”
As for Brexit, Warnock believes that the UK will find a practical solution for touring because it has to, but until then “we become third country status”.
“If you look at that as a definition of where the UK is in the world, that then gives you an idea of what can happen in terms of work permits, and how we actually work with our partner countries across across Europe. So we’ll be treated in the same way as the US, or Australia or Canada going into Europe.”
During the keynote, Warnock also addressed the snowballing popularity of livestreaming and says he believes it’s going to be a component of the live experience going forward.
“I don’t see it going away. Some are saying if you’ve got an artist that can generally sell 15,000–20,000 tickets in London, why not put them in the Albert Hall and sell 5,000 concert tickets and 15,000 livestream tickets,” he said.
“My view is, fine, I would much rather keep the live component going and play to all of those 20,000 people but I think this is going to depend on the artist and what they want to do with their time and their lives.
“Not every streaming show has been an unbelievable success, the big ones where there’s been good investment have proved to do well. But even then, it’s not guaranteed that a streaming show is going to do which is the same with live.”
Eurosonic Noorderslag concludes today.
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New funding rounds announced in UK
Millions of pounds worth of further grants and loans have been made available in England and Scotland to help the UK live industry recover from Covid-19.
Arts Council England (ACE) has opened applications for a second round of repayable finance for culturally significant organisations in England.
The programme, which is part of the UK Government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF), aims to support those organisations as they transition back to a ‘viable and sustainable operating model’ during the 2021/22 financial year.
The budget for the second round is up to £100 million and the minimum amount that can be applied for is £1m. The final round of CRF grants, totalling around £300m, are expected to open for applications in early January.
Organisations who have previously been awarded a CRF loan are not eligible to apply for further CRF loans, while previously successful grant applicants can.
Last week, the Government and ACE announced the first-round recipients of the repayable finance scheme which included London venues the Royal Albert Hall (£20.74m) and Southbank Centre, while Alexandra Palace (pictured) was awarded £2,967,600 from the £60m Capital Kickstart Fund. The latest grants and loans marked a milestone £1bn in funding allocated.
Elsewhere, the Scottish government has announced an extra £13 million to provide further support for the events sector in Scotland.
Of this, £6 million has been committed for the establishment of a new fund which will open this week to support those event businesses which are critical to Scotland’s events sector, and without which the capacity to deliver major events would be significantly reduced.
“This [£13m] will help hard-pressed businesses going forward and ensure that they are ready to support the recovery”
The Pivotal Event Businesses Fund will provide grants from £25,000 up to a maximum of £150,000 to support approximately 50 to 100 event businesses whose primary role as organisers, suppliers, contractors and venues is critical to the survival of the events sector in Scotland, and upon whom the wider events industry and supply chain are most reliant for their own business and operations.
The remaining funding will be used to set up a separate fund to provide broader support to businesses across the full range of the events sector, including the supply chain, and will be announced early in the new year.
The latest funding follows the £10 million announced by the culture secretary in July for the events industry, of which £6 million was allocated to the now-closed Event Industry Support Fund while £2 million was allocated to Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund currently being run by EventScotland.
“The events sector has faced severe challenges throughout 2020 as the restrictions necessary to contain the coronavirus pandemic have left most businesses unable to operate. While the arrival of a vaccine offers grounds for hope, the events sector and its wider supply chain will continue to experience difficulties for some time to come,” says culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.
“We were able to provide financial support for the events sector in the autumn but we have continued to listen and we acknowledge that further funding is required. This additional £13 million will allow us to help hard-pressed businesses going forward and ensure that they are ready to support the recovery when it is safe to operate again.
“Scotland has a well-earned reputation for delivering successful events at local, national and international level. We are working collaboratively with the industry to ensure that the sector has a future to look forward to and that we maintain our position as the perfect stage for events.”
Final £400m on the way as latest CRF recipients announced
Historic London venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and Southbank Centre are among the beneficiaries of the latest round of Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) spending, as the scheme marks a milestone £1 billion in funding allocated.
The Royal Albert Hall (5,272-cap.) and Southbank Centre, along with organisations such as the English National Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, were awarded a share of £165 million in low-interest repayable finance, with the Albert Hall receiving a total of £20.74 million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England (ACE).
Hall CEO Craig Hassall says the loan is a “lifeline” that will enable the Victorian arena “restore our minimum reserves and operating finances to a level comparable to before the pandemic struck”.
Elsewhere, a number of venues across the country are receiving grants from the £60m Capital Kickstart Fund. They include the Alexandra Palace, which has been awarded £2,967,600 to enable its 10,400-capacity Great Hall to “continue with a diverse programme of live, Covid-secure events this winter”, and new Manchester arts venue the Factory, which receives £21m towards its completion.
“As well as providing a multi-use space for diverse arts activity,” the Factory will be the permanent home for Manchester International Festival, “which attracts visitors to the city from across the country and creates opportunities for creative freelancers,” reads a statement from DCMS and UK culture minister Oliver Dowden CBE.
“The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs”
“Over the last nine months we’ve worked non-stop to make sure we can open the doors safely and keep the parkland well maintained to provide vital green space,” says Louise Stewart, CEO of Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust. “There are many challenges ahead, but for now at least, thanks to this funding, we have some time and resource to deliver our route to recovery.”
The latest grants and loans come as the government makes plans to allocate the final £400 million of the £1.57 billion CRF. Further details of the final round, comprising £300m in grants and £100m loans to help companies “transition back to usual operating mode from April 2021”, will be announced shortly.
According to Dowden, some funding was held back in previous rounds (to enable authorities to assess the “changing public health picture”), and will also be made available to organisations at “imminent risk of collapse before the end of this financial year” in April.
“This government promised it would be here for culture, and today’s announcement is proof we’ve kept our word,” says the culture secretary. “The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs at cultural organisations across the UK, with more support still to come through a second round of applications.
“Today we’re extending a huge helping hand to the crown jewels of UK culture, so that they can continue to inspire future generations all around the world.”
More information about the CRF is available from the Gov.UK website.
Neil Warnock talks 150 years of Royal Albert Hall, 2021
Neil Warnock MBE, global head of touring for United Talent Agency, has said he’s cautiously optimistic about the potential for the impending Covid-19 vaccine to get the industry moving again after a “disastrous” 2020.
Speaking after today’s virtual Royal Albert Hall 150th anniversary press conference, Warnock – who is chairman of the London venue’s 150th anniversary committee – described the impact the pandemic has had on both artists and fans.
“This year has been an absolute disaster for the whole world and affected every strata of everybody’s lives,” he said. “The music element – of not being at a show and fans not being able to interact with performers – has, especially, been so harmful to everyone’s health. Music is such a key component in so many people’s lives.
“I’ve talked to artists who have been going up the wall, some of whom normally play 150 shows a year. It’s been such a loss for them, and so hard on everyone.”
Warnock said while some musicians have been able to take advantage of live music’s year off, it depends on the artist and their attitude towards touring. “Some of them have looked at it and said, ‘I should be working on music, I should be writing a book,’ or whatever it is they’re working on, and used  extremely well, artistically,” he continued. “Whereas other artists have said, ‘No – just want to get out there and perform.’”
The Royal Albert Hall today unveiled the programme for its 150th anniversary celebrations, which kick off on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years to the day of its opening – and extend into 2022.
The arena’s chief executive, Craig Hassall, announced the plans, which include concerts, festivals, dance shows and more, at a virtual press conference streamed live from the 5,200-capacity venue this morning (3 December).
“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour”
“Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, which has closed our treasured building to the public for the first time since the Second World War, we are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th anniversary,” he told journalists.
“Since its opening, this extraordinary venue has borne witness to, and played a central part in, seismic cultural and social change. The interests, manners and social mores of the people may have changed, but this beautiful building and what it represents remains the same a century and a half later: a meeting place, a reflection of contemporary Britain, and a home for exhilarating live performance and events of international significance.
“I want to thank the whole creative industry, our dedicated staff and all of the artists involved for their support in announcing this programme today.”
The hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and named in memory of her late husband, Prince Albert. Closed since March, it will reopen to fans for a programme of carol concerts over the Christmas period, with capacity limited to 1,000.
Among the highlights of the venue’s 150th anniversary programme are headline shows by the likes of Patti Smith, Jon Hopkins, Gregory Porter, Tinie (Tempah), Brian Wilson, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Alfie Boe, while alt-folk act This is the Kit will perform in an ongoing concert series, Albert Sessions, and run a workshop for local teenagers.
Elsewhere, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will lead a new mentorship programme for young female artists, and Nile Rodgers will compose a “pop anthem” for the anniversary, using a full orchestra and singers from across the community.
Non-pop/rock programming includes a special concert on 29 March 2021, which will see the debut of a specially commissioned multimedia piece, A Circle of Sound, composed by David Arnold; a new piece for the hall’s famous Henry Willis organ by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Rogue One); and a new staging of Matthew Bourne’s dance production, The Car Man.
“We are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th”
According to Warnock, there will be further live music events announced in the run-up the anniversary when there is more clarity on the regulations around Covid-19.
During the press conference, Warnock relayed a memorable anecdote about the Who’s Roger Daltrey being pelted with coins by angry teddy boys in 1969, and spoke of his love for the Royal Albert Hall, whose “magic” he says is unmatched by another venue anywhere in the world, and said he “can’t wait” to be in a position to be announcing more acts.
“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour, as I’ve been involved with the hall for 50 years,” he told IQ afterwards. “We’re going to have acts from right the way across the spectrum, from every part of the world and for every age range. It’s definitely going to tick every box.”
Lucy Noble, the Albert Hall’s artistic and commercial director, confirmed that while some plans have been postponed or deferred as a result of the pandemic, there are some “very exciting events to be announced in due course.”
With a vaccine against Covid-19 now approved in the UK, and the hope that other countries will soon follow suit, Warnock added that he’s cautiously optimistic about the resumption of touring next year, with something approaching a return to normal by the summer.
“We’ve got this pinpoint of light in the [form of the] vaccine, so hopefully that can be shared with as many people as soon as possible,” he commented, “which will then give us the health ‘passport’ we need so that artists can properly react with audiences, and fans can react with those artists, again. That’s all we can hope for.”
For the 150th anniversary programme as it stands so far, visit the Royal Albert Hall website.
Live music returns to some of the UK’s biggest venues
Some of the UK’s largest and most prestigious venues, such as the O2 Arena (cap. 20,000) and the Royal Albert Hall (5,272), are set to reopen their doors this winter for the first time since March.
The O2 Arena has announced it will host its first live music event for more than eight months on 5 December with British band Squeeze.
The socially distanced event will see the venue’s capacity reduced to 4,700, with tickets being sold in groups of twos, threes and fours only and a seating configuration which is in line with the UK government’s one metre plus guidelines.
Seats will remain empty between each group and one-way routes have been installed throughout the arena and concourse. The performance will end before 10 pm in compliance with the new curfew.
“We have been working incredibly hard to bring back events at The O2 and put measures in place to ensure our fans will have a safe and Covid-19 secure experience,” says Steve Sayer, GM and VP at the O2.
“At the moment, we’re only able to host under a quarter of our capacity in the arena, so this is not a long term solution for us or other venues and we continue to press the government for targeted support and guidance to get the live events industry and its supply chain back on its feet.
“The O2 was designed to give artists and fans the best live music in the world and we look forward to doing that again with Squeeze. As the O2 returns to live, it’s really fitting that a band from the local area are the ones to reopen our doors to the public once again. The whole team are excited to see them on our stage for the first time.”
The Royal Albert Hall has also shared plans to reopen this December, announcing a programme of 18 Christmas concerts including Handel’s Messiah, the Royal Choral Society, Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas and My Christmas Orchestral Adventure.
“This model is not sustainable with such reduced capacities, we are opening because I believe this is what the country needs”
The events will mark RAH’s first concerts with an audience in nine months, on the eve of its 150th anniversary.
Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “Six months on from enforced closure, and six months away from our 150th anniversary on 29 March 2021, we are excited beyond words to open our doors to the public for what will be a joyful, stirring and historic occasion.
“It remains the case that socially-distanced performances are financially unviable in the long term. Although this model is not sustainable with such reduced capacities, we are opening because I firmly believe this is what the country needs.
“It is an investment into our future – to protect the jobs of our highly skilled staff, to stimulate the local economy and the wider arts ecosystem, and to fulfil significant audience demand.
“Christmas has always been a time of great celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall, where people have come together since 1871 – from Vera Lynn at the end of the Blitz, to HM The Queen’s first public Christmas address. It is essential for us to carry on this spirit in what has been a year of disruption.”
The Hall sold 121,229 tickets across last year’s Christmas season. This year there will be 36,000 tickets available in total.
Elsewhere, Alexandra Palace (10, 400) recently announced a series of socially-distanced, indoor live events taking place this October and November. The arena’s autumn programme features comedy, theatre, a drive-in film club and a sold-out show with DJ Sasha.
Alongside the standard coronavirus regulations, the venue will be operating a table-only format with a maximum of six people at each table.
All three venues have adopted Covid guidelines including socially-distanced seating, e-tickets, deep-cleaning, staggered entry times to reduce queues, temperature checks, a face covering policy, and sanitising stations throughout the venue.
Former Royal Albert Hall CEO Patrick Deuchar dies
Patrick Deuchar, former chief executive of London’s Royal Albert Hall (RAH), passed away on 10 September, aged 71.
Deuchar completed an eight-year stint as CEO at the RAH (cap. 5,272), which he enthusiastically promoted as “the nation’s village hall”.
When he assumed the role of CEO in 1989, one of Deuchar’s first decisions was to drop the ban on pop concerts that had been imposed in March 1972 after only one of 23 gigs the previous year had passed off without disorder.
From there, the CEO expanded the venue’s programming from the Proms to rock bands, Sumo wrestlers, arena opera, tennis tournaments, and meet-and-greets.
Under his management, the RAH also co-produced ballet Swan Lake and the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil.
One of Deuchar’s first decisions was to drop the ban on pop concerts that had been imposed
But perhaps his most notable move as CEO was securing £40 million in National Lottery funding to give the venue a necessary facelift.
The new funding allowed the venue to open additional restaurants, bars, shops and lavatories; build new loading areas and backstage facilities; upgrade the auditorium seating, and transform the “death-defying” racetrack around the hall into a pedestrian piazza.
The construction work had barely begun when Deuchar resigned in 1997 because of ill health, and former director of finance and administration David Elliott was left to oversee the transformation.
Raymond Gubbay, a concert promoter who presented 50 shows a year at the RAH, said of his resignation: “I am deeply sad that he is going. Patrick has done an incredible job in revitalising the Hall.”
Deuchar subsequently took up a series of short-lived executive positions and was spoken of as a potential chief executive of the V & A, but instead retired to Devon.
Deuchar is survived by his wife Liz Robertson, an actress and singer, along with their daughter, and a son and a daughter from his first marriage to Gwyneth Miles.
A new reality: Arenas talk reopening challenges
Strict hygiene protocols, contactless technology and fewer queues are likely to form the future of Europe’s arenas, as venue operators shun social distancing but nonetheless prepare to open to a changed reality.
Venue owners and event organisers across the continent have been grappling with new restrictions as many major markets around Europe begin to reopen, striving to strike the balance between providing a safe environment, maintaining financial viability and keeping their business alive.
Strict capacity limits and social distancing regulations have meant many venues have kept their doors closed, even if they are technically allowed to reopen.
With a current upper limit of 30 people at indoor events in the Netherlands, there is really “no model” for shows, Jurgen Hoekstra, manager of entertainment and sports at Rotterdam Ahoy tells IQ.
Hoekstra calculates that the Rotterdam Ahoy team could make an “attractive venue” operating at 30% capacity, maintaining 1.5 metres between guests, with a seating plan on the floor. But, really, “in our field of business, the aim is to let people enjoy experiences with a lot of others – the more people there are, the more special it is.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal.”
AEG Europe COO and Europe Arenas Association (EAA) president John Langford agrees that socially distanced shows are “financially and practically challenging – and in many cases impossible – for both venues and promoters”, although the early phase of recovery offers little other possibility than hosting events with lower capacities.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal”
“This scenario is however not viable or sustainable beyond just a handful of events.”
In the UK, Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall and chair of the National Arenas Association (NAA), says none of the venues she works with “can viably reopen while social distancing measures remain in place.”
Two-metre distancing would require using only 15% of the Hall’s full 8,000-person capacity, with a capacity of around 85% needed to make events financially viable.
So, what is the answer for venues? And how can they reopen while both keeping staff, artists and audience safe, and generating enough money to keep going?
A focus on a contactless customer journey, the use of protective gear, air filtering and upgraded hygiene protocols are among options listed by AEG Germany COO and VP Uwe Frommhold.
The allocation of time slots will also be important for “avoiding unnecessary mingling”, says Frommhold, whereas “tools to track down infection chains” are vital in case infection does spread at an event.
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer – not even a vaccine will do it alone.”
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer”
The AEG Europe team has also been working closely with ASM Global in the development of the VenueShield programme, a toolkit comprising best practice solutions that can be employed in response to public health guidance.
For Noble, a permanent move towards contactless payments and ticket scanning, as well as pre-booked food and drinks, will characterise the gig of the future.
The NAA has put together a proposal for the UK government which would allow venues to reopen at full capacity, including procedures such as heightened entrance and exit controls, increased sanitisation, the use of protective equipment and contactless service processes.
Noble gives the example of a production of the Phantom of the Opera, which has been running in Seoul, South Korea, throughout the Covid-19 crisis. The theatre used disinfectant mists, temperature checks and questionnaires to ensure safety standards were met.
“If we are to find a solution, it is going to be a combination of numerous measures, from increased access points to hand sanitisers, Perspex screens and PPE for staff,” says Noble.
Rotterdam Ahoy’s Hoekstra speaks of the possibility of repurposing space to allow for a wider variety of events in the short term.
With a variety of spaces at their disposal, including a 16,500-cap. arena, conference centre and exhibition halls, there is the possibility to host trade fairs and exhibitions at the venue, event formats which have seen some success in reopening so far.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together”
Even though restrictions in the Netherlands remain stringent – capacity limits are set at 30 until July, when they may be increased to 100 – Hoekstra hopes that signs of success in other markets, such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland, may lead to a further lifting of measures.
“I am convinced that in the end that people will enjoy a show in a full arena again, as long as we can guarantee a safe place, and I really think this will be the case.”
For Noble, reassuring staff, artists, crew and audiences that it is safe to attend events will be “the biggest challenge” for venues wishing to reopen fully.
“People will understandably be nervous, and it’s our job to not only find a way for events to take place safely, but also to instil confidence that we’ve done so. That’s going to be a question of transparency and communication.”
Safety is, of course, at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment, and will continue to be for a long time in the future. However, it is important to remember that the very essence of the live show is also at risk, and this is something that has to be factored in while considering the best ways to reopen.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together,” says Noble.
“We are all missing that.”
Venue leaders optimistic for 2020 reopening
Venue professionals expressed confidence that doors will reopen before the end of the year, but shared doubts as to whether social distancing is the answer, in the latest IQ Focus panel.
Available to watch back now on the IQ website, as well as on Facebook and Youtube, the session saw John Langford (AEG Europe), Lucy Noble (Royal Albert Hall/NAA), Olivier Toth (Rockhal/EAA), Oliver Hoppe (Wizard Promotions), Tom Lynch (ASM Global) and Lotta Nibell (GOT Event) reflect on when they will return to business and the tactics that venues will use to ensure the show goes on.
All panellists were optimistic that some shows will return before the end of 2020, although next year will see the true restart of indoor live events, with many speaking of “packed 2021 calendars”.
For Toth, CEO of the 6,500-capacity Rockhal in Luxembourg, smaller capacity shows with strict social distancing measures will be the most likely to restart before the new year. Rockhal’s intimate club venue, which typically has a capacity of 1,100, can hold 90 people with two metre distancing measures in place, but “we can increase capacity as we go”, said Toth.
“For shows of a bigger scale, I am optimistically hoping for the end of this year, but it is more likely to be 2021,” said Toth.
Rockhal is one of a number of venues in Luxembourg acting as a temporary medical facility.
For GOT Event, which operates nine venues in Sweden, sports fixtures are the most likely to return in 2020, with all matches played behind closed doors. “For music and other shows, I think it’ll be next year,” said Nibell.
Even though Sweden has not entered a full lockdown unlike many of its European counterparts, a ban on shows over 50 people has left the Swedish live industry in much the same position as elsewhere.
“For shows of a bigger scale, I am optimistically hoping for the end of this year, but it is more likely to be 2021”
ASM Global has already seen some success with the return of sporting events, hosting Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events behind closed doors at venues in the United States.
Lynch said ASM Global’s VenueShield, a post-coronavirus reopening programme, has played a big part in allowing the sports powerhouse to get back up and running. “Next I’d like to see how, or if, we can introduce fans with social distancing and in a safe and clean environment.”
Social distancing has been a “hot topic” of late for the events industry, said Langford, asking Wizard Promotions’ Hoppe if it is a viable solution for event organisers.
While it may work for some kinds of shows and events, “I don’t think social distancing will be a part of what we will be looking at,” said Hoppe. Drive-in concerts offer an example of social distancing success, added Hoppe, but “are horrible for an artist in my opinion”.
Noble, artistic and commercial director at London’s (5,272-cap.) Royal Albert Hall and chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association (NAA), agreed that social distancing is not part of the plan for reopening as “it just doesn’t work financially”.
“We do know we can run our venues in world class ways to facilitate shows going on, be it by contact tracing, temperature checks, questionnaires, disinfectant mists etc.”
Noble noted the lack of clarity given to the live industry by the UK government, which is yet to give a date for when events of any size will be permitted again. “If they don’t give us clarity, then we need to give them clarity,” said Noble. “We are suggesting to them how we can operate.”
“I am really positive about the future of live events, but we just need to find a way of operating in this situation, if it recurs”
The EAA has also taken up a lobbying position, working with the European Commission to develop a reopening plan for the live industry.
“We’ll be facing very different requirements and expectations from our customers,” said Toth. “Scenarios will be very different, from artist hospitality to audience experience, not even mentioning social distancing, so the ambition was to put major concerns out there and open up the discussion.”
Consumer demand has been another worry for the live industry, with surveys indicating a potential cautiousness on behalf of some about returning to public events. However, Toth pointed out that the majority of fans are holding on to tickets for postponed events, indicating that “people are looking forward to coming back”.
Noble said that the Royal Albert Hall is expecting confidence will take a while to return and is modelling accordingly.
“We certainly won’t be selling to full houses when we reopen,” said Noble. The venue is adjusting its programming to focus on shows that attract younger audiences first, the demographic most likely to make a quick return to events.
“I am really positive about the future of live events,” said Noble, “but we just need to find a way of operating in this situation, and for if it recurs.”
The next IQ Focus session, The Innovation Session, is taking place on Thursday 28 May at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET, chaired by Mike Malak (Paradigm), and featuring speakers Sheri Bryant (Sansar), Tommas Arnby (Locomotion Ent.), Amy Oldham (Dice), Ben Samuels (MelodyVR) and Prajit Gopal (Looped).