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Sportpaleis: “We still have to reschedule more than a million tickets”

Belgium’s live industry has largely reopened thanks to the Covid Safe Ticket but it could be up to two years until it’s firing on all cylinders again, according to key venues.

This is partly down to the large numbers of ‘old’ tickets that still need to be rebooked – more than one million for the Sportpaleis Antwerp (cap. 23,001) alone – the Flemish Radio and Television Broadcasting Organisation (vrt) reports.

“We still have to reschedule more than one million tickets,” Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of Sportpaleis Group, told vrt. “People prefer to redeem those already paid tickets first before thinking about new events.”

Esbroeck nods to Bart Peeters’s rescheduled Deluxe concerts at the Group’s Lotto Arena (cap. 5,218) which were announced last week. “You can hardly buy tickets for those new dates because the majority of them have been in the hands of about 50,000 owners for almost two years,” he says.

“It may take another two years before everything falls into place again”

Mike Naert, general director of concert hall Het Depot in Leuven, still notices a lack of trust and even a certain degree of fear among the general public. He mainly blames the communication of the government: “They keep blowing hot and cold at the same time. Do the vaccinations work or not? Is the realm of freedom here or not? Too much confusion is still being sown.”

Many smaller venues also speak of slower or fewer ticket sales compared to before the pandemic. Gilles Ledure, director of Flagey in Ixelles immediately took into account about 30% fewer sales than before the pandemic when the autumn announcements were made: “It is not yet the rush that everyone expected this autumn. It may take another two years before everything falls into place again.”

Jérôme Giersé from Bozar in Brussels added: “The public also decides more last-minute than before corona. Ticket sales are much more difficult to estimate these days.”

 


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Sportpaleis Antwerp set to reopen later this month

Belgium’s Sportpaleis Antwerp, one of the largest arenas in Europe, will open its doors this month for the first time in a year and a half.

The 23,001-capacity arena will reopen on 18 September, accommodating events with and without Belgium’s Covid Safe Ticket (CST).

Organisers can choose whether they’d like to hold an event using the CST, thereby eliminating the need for social distancing, masks, and capacity limits, or whether they’d like to forego the CST and abide by the aforementioned restrictions.

The CST certifies that they are either fully vaccinated or have returned a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours.

The pass applies to events with more than 1,500 attendees and has been in effect from 13 August for outdoor events and 1 September for indoor events.

“It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months”

Promoters using the CST must implement a crowd management plan, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation (in the case of indoor shows) which is measured by a CO2 meter.

The arena’s first event, hardstyle dance show Reverze 2021, Wake of the Warrior, will utilise the CST to welcome a sold-out crowd.

“We have been working on the smaller halls for a while, but the heart of our organisation lies in the Sportpaleis,” Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of the Sportpaleis Group, told VRT NWS. “The reopening is an important step that we can take towards normalisation, although we realise that it will take a few months before it is as before.”

“This year will also be blood red for us. Most international acts have postponed their tours to later spring next year. It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months, not everything is over.”

Sportpaleis Group’s Lotto Arena (8,050-cap.), located adjacent to Sportpaleis Antwerp, opened last weekend.

The Group, which is owned by Live Nation Belgium, also includes venues Forest National (cap. 8,000) in Brussels and the Ethias Arena (cap. 18,000) in Hasselt.

 


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Sportpaleis Group given the go-ahead for pop-up arena

Belgian live entertainment giant Sportpaleis Group has been given the green light to open its pop-up arena in the coastal area of Middelkerke this July.

Sportpaleis Group initially revealed plans to build and operate the temporary venue – dubbed Proximus Pop-Up Arena – in the summer of last year.

The venue has now been permitted to open on 2 July, in line with the Flemish government’s roadmap (the Freedom Plan) which stipulates that outdoor events can take place with 5,000, provided attendees wear a mask and adhere to social distancing.

Initially, the arena will open to 2,500 attendees but the capacity will be increased in August when the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor events is bumped up to 10,000.

“The entire team behind our arenas and theatres is ready to get started with great enthusiasm”

As previously reported in IQ, the infrastructure of the venue will combine aspects of a festival setting – such as tents and open-air spaces – with the comfort of permanent areas with weather-resistant, grandstand seats.

So far, the artists announced to play the Proximus Pop-Up Arena include Gers Pardoel, Cleymans & Van Geel, André Hazes, The Schlager Festival Summer Edition, Mama’s Jasje, Soulsister, Natalia and Axelle Red.

A regular feature of the programming will be the Thursday night concert series ‘A Symphonic Evening with’, which will see the 20-piece Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra accompany a number of artists.

The temporary venue will remain in Middelkerke until the end of August. Tickets are already on sale here.

“The entire team behind our arenas and theatres is ready to get started with great enthusiasm,” says Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of the Sportpaleis Group. “We will be able to use all our expertise to offer visitors a wonderful concert experience.”

 


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Sportpaleis plans non-stop 24-hour livestream concert

Antwerp Sportpaleis is organising a 24-hour non-stop livestream concert to mark exactly one year since concert halls closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

More than 100 Belgian artists, across all genres, will perform original and cover songs in the empty 18,400-seat arena to show that they are ‘ready to storm stages again’.

The ’24 Hours Live’ event, co-produced by Les Flamands, Sportpaleis Group and Live Nation, will kick off at 6 pm on 12 March and will be streamed in its entirety via hln.be.

Miguel Wiels is part of talent and production agency Les Flamands and one of the artists who will perform on the night: “After a year, the jitters can no longer be kept. Everyone in the industry wants to make music, well, we’re going to do that with my band.

“We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available”

“It’s heartwarming how many artists have voluntarily agreed to play with us. We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available. It’s going to be a long marathon and we probably won’t have enough of it after 24 hours. On the contrary: it is an advance when we will also be able to stand in front of a live audience. That moment is getting closer, we have every confidence in it. This stunt is a good dress rehearsal for that.”

Prime minister Jan Jambon, says: “We have had the most disastrous year in the history of our culture and events sector. I am very happy to contribute to 24 Hours Live. Because that’s what we have to do: let the music go on, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I hope that we will soon be able to resume our normal life.”

Sportpaleis recently raised €50,000 for Belgium’s live music industry through its Lights for Live fundraising initiative.

 


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Sold-out Sportpaleis raises €50,000 for live biz

Fundraising initiative Lights for Live has raised more than €50,000 for Belgium’s live music industry after selling out the Antwerp Sportpaleis for the first time in 2021.

Over 5,000 people booked one or more virtual ‘seats’ at €2 each in the 18,400-seat arena to raise money for Live2020, a solidarity fund to support the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. Previous fundraising events for Live2020 include the Live2020 Auction in November and last year’s Rock Werchter for Live2020.

The money raised by Lights for Live was handed over to Live2020 on Sunday (14 February), while at at the same time each seat in the Sportpaleis was illuminated to represent the fans who couldn’t be present.

“You can feel that people are really starting to look forward to concerts again”

“It is great to see so many people showing their solidarity with the live music sector through this action,” says Clouseau singer Koen Wauters. “You can feel that people are really starting to look forward to concerts again. It’s something I miss a lot myself at the moment.”

“I am genuinely touched by so much light and warmth,” comments musician and composer Miguel Wiels. “It sounds strange, but despite the fact that no one is here, you can still feel a kind of presence from the audience. Hopefully more actions like this will follow soon so that together we can lead the music sector through this crisis and we can make a new start without too much damage.”

According to Niels Destadsbader, another regular at the Sportpaleis, “I must say that I have mixed feelings being here today. On the one hand, it makes me a bit unhappy to see this beautiful concert hall empty, especially because I know from experience how this – in usual circumstances – is an insanely magical place. But on the other hand, I am very happy with the support of our fans and of everyone who supports and cares about music.”

 


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Subs manager on selling out an arena show…without a date

Earlier this month, Ghent-born electro trio the Subs, one of Belgium’s most successful domestic dance acts, announced I Want to Dance Again – “the first post-Covid indoor rave”, taking place in Antwerp on an unspecified date in the post-pandemic future.

As a symbolic, cathartic celebration of a return to normal life, I Want to Dance Again (IWTDA) struck a chord with the both the music industry – quickly winning the backing of Live Nation Belgium and popular radio station Studio Brussel – and ticket buyers, who snapped up passes in their thousands, despite not knowing when the event would take place.

With tickets priced at €35, IWTDA sold out its original home, the 5,218-capacity Lotto Arena, in the space of a week. Now taking place at the arena’s bigger brother, the 18,400-seat Sportpaleis, organisers are similarly confident of selling out the new venue by the time the show goes ahead, the Subs’ manager, Alexander Vandriessche, tells IQ


IQ: Tell us about the genesis of the event. Whose idea was it, and how did it progress from there?
AV: We initially thought up the event when we were brainstorming about the roll-out for the single release of ‘I Want to Dance Again’ by the Subs. We thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to throw an event – the first major post-pandemic event – at full capacity without social distancing?” We felt like there was a vital need for a sign of hope during the dark winter months, flanked by coronavirus restrictions and semi-lockdowns. A message, spurring people to hang on during these final moments, so we can come together again when this horrible pandemic is under control.

We then pitched the idea to Live Nation, to see if they’d also be up for this idea. We definitely needed a trusted and experienced promoter to piece this together. After researching the feasibility of this event together, we approached media partner Studio Brussel to join us in this unique event. Being a key media partner, rooted in youth and music culture, they too felt that this would be a positive message of reconnection and were extremely excited to get on board. We’ve been enthusiastically working together ever since.

How did you bring Live Nation on board? Did they take much convincing?
We pitched the idea to the promoters at Live Nation almost as soon as we came up with the idea. They were instantly charmed by the idea and started researching the feasibility of the budget and logistics. They’ve been a strong partner in this event since then.

“We felt like there was a vital need for a sign of hope during the dark winter months”

It’s a unique, perhaps unprecedented, challenge to go on sale without even having an event date. Why did you decide to announce it now, rather than wait until you had a confirmed day?
It definitely is a challenge, but, partially due to this peculiar situation we currently find ourselves in, we are confident that we can face the challenges regarding production and artist booking. Calendars and schedules are pretty much open at this point; vendors and crew are more than eager to pull this together; artists are yearning to get back out there.

The health and safety of the visitors, crew and artists are paramount, so it’s essential that we coordinate with local government as to when we can start preparing this event. Therefore, clear and open communication from, and with, local government is essential to move forward and successfully reconnect audiences with artists – something they’re clearly yearning for immensely.

How are ticket sales so far? Do you expect to sell out?
We initially started the event in the smaller, 5,000-capacity Lotto Arena, but after one week we had already sold out. So we moved it to the biggest indoor venue in Antwerp: the Sportpaleis!

Tickets sales are strong, with 10,000 tickets sold to date. We’re optimistic about achieving a sell-out.

“We feel like we’ve been treated as … hobbyists who should find alternative employment”

How do you see the night panning out? Is it a concert, a party, or something in between?
It’ll be an extended event that will go on to the early hours, with a combination of live shows and DJ sets. More than anything, it should be a celebration of reconnection after months of social isolation.

Speaking of social isolation, how do you feel the government has handled the pandemic in Belgium?
Like many organisations across Europe, we feel let down by our governments. While we understand that this is an unprecedented situation – with a pandemic that moves unpredictably, and that the general health and safety of our societies are paramount – we feel like we’ve been treated as a second-class economy, a collective of hobbyists that should just accept that their livelihood has been put on hold and find alternative employment elsewhere in the meanwhile. Whereas we are a strong industry, populated by healthy mid-size companies which are of great importance and deliver a huge social relief to the general public. Culture, arts and a social life are more than simple pastimes – they are essential for the public’s mental wellbeing.

As a sector we feel like we’ve been open-minded and constructive in researching and finding solutions, and would like to keep urging our governments to not forget us. We can work constructively together to organise a safe reconnection, and collaborate to create a positive outlook for culture in the coming months. We owe this to the public.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Sportpaleis Group to open pop-up arena in Belgium

Belgian live entertainment giant Sportpaleis Group has revealed plans to build and operate a pop-up arena, which will be based at Middelkerke leisure park throughout the summer.

The temporary venue, dubbed the Proximus Pop-Up Arena, will be equipped to host 3,500 attendees with a seated configuration and 5,500 attendees with a mix of standing and seated.

According to SportPaleis Group, the infrastructure of the venue will combine aspects of a festival setting – such as tents and open-air spaces – with the comfort of permanent areas with weather-resistant, grandstand seats.

Belgian singer Stan Van Samang will christen the stage on 11 June and the venue will remain open until 31 August, hosting both domestic and international artists.

So far, the artists announced to play the Proximus Pop-Up Arena include Gers Pardoel, Cleymans & Van Geel, André Hazes, The Schlager Festival Summer Edition, Mama’s Jasje, Soulsister, Natalia and Axelle Red.

A regular feature of the programming will be the Thursday night concert series ‘A Symphonic Evening with’, which will see the 20-piece Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra accompany a number of artists.

The series will run during the months of July and August and tickets are on sale now.

“In these harsh times, it is up to us to show our faith in the music industry. This innovative project comes at the right time”

“There is an explosion of artists and audiences who want to meet each other within the magic of a concert,” says Jan Van Esbroeck, managing director of Sportpaleis Group. “The sector is clearly waiting for it, as evidenced by the more than 20 confirmed activities that have already been booked.”

“In these harsh times, it is up to us to show our faith in the music industry. This innovative project comes at the right time. The relatively small scale guarantees a carefree event experience for visitors by the summer of 2021,” he says.

Van Esbroeck says he hopes the arena will be attended not only by locals but by the millions of holidaymakers that visit the Belgian coast.

Jim Casteele, chief consumer market officer at Proximus, the Belgian communication and media company which has secured the naming rights of the arena, says: “Via the Proximus Pop-Up Arena we want to give Belgian artists, both established and young talents, the opportunity to show themselves to a large audience and at the same time bring them closer to the fans.”

The Sportpaleis Group comprises Night of the Proms promoter PSE Belgium, ticketing company Tele Ticket Service, and venue operator Antwerps Sportpaleis, which was acquired by Live Nation Belgium in 2019 but is still managed by Van Esbroeck and Jan Vereecke following the deal.

The deal also saw Live Nation Belgium acquire the Sportpaleis Group venues which includes the 23,001-capacity Sportpaleis arena in Antwerp (one of the largest arenas in Europe), the Lotto Arena (8,050-cap.), Forest National (8,000-cap.) in Brussels and the Ethias Arena (18,000-cap.) in Hasselt.

 


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Tickets on sale for post-Covid rave in Belgium (date TBA)

Despite not yet having announced a date, tickets are selling fast for I Want to Dance Again, a Live Nation Belgium-promoted event billed as Belgium’s biggest “post-Covid party”, which will take place in Antwerp as soon as restrictions on major events are lifted.

I Want to Dance Again (IWTDA) – also the name of the the latest single by the Subs, the Belgian electro heroes co-organising the party with Live Nation and radio station Studio Brussel – will take the form of an all-night, celebratory rave held at Lotto Arena (5,218-cap.) at an unspecified time in the near future.

Describing the event as “a new year’s resolution you can finally keep”, organisers say: “Let’s dance together again in 2021. When? As soon as the current Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, we will schedule a date for the first post-Covid indoor rave without restrictions. A relief and reward for our massive efforts, after many months of dance deprivation.

“Together with the Subs, we will dance and party all night long at the Lotto Arena in Antwerp. The date is yet to be determined. The sooner, the better. Are you ready for a wild night out?”

Tickets for IWTDA are priced at €35.

Live Nation acquired the operating rights to Lotto Arena in 2018, when it took over Antwerps Sportpaleis group.

 


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Belgian biz sounds the alarm over “wave of bankruptcies”

Belgium is facing widespread insolvencies this autumn unless the government intervenes to prop up the corona-hobbled events sector, the country’s live music industry has warned.

In addition to the extension of existing unemployment relief measures, a financial lifeline worth at least “several tens of million” euros, specifically for the live entertainment business, is needed to stave off disaster for Belgian festivals, promoters, agents and venues – the majority of which have accepted that live events won’t return in full until 2021, according to a new industry body, the Live Sector Consultation.

In an open letter, the Live Sector Overleg – which comprises “festivals, bookers, artist managers, music clubs and cultural centres” – warns that while opening venues safely is now possible, opening profitably is not, especially in light of the recent decision to slash capacity limits to 100 for indoor shows after a spike in Covid-19 infections.

“Both nationally and locally, policy is pushing our sector deeper into the swamp,” the letter reads.

“[L]et’s face the facts: the real recovery won’t be until 2021. The current regulations (including the measures regarding temporary unemployment, bridging aid, etc.) must be extended, but they will not be sufficient on their own. This sector needs an additional financial lifeline of at least several tens of millions, and for that we look directly at the various governments in our country.”

“How do we ensure that one of the healthiest and most successful sectors can survive?”

Asking what other industry “can say it has lost 95% of a billion-euro industry?”, the Overleg highlights the contribution live music makes to the Belgian economy, warning of a scenario where are “no more concerts in the Antwerp Sportpaleis” and “no more Stageco building stages for Rammstein and the Rolling Stones”. “It is starting to seem more and more that our government wants to throw our sector – which represents 5% of [Belgium’s] gross national product – into the bin,” it adds.

According to PwC, Belgium was Europe’s 12th-biggest live music market in 2019, worth US$273 million in ticket sales.

The letter concludes by demanding authorities “stop beating around the bush” and take decisive action to safeguard the wellbeing of Belgium’s formerly thriving live sector.

“How do we ensure that one of the healthiest and most successful sectors can survive, and that we ensure the retention where possible of more than 80,000 jobs? How do we ensure that our internationally recognised knowhow remains in the sector and we don’t see a massive brain drain? How do we ensure that we can continue to put top artistic talent on our stages? How can we keep our gross national happiness from going into decline for many years? Where is the economic contingency plan?

“We have already made many proposals. It is time to make that concrete.”

 


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IPM 13: If I Could Turn Back Time: Stage production, design and decor

The second panel of the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) began with Coralie Berael, venue manager of Belgium’s Forest National, reflecting on the changing nature of stage production. As both venues and production get bigger, Berael posed the question: Where do we go from here?

From the design side, Mark Ager, managing director of the UK arm of Tait, explained that the main challenge is taking creative content and making it into a reality for touring, adding that it all works best when there is coordination between the artistic, technical and logistical processes.

Production manager Wob Roberts stressed the importance of having final designs as early as possible, to makes the rehearsal period “an efficient machine” and bring down costs.

“The best circumstance is to have a clear idea what a show looks like before going on sale, but that’s idealistic,” said James Walker of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), explaining that a venue’s role in the chain is not always as valued as it could be. “We need better links with production managers,” said Walker.

Roberts gave the example of a Genesis tour which went on sale before the design came in, leaving insufficient room for the stage. “We had to be really creative to fit into the capacity that had been sold,” said Roberts. “I learned to talk to management as much as possible to avoid similar situations in future.”

Does the audience really require all this production, if tours can sell out before the design has even been done, asked Berael. Roberts explained that the audience has certain levels of expectation for some stadium artists like U2 and Rolling Stones, but not so much for others. However, “the ego can kick in” on the artists’ side, with acts wanting as big a show as their counterparts, “and that’s when the problems start”.

Walker said it would be hard to draw audiences in for a second time without spectacular sets, while Ager stressed the importance of fan engagement, which is challenging in a stadium without big production. “Scale can sometimes outperform the the actors,” said Ager. “The more people you put in front of an artist, the more money they make, so our challenge is how to engage the maximum number of people.”

“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,”

IPM day host Meagan Walker, general manager of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena asked when is enough, enough? “The bigger we [venues] get, the bigger the show and production gets,” she said.

The panellists also broached the difficulties of loading into certain venues, with local councils imposing restrictions and buying up land around arenas in many city centres. “We need to work together and communicate very early on to avoid the stresses on the day itself,” said Berael.

Is there anything at the design level that can be changed to ease logistics? “We are always trying to minimise building time and think about loading,” said Ager. “But the artist is always going to want to push it further, and I’m not sure how to stop this.”

Ager stated it’s important to remember they venues are often a “tryout” for the shows themselves, but this is changing with many using places like Production Park to test production out.

“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,” reiterated Roberts, saying that it is key for venues to come and look at the production beforehand to pinpoint potential problems and discuss solutions with the production manager.

The issue of liability was also raised, with Roberts stating that it is difficult to get house riggers to sign off on the work they have done. Walker explained that there is a large amount of liability with venues anyway, so there is a degree of nervousness to accept more.

The panel ended with a talk on sustainability. Roberts said that, although he is “unsure whether you can call what we do sustainable”, the entertainment industry is a “great testing ground” for green initiatives.


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