Is the touring boom hurting festivals?
Leading promoters have spoken to IQ about how the boom in huge stadium tours and outdoor concerts is impacting festivals.
In an industry first, a record five tours – Taylor Swift ($300.8 million), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ($142.6m), Harry Styles ($124m), Elton John ($110.3m) and Ed Sheeran ($105.3m) – grossed more than $100m (€913m) in the first six months of 2023.
Earlier this week, it was revealed Styles, who headlined last year’s Coachella, grossed close to $600m overall with his recently wrapped 2021-23 Love On Tour. And with stadium runs by the likes of Coldplay, Beyoncé and The Weeknd sure to impact the rankings for the second half of 2023, Pollstar declared “the age of the blockbuster tour is upon us”.
With summer historically reserved for festivals, and touring more consigned to colder months, the recent boom in stadium shows puts A-list tours and the outdoor season head to head. With greater financial return than a festival appearance, the ability to play to more fans and complete control over a show’s production, it’s easy to see the appeal.
So with A-list artists increasingly skipping festivals in favour of their own, what’s the impact on festivals, and what does that mean for those lower down the food chain?
“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music. The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts”
Courrier International reports that attendance at Dreamhaus’ Rock im Park in Germany, which was topped by Kings of Leon, Die Toten Hosen and Foo Fighters, fell to 75,000 this year, having attracted 90,000 in 2022, with expense cited as a factor. According to trade association BDKV, the average price of festival tickets in the country is up 15% on 12 months ago due to rising costs.
FKP Scorpio reported more positive news, with its twin Hurricane and Southside festivals – headlined by Muse, Die Ärzte, Placebo and Queens of the Stone Age – coming close to selling out, pulling in crowds of 78,000 and 60,000, respectively. FKP MD Stephan Thanscheidt accepts that bigger acts often prefer to play solo shows, but believes the festival sector retains a unique selling point in a changing market.
“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music,” he tells IQ. “The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts – therefore, the demand for well thought-out festivals remains high, even in economically demanding times.”
Eva Castillo, communication director for Last Tour, promoter of festivals such as Spain’s Bilbao BBK Live and Cala Mijas, and Portugal’s MEO Kalorama, says there is no reason both scenes cannot continue to coexist and thrive.
“They go hand in hand and are compatible with each other,” says Castillo. “A festival is an experience that goes beyond music, featuring both well-known and emerging artists in a venue that has its own distinct characteristics.”
“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect”
Over in Australia, Christian Serrao, co-founder and managing partner of Melbourne-headquartered Untitled Group, says the explosion of outdoor music spectaculars has had a “noticeable impact in flooding the market”, affecting festivals and diverting people’s spend on entertainment.
“Our one-day festivals face more challenges than camping festivals,” he contends. “We are finding that people are seeking the immersive camping experience, which allows them to connect with nature and create lasting memories beyond music performances.
“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect. These shows often require a significant investment from attendees, which can take a toll on people’s wallets, especially considering factors like inflation and the rising cost of living. As a result, people have become more selective in the events they choose to attend.”
The trend has prompted the firm to think outside the box and make strategic decisions, like booking Nelly Furtado for an exclusive show at its flagship festival Beyond The Valley.
“To ensure the success of our festivals, we focus on creating distinct experiential brands,” adds Serrao. “Our marketing emphasises the unique selling points like location, stage design, art installations, and activities such as workshops. For instance, [the festival] Grapevine Gathering offers a winery experience with live music, vineyards, and wine tasting.
“Some stadium shows cost around $400, comparable to our camping festivals, which provide four days of music, art, and camping—an irreplaceable immersive experience. Festivals set themselves apart from big stadium shows by offering experiences beyond music.”
“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap… It’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals”
AEG Presents UK Steve Homer admits to being taken aback by the sheer volume of “high quality stadium shows” around Europe this summer, and feels it is inevitable that others will suffer as a result.
“We’re not talking the odd date – people like Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Arctic Monkeys are doing large numbers of dates, which is really impressive, so I do think it has an impact on available money,” he says. “No matter what people say, the cost of living is a real issue and it’s expensive to go to shows at that level. We’ve all gone through the rigmarole of increased costs from transport, to fuel, to everything else.
“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap and obviously the ticket price has to reflect that in some way. I think it’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals.”
The 20th anniversary edition of Live Nation’s Download Festival, however, became the fastest-selling in its history, offering headline sets Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot and Metallica, with the latter playing two unique sets on separate nights. AEG’s London concert series BST Hyde Park also enjoyed a record year, shifting around 550,000 tickets for gigs by Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Blackpink, Billy Joel and Lana Del Rey – plus two nights each from Pink and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“Download had its best year ever, but that’s a very genre specific event, and British Summer Time is more like a big stadium show than a traditional festival,” argues Homer. “But we may see some of the more boutique festivals struggle if people have been going to these mega stadium gigs and it will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the summer.
“It’s great that these things are happening, but there is a finite amount of money and I think we’ll see the pinch somewhere. Whether it’s smaller festivals, whether it’s theatre tours, people just don’t have the money.”
“The top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected”
As promoter of Isle of Wight Festival and MD of Solo Agency, John Giddings has a foot in both camps. IoW 2023 was a 55,000-cap sellout, and Giddings, who has worked on Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball and Beyoncé’s Renaissance stadium dates for Live Nation over the past couple of summers, has a hunch is that if anyone loses out, it won’t be the festival business.
“People are prepared to pay a load of money to go to something they know is going to be fantastic, but they might not go to one or two smaller gigs,” he tells IQ. “I haven’t seen much evidence of it yet, but it does worry me to an extent because the top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected to be honest.”
Elsewhere in the UK, last weekend’s Kendal Calling, which starred Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood, was a 40,000-cap sellout. Andy Smith, co-MD of the Lake District festival’s promoter From The Fields, says the season appears to have been a mixed bag across the board.
“On the grapevine, I hear a bit of difficulty with the newer shows and the generally less established ones,” says Smith. “If you were just making do previously, it sounds like it’s a struggle now. But if you were doing well previously, it seems to have got better. So it does seem to be more more extreme one way or another.”
“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales”
The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) previously revealed that its members are on course to attract a total audience of 3.3 million to their events in 2023. The trade body represents the interests of 105 UK music festivals, including GreenBelt, El Dorado, Deershed, Valley Fest, End of The Road, Pitchfork London, Field Maneuvers and We Out Here, and AIF CEO John Rostron says he has seen “no evidence” that big ticket gigs are affecting festival sales.
“What we are seeing with gigs of all sizes this year is a new trend for very last minute sales,” he adds. “It looks very likely that last minute buying is a trend, though ‘last minute’ for festivals tends to be a few weeks before, rather than the day before, as people need to plan their travel, camping and the like.”
Meanwhile, Dany Hassenstein, booker of Switzerland’s Paléo Festival, reports the 2023 Nyon event sold-out in record time, aided by a line-up headed by Rosalia, Indochine, Martin Garrix and Black Eyed Peas.
“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales,” he tells IQ. “Probably because there are no stadium shows in our immediate market.”
Recent research by economist Will Page using data from PRS for Music found that the portion of spend on live music by UK consumers had grown hugely when it came to both stadium shows and festivals – from 23% of the total market in 2012, to 49% in 2022.
Evidently, fans are spending more of their money on bigger shows, whether that’s festivals or stadium tours. And with Page noting the club market has also grown over the last decade, where that leaves traditional theatre and arena shows – as part a much bigger pie than 10 years previously – promises to be equally revealing.
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Steve Homer on AEG Presents UK’s bold new era
Steve Homer has given IQ an insight into his plans for the next phase of AEG Presents UK after overseeing a revamp of operations at the firm.
Homer took sole charge of the company’s London office following the departure of former co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope at the start of 2022. Since last autumn, AEG has made a string of significant hirings including Chris Wareing and Paris Harding from SJM, ex-Live Nation veteran Lee Laborde, Lucy Noble from the Royal Albert Hall and Georgie Donnelly as its first head of comedy, as well as announcing a handful of other new appointments.
Speaking to IQ, Homer says he expects the influence of the new arrivals will not be fully felt until next year.
“It takes a while to get going and settle in and I envisage that, by the autumn, we’ll probably start to be firing on near enough all cylinders,” he says. “So for shows going into ’24, I think that’s when we’ll see a significant change in how we’re performing. That’ll give us a good benchmark, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the autumn brings.”
Former National Arenas Association chair Noble, who joined AEG’s European senior leadership team in late 2022, has been tasked with overseeing content creation as well as the production of new events such as Christmas Classics with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which will take place at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 15 December.
“The aim was always to try and get someone of superstar status. That was always a hope, but it was never a guarantee”
“We’re branching out into other entertainment facets, so it’s exciting on that front,” says Homer. “We’re challenging ourselves a little bit in terms of [deviating from] our traditional core markets of entertainment.”
AEG is also basking in the glory of the successful relaunch of The Halls Wolverhampton, which reopened with a special show by Blur last Friday (26 May).
“It couldn’t get much better than Blur in terms of a big name to reopen a venue that’s close to a lot of people’s hearts,” enthuses Homer. “They’re doing warm-ups before their run of festivals and then stadiums in London, so it was great to have them as the first act and it was a great show. The aim was always to try and get someone bigger than the venue – someone of superstar status, as it were. That was always a hope, but it was never a guarantee.
“We’d decided the first day we were going to be open was 1 June, so we started to look at who was available and who was around. So when Blur said they were looking at doing some warm-up shows, but it would have to be at the end of May rather than beginning of June, you suddenly start going, ‘I don’t care if the paint is still wet, I’m going to open it,’ because when you get an opportunity like that, you have to take it. Luckily, all the paint was dry and the bars were open, so it was a great one to have.”
“We’ve got 24 shows from now until the second week of July, mostly in The Civic, and the autumn is looking pretty solid”
Formerly the Wolverhampton Civic Halls, the West Midlands venue – which comprises the 3,404-cap The Civic at The Halls Wolverhampton and 1,289-cap The Wulfrun at The Halls Wolverhampton – had been closed since 2015 while it underwent a multi-million-pound regeneration project in partnership with the City of Wolverhampton Council.
AEG agreed a 25-year deal with the council to run the complex back in 2019, with Crissie Rushton, who has worked with the venue for more than two decades in various capacities, installed as GM back in March. Concerts by McFly, Sugababes and The Vamps also form part of its opening lineup, with acts such as Seal, James, Future Islands, Royal Blood, Babymetal and Suede slated to visit before the end of the year.
“We’ve got 24 shows from now until the second week of July, mostly in The Civic, and the autumn is looking pretty solid,” he says. “We didn’t open the diary much before December ’22, so a number of tours were already in place for the end of this year. But we’re seeing good usage from all the national promoters, some local promoters as well. There’s a real spread of acts coming in on a weekly basis so we’re feeling pretty confident.
“It never had [its own] sound and lighting before – people used to have to bring it in – so we’ve added another element to it. And there is another balcony which has taken the capacity up to the same as Manchester Apollo for standing shows, so it fits into that theatre level.”
“It was interesting talking to some of my American bosses and trying to explain where Wolverhampton was”
For Wolverhampton native Homer, the venue also has a particular resonance as the site of his first concert – The Clash in 1978.
“The first ever gig I went to was there, and I’ve promoted a load of shows there,” he says. “It’s one of my favourite venues anyway, so when the opportunity came up to have it in our portfolio of venues I just said to everyone, ‘We have to go for this. This is a great room.'”
He continues: “It was interesting talking to some of my American bosses and trying to explain where Wolverhampton was and sharing some of the history but there’s a real appetite for mid-sized venues within the company anyway, so once they understood where it was and how it fitted into the history of venues in the UK, it became easy to get them to agree to go forward. But it means a lot – as I jokingly say, but only half jokingly, it gives me a better parking space near the football ground as well, which is not untrue!”
The Halls Wolverhampton joins AEG’s global network of more than 350 owned, operated and affiliated venues. In the UK, these include the Eventim Apollo London, Indigo at The O2 in London and the new live music venue at Olympia London set to open in 2024. It will also manage the 2,000-cap Watford Colosseum when it reopens that same year.
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‘The industry has well and truly bounced back’
“It’s a really interesting time,” says Steve Homer, CEO of AEG Presents UK, an understatement that’s echoed by several major promoters in one of Europe’s largest music markets. “There are some great sales and tours but still some acts out there, that would in previous times be performing much better, are struggling to gain any momentum. It results in a bit of a head scratch for promoters.”
A head scratch indeed. The UK has found itself facing a unique set of challenges and opportunities in 2022, some thrust upon it and others very much of its own making. On the plus side, as the initial post-pandemic downturn in ticket sales eases, there has been much for the major players to celebrate. Festival Republic, the country’s premier festival promoters, in charge of Latitude, Wireless, and others, comfortably sold out its flagship Reading & Leeds weekend in August. Glastonbury 2022, the first edition of the legendary event since 2019, was a storming, largely rain-free success. All genres have bounced firmly back from the pandemic, too – Homer, who has seen tickets fly off the web for tours by Michael Bublé, Diana Ross, Pet Shop Boys, and Blondie this year, points to Rammstein’s sell-out tour as “a triumph for rock music in a market where people are saying rock is a dying genre. It is so encouraging to see a rock act at the top of their game play sell-out stadium shows.”
Promoters, from the international level of Live Nation and SJM Concerts to the independent likes of Crosstown Concerts, have seen an incredibly busy year, as the post-pandemic backlog of artists wanting to tour has played out. “We are still playing catch up from the pandemic,” says Homer. “The displacement of artists touring over the past two years has skewed the market, and it’s going to take a while to get back to something that can be predicted in the same way, or as close to, as it was before.” He advises a cautious approach. “Taking a no-risk strategy for the next 12 months is a good starting point.”
“The live industry has well and truly bounced back this year and continues to work towards pre-pandemic business, making up for lost time”
Others have thrown themselves headlong into the challenge. In Scotland, DF Concerts had a record-breaking summer, with 33 major outdoor, stadium, or festival events bringing £72.4m into the Scottish economy between June and August, on top of the 1,000 smaller gigs they put on this year. “The live industry has well and truly bounced back this year and continues to work towards pre-pandemic business, making up for lost time,” says DF’s CEO Geoff Ellis. “We were involved in bringing some huge tours to Scotland this summer, including Harry Styles’ Love on Tour; Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres world tour; The Hella Mega Tour with Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer; Billie Eilish; Haim; Liam Gallagher; and Calvin Harris all in Glasgow. And we are very proud to have promoted the biggest ever shows by a Scottish artist with two sold-out Hampden Stadium shows for Gerry Cinnamon this year.”
Ellis and DF take much personal satisfaction in the success of his two shows at Falkirk Stadium with The Killers, the first time the venue had been used for such large-scale gigs, and in the Coldplay tour, having worked with the band since they were playing 300-capacity venues including Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s back in 1999. He also lauds their commitment to environmentally friendly touring. “With Coldplay and Billie Eilish, in particular, it’s great to see everything come to life that they are so passionate about when it comes to making touring sustainable,” he says. “It was a real eye-opener and something that I hope more tours take into consideration going forward.”
At another major UK promotion company, Kilimanjaro, CEO Stuart Galbraith looks back on the company’s busiest year ever, with 750 shows on sale at one point. “To then deliver all of those one by one,” he says, “whether it was Craig David, whether it was Simply Red, whether it was Hans Zimmer in arenas, Bring Me The Horizon, just getting through the workload and a similar workload at theatre-level [was amazing]. This summer we had a tremendous return with Belladrum festival, Scotland’s biggest camping festival. We weren’t able to run in 2020 or 2021, so coming back in ‘22 was both challenging but hugely rewarding. Challenging because after not doing it for three years there were many things that were automatic that had been forgotten, but the reception by the audience and the satisfaction to the team at running a sold-out festival was just brilliant.”
“Brexit caused the problems we all knew it would”
Galbraith sees holding onto his team through the pandemic as just as great an achievement as the company’s musical revival. “Not having to lay anybody off during the pandemic,” he says, “we’re very pleased to have been able to keep the team together.” The effects of lockdown did ripple through into 2022, however. “We’ve seen the lasting effects of the pandemic through this summer,” he says. “We’ve got two or three tours left that are rescheduled or re-rescheduled twice, three times rescheduled, and other than that we’re now into new product. The summer had some huge successes but also had some huge challenges. But I’m hoping that we will see next summer be a much more normal marketplace.”
Kilimanjaro saw some form of normality begin to return with the arrival of a copper-topped hero. “One of the first tours that we had to play this summer that was not affected by Covid was Ed Sheeran,” Galbraith says. “We were able to go on sale with Ed in late September last year when there was a period of time where everybody thought that Covid was gone and then to be able to play that tour starting in May and running through to July, and in his case running through September in Europe, it placed itself perfectly, so people didn’t have any Covid effect to deal with.” He, too, repeats the UK promoter mantra for 2022: “It’s been an interesting year.”
Interesting due to its perfect storm of post-pandemic challenges. “Brexit caused the problems we all knew it would,” says Homer, referring to the much-publicised barriers to international touring for UK acts arising from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. The additional visa, cabotage, and carnet issues have reportedly seen British artists’ international festival bookings fall by 45% since 2019 and increased costs to the point of making European tours unfeasible for smaller acts – Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith has claimed that Brexit is “strangling the next generation of UK talent in the cradle.” Likewise, international acts have been discouraged from playing the UK by the increased red tape.
“Exchange rates have created the real financial issues for artists”
At the same time, the UK has suffered the same increased production costs due to the Ukraine war-fuelled inflation and post-pandemic labour shortages in the industry that much of the rest of the world has. But they’ve been exacerbated by the government’s lack of support for – often freelance – music industry workers and musicians, and the local cost-of-living crisis being deepened by Liz Truss’s short-lived but disastrous tenure as PM. The collapse of the pound and the ensuing recession following Truss’s mini budget was swiftly followed by the cancellation of UK tours by the likes of Animal Collective, Santigold, and Sampa the Great, citing the economic impossibility of making them work.
“It’s hard to tell whether it’s Brexit, whether it’s a recession, or whether it’s war, but all of them have had a combined effect to make it harder for artists to be on the road,” says Galbraith. “We’re certainly seeing a difficulty at mid-level for international touring acts, especially American acts that we’re potentially paying in local currency but are incurring most of their costs in US dollars. With the exchange rate as it is, and then you add to it supply chain issues, increased costs, etc. You can see that it’s difficult for acts, and certainly we’ve lost some tours at that theatre-level where acts have just turned around to us and said, ‘we can’t afford to come.’ Equally, we’ve got other tours that we’ve been working on for a long time that were waiting to be confirmed that have just now disappeared, again because the global conditions don’t lend themselves to make financially viable touring possible. That’s not the case at stadium-level or to some extent arena-level where there’s obviously profits to be made, but certainly at survival touring-level, it’s very tough.”
“Exchange rates have created the real financial issues for artists,” says Homer. “The dollar rate is so poor currently [that] a lot of US artists are considering [not] touring in the UK and Europe – this could have a real impact on the mid-range to smaller artists.”
“The audiences are here, ready and waiting, and there is a really strong artist pipeline over the next couple of years”
Galbraith also raises concerns over potential power cut measures that the UK government is suggesting to combat the current energy crisis – “as is the case in Germany, I’m sure that most countries will not be prioritising entertainment locations for priority power supplies. Those will go first to hospitals and to domestic residences” – and that insurance policies won’t cover shows cancelled due to Covid.
“I think most people now approach Covid like any other disease, and flu is a good comparator,” he says. “If you’re too ill to sing or you’re too ill to perform, then fine, we lose the show. But just because you’re now testing positive doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily not going to go on. What it does mean, though, is that with every insurance policy having Covid as an exclusion, if somebody can’t sing because they’ve got a cough or a cold or similar symptoms, you’ve got to get a doctor’s note to prove whether they have Covid or not because the irony is, if they’ve got flu, we can claim on insurance, if they’ve got Covid, we can’t.” He does, however, see a silver lining to the UK’s problems in terms of increased demand for local festivals next year. “The pound being so weak in the international markets now, package holidays will be more
expensive,” he says, “so it could be that summer ‘23 becomes a staycation year.”
Indeed, the major UK promoters are all largely optimistic about the coming year. “2023 is looking similar in terms of the scale of shows that we are going to have,” says Ellis. “Already we’ve announced stadium shows with Harry Styles, and Mötley Crüe & Def Leppard; greenfield shows with Arctic Monkeys and Muse; plus TRNSMT and Connect Festival, with more outdoor shows to come. The audiences are here, ready and waiting, and there is a really strong artist pipeline over the next couple of years – there are so many young artists coming up in Scotland at the moment, such as Katie Gregson-MacLeod, Bemz, Cara McBride, Dylan John Thomas, Ewan McVicar, Frazi.er, and so many more, and the genre of music is very varied – from acoustic singer-songwriters; rap and hip-hop; indie, pop, and everything in between. So, it’s looking like we’ll be back stronger than ever in terms of the offering of live music and the number of artists on tour.”
“We’re seeing strong attendances at club nights, showcase nights, and on the pub circuit”
“Demand has come back fine at most levels, with the exception of the older-audience level,” says Galbraith. “Certainly, theatre, musical theatre, and classical [are] slower to come back than contemporary rock and pop. If you speak to any orchestra manager or sinfonia or symphonic hall, they’ll tell you that their attendances are anything between 20 and 30% down still. […] I think the strong [acts] will get stronger, and the weak will get weaker. As people head into what widely seems to be accepted as a recession, instead of going out three or four times in a year or a month, people will go out two or three times or once or twice, and they’ll go out to see their favourites. So, I think you’ll see many stadium tours and arena tours that will do great business, but you will see potentially less of them.”
And the key to breaking through in such an unpredictable climate? Galbraith cites a dedicated approach to digital marketing and good old-fashioned talent. “The best method is to just have good-quality music,” he says. “Quality will out. There are more and more routes to market and methods to find a customer base. We’re seeing strong attendances at club nights, showcase nights, and on the pub circuit. But I think it’s just to continue to write great music and, if you’re able to and you can afford to, then gig and build it that way.” Interesting times, it seems, are best embraced.
Rob Hallett’s Robomagic company went independent again after three years under Live Nation. The longstanding promoter has decades of experience in the industry, as an agent and promoter with Barrie Marshall’s Marshall Arts, Mean Fiddler, and then establishing AEG Live in the UK in 2005, before establishing Robomagic ten years later.
“At the moment, if you choose well, and you get your marketing right, things work well,” says Hallett. “I think the market still seems buoyant.
“I’m old enough to remember the last big recession, and we still got through it as an industry and people will still want to go to shows. People want to be entertained. So, I’m hopeful that we’ll get through this.”
The Global Promoters Report is published in print, digitally, and all content is also available as a year-round resource on the IQ site. The Global Promoters Report includes key summaries of the major promoters working across 40+ markets, unique interviews and editorial on key trends and developments across the global live music business.To access all content from the current Global Promoters Report, click here.
AEG Presents to manage Watford Colosseum
AEG Presents is to manage the 2,000-cap Watford Colosseum when it reopens in 2024 following an extensive multi-million pound refurbishment programme.
The appointment, which follows a procurement process run by Watford Borough Council, comes on the heels of AEG’s partnership with the City of Wolverhampton Council to revive The Halls Wolverhampton, which will re-open its doors on 1 June.
With many original art deco features, the 10,210 square foot Colosseum can accommodate 2,000 people standing or 1,392 people seated.
“We see great potential for this historic venue that has hosted a long list of big names over the years”
“We are delighted to bring live music and entertainment back to the stage at this much-loved venue in the heart of Watford,” says AEG Presents UK CEO Steve Homer. “As AEG Presents continues to expand its network of mid-sized venues around the world, we see great potential for this historic venue that has hosted a long list of big names over the years. From live music and dance to comedy, we’re excited to bring world-class artists back to Watford for the local community to enjoy.”
Watford Colosseum and The Halls Wolverhampton join AEG’s global network of more than 350 owned, operated and affiliated venues. In the UK, these include the Eventim Apollo London, Indigo at The O2 in London and the new live music venue at Olympia London set to open in 2024.
Last December, AEG Europe announced a handful of new appointments within AEG Presents UK as part of its growth and development plans across the venues and touring business. The company also hired Chris Wareing and Paris Harding from SJM, named Lucy Noble, previously of the Royal Albert Hall, as its inaugural artistic director and hired Georgie Donnelly as its first head of comedy .
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The Halls Wolverhampton reveals opening lineup
AEG Presents has confirmed concerts by McFly, Sugababes and The Vamps as part of its opening lineup for The Halls Wolverhampton.
The 3,404-capacity The Civic at The Halls Wolverhampton and 1,289-cap The Wulfrun officially reopen in June following a major multi-million-pound refurbishment programme by City of Wolverhampton Council in partnership with AEG.
Gigs by Leftfield and Chris Isaak are also part of the launch month following the opening night with American magicians Penn & Teller on 1 June, with more names soon to be added.
“We have a fantastic line up set for June, befitting of the opening of the iconic The Halls Wolverhampton and the renowned artists we’re thrilled to welcome to this great city,” says AEG Presents UK CEO and Wolverhampton native Steve Homer. “I can’t wait to officially open the
doors and be part of the crowd enjoying these performances. From rock to pop and comedy, there really is something for everyone.”
“This fantastic opening month of shows in June will ensure the new-look venue bursts back into life in style after our multi-million-pound transformation works”
The Halls have been closed since December 2015. Visitors will enjoy more comfortable seats, a greater number of bars and enhanced space to socialise, expanded and revamped toilet facilities, lift access for those viewing from the new balcony level, better access arrangements for disabled visitors, a greater number of accessible viewing points and improved room temperatures through the installation of a new air handling system.
“These are exciting times for this much-loved venue in our city – and is what all the blood, sweat and tears have been for,” adds council leader Ian Brookfield. “AEG Presents’ passion for The Halls and ambition for the future matches our own and this fantastic opening month of shows in June will ensure the new-look venue bursts back into life in style after our multi-million-pound transformation works.
“We’re thrilled to be working with AEG Presents on this, who understand the venue’s rich heritage and share our vision of reimagining an iconic institution that will continue to bring joy to the lives of locals for years to come, helping shape our city centre, creating jobs and boosting businesses by attracting 300,000 visitors a year and adding more than £10 million annually to the local economy.”
AEG, which agreed a 25-year deal with the council to run the venues back in 2019, will also operate the 4,400-cap live music space within London’s £1.3 billion Olympia scheme, which is on track to open in 2024. The firm’s mid-size portfolio also includes the 5,000-cap Eventim Apollo and 2,800-cap Indigo at The O2, both in London.
AEG Europe adds five new leaders to UK business
AEG Europe has announced a handful of new appointments within AEG Presents UK as part of its growth and development plans across the venues and touring business.
The company has promoted Jacqui Harris to the role of VP and general manager, responsible for all operational functions for the events, touring, marketing and ticketing teams.
In addition, Lucky Thompson is named senior director, events and operations, assuming overall leadership responsibility for the company’s cornerstone events division, which includes Summer Series, C2C, Eden Sessions and Just for Laughs, among others.
Elsewhere, Connie Shao becomes VP and general manager for international touring, tasked with managing the international touring division and operations of its tours and events.
“It’s an exciting time for our business as we break new ground and in turn, build out a people structure that powers the successful delivery of our growth plans”
Plus, Leonie Wakeman is appointed director of commercial operations, with a focus on identifying, developing and implementing new revenue opportunities, while Stuart Dorn is installed as group venue operations director, responsible for AEG Presents venues, such as Indigo at The O2, The Halls Wolverhampton, Eventim Apollo and Olympia London.
“It’s an exciting time for our business as we break new ground and in turn, build out a people structure that powers the successful delivery of our growth plans,” says AEG Presents UK CEO Steve Homer. “From our recently announced appointment of Lucy Noble as our inaugural artistic director, or our expanded footprint into the world of comedy, to our continued investment in venues like The Halls Wolverhampton or Olympia London… We’re heading into 2023 with strong momentum and I look forward to what’s to come.”
The company says the expansion will bring further opportunities across AEG Europe, with a number of open roles due to open in 2023.
PHOTO L-R: Jacqui Harris, Lucky Thompson, Connie Shao, Leonie Wakeman, Stuart Dorn
Spotlighting AEG UK’s new wave of promoters
AEG Presents UK promoters Eliza-Jane Oliver and Kara Harris have given IQ the lowdown on the company’s new generation.
Oliver has risen through the AEG ranks from executive assistant and now works with acts such as McFly, Allie X, Jinkx Monsoon and Ben DeLa Crème, Keith Urban, Rammstein, Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, High Vis and Tremonti.
Harris, meanwhile, joined the firm in 2021 on the back of stints with Dice, Village Underground and EartH Hackney, and promotes the likes of Omar Apollo, Kenyon Dixon, Aly & AJ, JAEL, Beharie, NeOne the Wonderer, Deto Black and Vivendii Sound.
AEG has enjoyed a string of hit tours in 2022 with artists including Rammstein, Diana Ross and the Pet Shop Boys, but there have also been misses along the way.
“The difficulty is that there is no trend,” Oliver tells IQ. “People are very sensitive to ticket prices at the moment so you have to be sensible with that, but it is a bit random. It always has been with promoting to an extent because some things connect and some things don’t, especially when you’re working with newer artists, but it’s up and down.”
“The most challenging part of this year has been adapting to people’s post-Covid habits”
“The most challenging part of this year has been adapting to people’s post-Covid habits,” reflects Harris. “Certain shows that we would assume were going to be huge sellouts have taken a bit longer to get there and there isn’t just one reason for it. Whether it’s the cost of living or people just taking a little while to get back into the swing of things, there are so many factors at play.
“I’ve constantly been having conversations about scaling down shows that maybe would have done a certain capacity before Covid, and trying to be a little bit safer in the current climate.”
Despite the baptism of fire that greeted the duo in the post-pandemic promoting world, both have been quick to make their mark.
“My biggest highlight of this year was seeing Omar Apollo play at Koko,” suggests Harris. “I loved Koko before it closed and to see it renovated has been beautiful. My favourite part of being a promoter is knowing that, when you see a bunch of people in a room enjoying themselves, you had a part to play in it.”
“I started working with Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme, who are two world famous drag queens, and we’ve just sold out London [Palladium], which is so exciting – people just love them,” adds Oliver. “I’ve been working with [Steve Homer, AEG UK CEO] on Rammstein for years. We had shows at Cardiff Principality Stadium and Coventry Building Society Arena – they were meant to be 2020 and then 2021 – and they finally happened this year.
“After three years of, ‘Will it happen, won’t it happen?,’ to get 40,000 people in a room together was just incredible and it was the best production for a live show I’ve ever seen.”
“Hopefully we will see a resurgence in UK R&B and I can be a part of that”
Harris, who is also a presenter for British online radio station No Signal, has a particular passion for R&B and singles out FLO and Reggie Becton as ones to watch from her roster.
“I’m definitely an R&B lover,” she says. “I also have a radio show, which is specifically on R&B because it comes from a love of driving around with my dad and listening to Bobby Valentino and Aaliyah, so I’m excited to grow that number of R&B shows that AEG does and hopefully see a resurgence in UK R&B. And hopefully I can be a part of that.”
AEG UK CEO Steve Homer has overseen a revamp since taking sole charge of the company’s UK office at the start of the year following the departure of former co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope, who has since resurfaced as MD of the newly formed TEG Europe. Both Harris and Oliver speak warmly of the working environment.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned in this past year is the need to constantly adapt, learn and grow,” says Harris. “One thing I can say about working at AEG is that I feel genuinely supported. I constantly have more than one person there to lift me up or learn from.
“I look back at myself in September last year and I was in this new environment and just trying to get a grasp of everything. To see how I’ve grown since then is very fulfilling. It feels invigorating and fresh and it’s nice to be part of this new regime together. We’re constantly learning off of each other and it’s a nice environment to be in.”
“We’ve got 11 promoters at AEG and six of them are female, and that makes me really excited for the future”
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the transition from assistant to promoter was something I would ever do, but Steve made it so easy,” adds Oliver. “I just said, ‘I think I’d like to promote’ and he said, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t ask me this already,’ and that was kind of that. He’s always there to bounce ideas off and to answer questions.”
In closing, Oliver is buoyed by the makeup of the team and is optimistic about its prospects from here.
“We’ve got 11 promoters at AEG and six of them are female, and that makes me really excited for the future,” she says. “AEG is a company that is built on partnerships and we love working with other great promoters. Our international department has amazing promoter partners, all over the world, so I’m looking to build relationships and find my niche. It’s exciting for me to be able to make the transition after being an assistant, but I’ve got a lot of work to do so I want to establish myself and put on some great shows.”
Lucy Noble hired as AEG’s first artistic director
Former National Arenas Association (NAA) chair Lucy Noble is departing the Royal Albert Hall to become AEG Presents’ first ever artistic director.
Noble joins AEG’s European senior leadership team, assuming responsibility for setting the artistic direction across the company’s live touring and events business.
Tasked with overseeing content creation as well as the production of new events, Noble also assumes responsibility for promoting and touring shows, with an initial focus on the UK, followed by an eventual expansion into Europe and other territories.
Noble has served at the RAH for two decades and held a hybrid commercial/artistic role at the London venue prior to being appointed as its first artistic director last year.
“Professionally, this is a huge win for AEG and only strengthens our world-class reputation; I can’t wait to see the creativity and direction she’ll bring to our AEG Presents business as we move forward on this exciting next phase in our journey,” says AEG UK CEO Steve Homer. “On a personal level, I’m extremely chuffed – I’ve worked with Lucy for many years and it’s always been a wish of mine to bring her over to our side of the fence. We’re thrilled this is now a reality.”
Noble, who will assume her new position at AEG in the coming months, is an executive member of UK trade body LIVE, as well as chair of the Live Group’s venues sub-committee, and most recently served as chair of the NAA. Earlier this year she received the NAA Award for Outstanding Contribution to the NAA and the live music industry.
“It was always going to take something pretty spectacular to draw me away from ‘The Hall’”
“I’ve worked closely with the AEG team for many years and have long since admired their work – to join a leader of this calibre, working across live music and events, is something I can’t wait to be part of,” she says. “After a two decade tenure, I count many of my colleagues as dear friends and as such, it was always going to take something pretty spectacular to draw me away from ‘The Hall.’ While it will always hold a special place in my heart, I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Under Noble’s direction, the RAH gained a reputation as a promoter in its own right, producing original concerts as well as attracting a wide range of high profile shows, promoters and artists, while her leadership of the Hall’s engagement programme has seen it increase its reach to nearly 200,000 individuals every year.
“We all wish Lucy the very best in her new role and are sure that she will continue to shine,” says Royal Albert Hall CEO Craig Hassall. “The Hall’s immensely experienced and dedicated staff will continue to present an extraordinary programme of events which have been booked by Lucy’s team, including a heart-warming Christmas season – featuring carols, traditional concerts, jazz, drag, soul, classic ballet and so much more – and Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, which brings in the new year.”
Hassall announced in August that he is stepping down at the start of the 2023 season to take up the position of president and chief executive of Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. Dan Freeman, who joined the Hall in June from his previous role as chief financial officer at LW Theatres Group, will lead the organisation as interim CEO until Hassall’s replacement comes on board.
“I am delighted that Dan has agreed to step up to lead the organisation until the new CEO starts in 2023,” adds Hassall. “Dan has already demonstrated great leadership and everyone at the Hall is focussed on ensuring continuity for artists and audiences alike.”
UK promoters discuss impact of currency fluctuation
A number of UK promoters have spoken to IQ about the impact of currency fluctuation on international touring, as the pound sterling continues on a tumultuous trajectory.
The currency slumped to a two-week low against the dollar of $1.0954 on Tuesday morning (11 October), before rebounding less than 24 hours later. However, Goldman Sachs told Pound Sterling Live it expects the pound to continue to weaken due to “flawed fundamentals”.
Richard Buck, head of European touring and Middle East partnerships at TEG Europe, tells IQ that the declining rate is having “a significant impact on international touring”.
“Offers made in USD, if the currency is not pre-booked, may need to be adjusted or even pushed back,” he says. “Also for artists who are paid in pound sterling, it becomes less attractive to visit the market as their potential return can diminish by around 20% versus the original forecast.
“Anyone that is incurring costs in dollars and getting paid in sterling, in particular, is going to struggle”
“Any multi-territory deal that has been made in USD is now harder to sell into territories as the return is harder to achieve. However, those already sold into markets such as the Middle East where the primary artist currency is USD may benefit from the improved conversion.”
The pound fell to an all-time low of $1.03 last month in the wake of the government’s mini-budget, prompting AEG Presents UK chief Steve Homer to list the exchange rate as one of the promoter’s biggest concerns, while US artists including Animal Collective cancelled tours, in part, due to currency devaluation.
But as Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith points out, dwindling currency is not an issue unique to the UK.
“The dollar is strong against most currencies in the world at the moment so it’s probably an issue in Europe generally,” he notes. “But anyone that is incurring costs in dollars and getting paid in sterling, in particular, is going to struggle.”
Galbraith says that even though a large proportion of Kilimanjaro’s business is domestic, the promoter is still seeing the effects of the pound-to-dollar slump.
“Acts from America are telling us that they cannot afford to tour in Europe. We’ve certainly lost a couple of isolated shows in the last three or four months and we had a couple of tours that we were about to go on sale with but we’ve now been told the artist isn’t coming to the continent.
“Some acts will have put together budgets earlier on in the year when they were expecting they’d get a $1.30/40 for every pound. If they’re now redoing those budgets on an almost parity basis then you can absolutely understand why they’re not able to balance the books and go through with the tour.”
“It comes down to whether a US artist is able to use crew and suppliers that are UK and Europe based”
Galbraith says there are two possible short-term solutions for American artists. The first is to incur as many costs as possible in local currency and minimise the exposure to dollar expenditure, and the second is to reduce the scale of the show and do it on a more cost-effective basis, he says.
“It comes down to whether a US artist is able to use crew and suppliers that are UK and Europe based, instead of bringing staff and equipment from the US – which is all going to be paid for in dollars – and incurring transatlantic flights which are now extremely expensive in comparison to pre-covid times,” he says.
While Galbraith believes cost-cutting measures could be the solution to bringing US artists to the UK, Homer is concerned it’ll come down to UK promoters to offer bigger fees.
“We were almost on parity, which has not been something we’ve been familiar with for a long, long time. And it’s really biting in terms of artists touring over here – it becomes far more expensive for them to do it and it’ll be interesting to see how that impacts going forward. It’s creating a few anxious thoughts as to whether we can afford to offer American artists what they need to come over, so it might mean we’re missing a few that we would normally see.”
AEG UK boss highlights mid-size venue ‘sweet spot’
AEG Presents UK chief Steve Homer has spoken to IQ about opportunities offered by the mid-size venue market after the company confirmed the long-awaited reopening date of The Halls Wolverhampton.
The first shows at the 3,404-cap The Civic at The Halls Wolverhampton and 1,289-cap The Wulfrun at The Halls Wolverhampton will take place in June 2023.
The historic Halls hosted artists such as David Bowie, The Clash prior to closing in 2015 for its multi-million pound refurbishment.
“We’re in a position where the diary is officially opening next week for promoters and agents,” says Homer. “We’re planning on doing a series of launch shows within the first 10 days to two weeks of it opening just to get people reacquainted with the venue.”
The council are due to hand over the keys to AEG on 21 November, with test events set to be held next spring ahead of the official reopening.
“It costs £1 billion to build an arena from scratch now, so it’s a safer business model because it’s not relying on enormous investment to get off the ground”
AEG, which agreed a 25-year deal with the City of Wolverhampton Council to run the venues back in 2019, will also operate the 4,400-cap live music space within London’s £1.3 billion Olympia scheme, which is on track to open in 2024. The firm’s mid-size portfolio also includes the 5,000-cap Eventim Apollo and 2,800-cap Indigo at The O2, both in London.
“Like buses, they come in batches,” jokes Wolverhampton native Homer, who notes similar AEG developments in Denver and Nashville.
ILMC’s New Builds: The venue boom panel previously explored the potential for a boom in the mid-sized sector, and Homer spells out the financial benefits.
“That 3,500 to 4,500 capacity seems to be the sweet spot and it’s definitely something that we’re seeing across the globe,” he says. “It costs £1 billion to build an arena from scratch now, so it’s a safer business model because it’s not relying on enormous investment to get off the ground.”
Homer has overseen a revamp of AEG’s UK operations since taking sole charge of the company’s UK office at the start of the year following the departure of former co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope, who has since resurfaced as MD of the newly formed TEG Europe.
“I embellished our venues division and split the touring division into three specific sections”
“It was like losing my right arm, and so there was a bit of adjustment that came with that,” reflects Homer. “But once I got over the initial shock of it, I knuckled down and decided it was something I wanted to do. I decided that if it was just going to be me, I needed to structure it in a slightly different way because when Toby was there there were various lines of responsibility that fed down from both of us. So I did some restructuring within the teams.
“I embellished our venues division and split the touring division into three specific sections – one of them was pure touring, everything from clubs to stadia, and then working with the junior promoters and assigning them tours to work on that they wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with, with support from the greater team. So it was a good opportunity for those promoters to work with bigger artists or venues than they’d probably have been familiar with up to that point in their career.”
He continues: “And then I created a new events division for a number of our standalone projects that don’t really fit into touring – our 50/50 ownership of the Eden Sessions, Country to Country and Just for Laughs, the comedy festival we’re partnering on. We put our summer series of shows into that as well – the likes of Michael Buble, Tears for Fears, Bryan Adams and Ball & Boe, so that’s certainly helped me focus the business.”
Revisit part one of our interview with Homer here.