‘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.
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.”
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Stuart Galbraith, Oliver Hoppe join DEAG board
Germany’s Deutsche Entertainment (DEAG) has appointed Kilimanjaro Live’s Stuart Galbraith and Wizard Promotions’ Oliver Hoppe as divisional board members.
Galbraith becomes executive vice president of international touring, and is tasked with the development of the rock/pop/contemporary business within the DEAG Group and in DEAG’s national markets (Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Ireland and Denmark).
Hoppe, meanwhile, is named executive vice president of product and innovation, and is responsible for the further development of the overarching product acquisition and utilisation.
DEAG says the pair’s tasks will also include the further expansion of the live entertainment business and a stronger interlinking of the DEAG Group companies.
This includes the development of new channels for the evaluation of content as well as the further harmonisation of various distribution channels.
Hoppe and Galbraith will assist DEAG’s executive board with the implementation of M&A projects
In addition, Hoppe and Galbraith will assist DEAG’s executive board with the implementation of M&A projects and create further synergy effects in ticketing and artist acquisition.
Hoppe is managing director of the DEAG subsidiary Wizard Promotions, the main tour and concert promoter within the DEAG Group in Germany. In recent years, the company has organised concerts by Iron Maiden, Bryan Ferry, Zucchero, Papa Roach, KISS, Böhse Onkelz and den Scorpions, among other artists.
Wizard’s portfolio also includes artists like 50 Cent, Limp Bizkit and Jamie Cullum.
Galbraith is CEO of the British promoter Kilimanjaro Live. The DEAG subsidiary has significantly expanded its event portfolio in recent years to include areas such as the spoken word, comedy and sports, and is now one of the largest live entertainment promoters in the UK. Both Galbraith and Hoppe will remain active in these roles.
The executive board is completed by Jacqueline Zich (executive vice president classics & jazz and COO DEAG Classics AG) and Benedikt Alder (executive vice president legal affairs & business development).
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Stuart Galbraith on UK’s huge live music summer
Kilimanjaro Live chief Stuart Galbraith has given his verdict on the UK’s huge summer of live music in a new interview with IQ.
DEAG-owned Kili is coming off a spectacular summer in which it sold 1.5 million tickets for shows including stadium dates with Ed Sheeran and Stereophonics, alongside its annual Kew the Music and Live at Chelsea outdoor concert series and a raft of other tours.
More than one million people in the UK attended concerts in a single weekend in late June, while the past few weeks have been similarly jam-packed. But Galbraith does not expect the level of touring seen in 2022 to become the norm once the huge backlog of rescheduled gigs from 2020/21 clears up.
“Next summer will be busy, but I don’t think it will be as busy as this year has been”
“I think it has to be an outlier,” he tells IQ. “There is so much product that has been rescheduled and I think we will see things settle down as we head into the autumn and then into spring next year, because if you think of the volume [of shows] we have as a medium-sized company and then start to think of the volume that the bigger promoters have carried forward, it’s just too much.
“Next summer will be busy both indoors and outdoors, but I don’t think it will be as busy as this year has been, which is no bad thing. The market needs to readjust, particularly as we come out of Covid and face new challenges for customers’ money such as heating bills, inflation and recession.
“Looking at what we have going forwards, we’re comfortable having fewer shows than we’ve had in the last 12 months, but we’re also comfortable that they are all selling well. This autumn for instance, we’ve got Andrea Bocelli [arena shows originally planned for 2020]. We’ve got a comeback tour with Blue. We’ve got now more dates with Hans Zimmer next spring at arena level and then a whole myriad of tours at theatre level and they’re all doing well. The market’s getting back to normal.”
In September 2020, Kili established Singular Artists with veteran concert promoters Fin O’Leary, Brian Hand and Simon Merriman to organise concerts in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“Running through the spring has been tough but as we head into the autumn and the end of the summer, we’re seeing ticket sales becoming stronger,” says Galbraith. “We’ve got a brand new outdoor concert series with them at Collins Barracks [Dublin] at the end of August and we’re feeling very optimistic about that. We’ve got shows in there with Simply Red, Alt-J, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Fleet Foxes, and we’ve also just had an on sale in arenas in Ireland with The Vamps that has opened up brilliantly.”
“For other festivals in the marketplace, I’m hearing it’s feast or famine”
Kili also has the return of Scotland’s Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival to look forward to from 28-30 July, with a line-up featuring Nile Rodgers + Chic, Van Morrison Emili Sandé, The Fratellis, Passenger and Shed Seven, among others. The festival, which has taken place at the Belladrum Estate near Inverness since 2004, was acquired by DEAG via Kili in 2018.
Last year, DEAG also acquired a majority stake in UK Live, the independent Buckinghamshire-based promoter behind festivals such as Let’s Rock, PennFest and Sunset Sessions. While Galbraith is pleased with the performances of his own events, the picture for the wider sector is more mixed.
“For other festivals in the marketplace, I’m hearing it’s feast or famine – they’re either doing really well or they’re struggling terribly,” he says. “I think it comes down to when the tickets were sold and how strong the brand is, so it’s quite a mixed bag.”
And having debuted “indie and alternative sounds” festival Neck of the Woods in Norwich in May, Galbraith says Kili is always on the lookout for fresh opportunities in the market.
“We’re continuing to expand; we have got several projects that we’re looking at and it’s carrying on our policy of expansion that we had both heading into pandemic and through the pandemic,” he says. “We’ll carry on looking in the marketplace for new friends that we can bring into the group.”
“Cultural VAT lobbying is huge for LIVE”
Galbraith also discusses the formation of the UK’s first live music trade body LIVE last year, which he played a key role in establishing alongside Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery. The organisation appointed hospitality industry expert Jon Collins as its new chief executive officer in the spring.
“LIVE came out of necessity,” he suggests. “There was common crisis, as it were. And one of the key steps forward was putting together a funding model that has given it three years of guaranteed income and enabled us to put in place Jon Collins as its first ever permanent CEO, and give him secretariat support.
“Going forward, I think LIVE has got huge amounts of work to do. Certainly, one of the key asks at the moment is to recognise the huge benefit of a reduced level of VAT on arts and culture. Many societies and countries across the world have reduced cultural rates of value added tax. And what we saw during the pandemic was the massive impact that had on getting that sector going again and also its ability to basically generate new business, so cultural VAT lobbying is huge for LIVE.
“I think there’s a massive piece of work on environmentalism and greening our business sector in readiness for regulations that will be coming down the line to comply with our international commitments as a member of the world community. There are many other things – whether it be supply chain issues, visas and touring in Europe, or employee wellbeing – and I think LIVE will go from strength-to-strength in leading and being the voice in all of those sectors of discussion and conversation going forward.”
Galbraith reflects on how attitudes within the live business have changed since March 2020.
“What’s interesting is during the two years of pandemic, there was certainly a mood switch across so many organisations – and it was very much that we were all in it together,” he says. “There was a massive element of cooperation and sharing of information because we all had one common goal and that was survival.
“It’s not unexpected that competitiveness has since come back in, but I do think that we’ve learned a great deal about each other and there’s a great deal more willingness to pick the phone up and say, ‘This is an issue, how are you dealing with it?’ So I do think that we’ve come up as a more robust sector, but equally, as was expected, we’ve gone back to making sure that we’re doing the best for our employees, artists and shareholders, etc.”
“There is no discrimination of Covid over any other communicable disease”
And following the Covid-enforced shutdown of two years ago and the Omicron spike last winter, Galbraith suggests the business is much better equipped to deal with any further bumps in the road.
“We’ve obviously all learned a great deal during the pandemic,” he says. “I think we’re much better and I think the public are much better equipped to deal with something that would be classed as a resurgence. We’re wary of the months of December, January, February and, in the way that we recognise there’s a seasonal flu season, perhaps we’ve now just got to get ready to be aware that there may be a seasonal Covid season.
“But there is no discrimination of Covid over any other communicable disease. So if you’ve got flu, you stay at home because a) you feel bad and b) you want to be responsible to the other people in and around your office or auditorium, and I think the same is going to be true of Covid.
“I think the only time we’re going to see any major change is if there’s a significant shift in government policy of learning to live with Covid and it gets to the point where they’re having to protect NHS again. But God forbid we never get to that point now with the endemic level of vaccinations throughout the population.”
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Inside Kilimanjaro Live’s spectacular summer
Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith has revealed the company has sold 1.5 million tickets for its summer shows as it roared back from the pandemic.
Kili co-promoted Ed Sheeran’s UK stadium tour with FKP Scorpio UK and staged further stadium dates with Stereophonics, as well as a host of other outdoor concerts including its Kew the Music and Live at Chelsea series.
Galbraith tells IQ the sheer volume of shows delivered – which included a backlog of rescheduled dates from 2020/21 alongside new bookings – has been “remarkable”.
“When we came out of the pandemic for the first time around autumn last year, we actually had 950 shows on sale, which is the most we’ve ever had as a company,” he says. “So what we’ve done, certainly through last autumn and the first seven months of this year, is plough through that huge volume of rescheduled shows.”
“When you step back and look at what the team has achieved, it’s fantastic”
In addition, Kili has been involved in a string of major arena tours with the likes of Simply Red, Craig David, Hans Zimmer, UB40, Jeff Dunham and Sam Fender, plus theatre gigs by the likes of Jeff Beck, Nick Mason, Tony Hadley and Dita VonTeese.
“It’s remarkable to think that’s all done now,” reflects Galbraith. “We’re now almost at the point where the only things left are some Andrea Bocelli shows in October and everything else on sale is new stuff. When you step back and look at what the team has achieved, it’s fantastic.”
The UK leg of Sheeran’s + – = ÷ x (Mathematics) tour wrapped up with five dates at Wembley Stadium at the start of this month. Coming on the back of the singer’s record-shattering 2017-19 ÷ (Divide) run, which surpassed U2’s 360° as the highest-grossing tour ever, Galbraith says the 31-year-old’s timing could not have been better.
“Ed Sheeran’s UK tour played to just under a million tickets, which is stunning”
“His timing with regards to the pandemic was just remarkably perfect because he’d stopped working,” notes Galbraith. “We finally finished the Divide tour in Ipswich in 2019 and he had intended to take 2020 and 2021 off anyway. And then we put the tour on sale at the end of September last year, when customer confidence was at its peak. Everything was fine and the world was getting back to normal. Then Omicron reared its head in late November, but by that time we’d sold 95% of the tickets.
“We picked the tour up in late May , starting in Cardiff, and by then, any issues with regards to Covid restrictions and practical arrangements on the road had pretty much disappeared as well. So it was remarkable timing.”
He adds: “The tour was just phenomenal. Ed’s performance, the addition of the band in some elements of the show and the scale of the production, have taken it to a different level. Excluding Ireland, which we’re not involved in, that UK tour played to just under a million tickets, which is stunning.”
Kili also reunited with old friends Stereophonics, who were joined by an all-star cast of Welsh greats headed by Tom Jones for the band’s two homecoming gigs at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in June.
“I’ve worked with Stereos since the early ’90s and these were their two biggest ever shows. We sold 110,000 tickets across the two dates. It was also broadcast not only on BBC Wales, but also on BBC Two, which was the icing on the cake.”
“While the hot stuff is really hot, some of the other stuff has proved hard work to sell”
However, Galbraith is keen to stress the summer has not been without its challenges.
“In terms of selling tickets, there’s a lot out there,” he says. “And while the hot stuff is really hot, some of the other stuff has proved hard work to sell. But again, most of that is rescheduled shows – some of which we put on sale in 2019 and we’re finally delivering in the summer of 2022, so it’s almost three years since the customers have had those tickets.
“A perfect example of that is Belladrum festival which takes place at the end of July. The tickets for Belladrum were sold in August 2019. and so those customers will have held those tickets for a full three years when we actually finally get to deliver the festival that they paid for, it’s quite remarkable.”
Kili is part of the DEAG group of companies and Galbraith suggests the UK market is “a few months ahead” of many of its European contemporaries in terms of its post-pandemic recovery.
“The UK has had a very, very good summer in comparison to other marketplaces”
“While things are up and running now in Germany, certainly there are still levels of restrictions, levels of testing and elements of life that are still not normal,” he says. “And what we’ve seen in the UK is things that only truly come back once society really accepts that Covid is over. But also, that it doesn’t necessarily come back with the roaring ’20s that we’d all hoped it would, because there is just so much demand now for customers’ money, not just from an entertainment point of view, but from other pressures: inflation, heating bills, recession, etc.
“I think the UK has had a very, very good summer in comparison to other marketplaces and we’re seeing ticket sales becoming stronger. We’ve ended up selling a million and a half tickets this summer, which is a huge success for us. And it’s brilliant to finally be back on the road again and doing what we do best – albeit the teams have faced some huge challenges, which we’re very pleased to see that they’ve overcome. But we hope that those challenges will diminish as we head into what will hopefully become a bit more of a normal business sector again.
“I’m hugely proud of the team and hugely proud of everyone that works with Kili across its entire spectrum. We’re very optimistic heading into the autumn.”
Solving the supply chain crisis
Experts from the production and touring industries have been getting together to find solutions to the current supply chain problems that threaten to dampen the excitement after two years of no concerts. James Drury finds out more.
“We’re going to see a return to the roaring ’20s” was the refrain from the live industry last year as the global lockdowns eased and audiences seemed to be straining at the leash to get back to the concerts they’d missed so dearly. Promoters, agents and artists, keen to make up for two years or more of lost touring business, were just as eager to get back on the road. Although it was online only, the fizzing optimism of ILMC 33 could be felt through the screen.
But just as confidence grew among audiences, the knock-on effects of Covid, Brexit – and many would argue longstanding problems of low pay and long hours – are hitting the industry. There’s simply not enough crew, security, drivers, trucks, equipment, staging and everything else needed to fulfil all these shows. So what’s going on, and what can be done to solve what’s being dubbed “the supply chain crisis”?
“The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true”
Production experts worldwide have teamed up across three conferences to share information about supply chain problems. They got together at ILMC in London, Pollstar Live! In Los Angeles, and EPIC at Eurosonic Noorderslag in the Netherlands to find solutions to this ongoing issue and share them with the industry through this report.
In many ways, the problems we’re facing are nothing new, as industry veteran Carl AH Martin points out: “The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being (ab)used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true. At the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S) in 2017, a panel discussed the lack of security personnel throughout Europe due to a lack of money to pay sensible rates. In 2018/19, at both the IPM and Event Production Forum East (EPFE) conferences, there was discussion about the lack of personnel and materials.”
What challenges are we facing, and what’s causing them?
That noted, discussions on this current situation heated up in January. At EPIC, Okan Tombulca, CEO of global touring logistics specialists eps, raised alarm bells about what he saw were promoters’ intentions to squeeze two years of shows into eight months. He told the panel that we’re in a rare situation where a lack of equipment was now the deciding factor whether a gig could happen or not: “no stage, no gig,” he pointed out.
Equipment is in short supply for a variety of reasons. Tower lights are hard to get hold of because they have gone out to the construction and road-building industries; marquee and tent companies have found different markets, such as, the new £19bn (€22bn) east-west London railway, Crossrail, and use in Covid testing centres. Temporary buildings are being used as vaccination centres and temporary medical units. LED lighting is reportedly 25% more expensive than pre-pandemic, and prices for most equipment have skyrocketed. However, at Pollstar Live!, Jeroen Hallaert of PRG rightly pointed out that equipment from 2020 is still perfectly good to use. He challenged designers to use existing inventory rather than create productions using the latest tech.
In addition to not having enough production equipment to go around, there’s a severe staffing shortage. At Eurosonic’s EPIC, Oliver Gardiner from Vespasian Security in the UK, said staff have been lost during the pandemic to Covid vaccination centres. And many have left the industry – choosing instead to take full-time work in sectors that enable them to be at home more with their families or to have a better work-life balance than is offered by the music industry.
Illustrating this crisis, Martina Pogacic, who runs production company Show Production Ltd in Croatia and the Balkans, told EPIC that over 300,000 people had left the region, mainly to Germany and Ireland, while others have left the industry or died. As a result, locally promoted events are suffering. The knock-on effect is that newcomers to the industry can’t get the experience and skills they need to get fully trained.
“Not only must the show go on, it will”
Maarten Arkenbout from trucking company Pieter Smit said the increase in fuel costs and the loss of drivers to other industries means, like many firms, they are no longer able to guarantee their prices until the client confirms the work.
However, Michael Strickland, co-chair and founder of Bandit Lites, told Pollstar Live! “not only must the show go on, it will.”
But at what price? There are very real concerns that overstretched and understaffed production teams could lead to a serious accident. Even if the staffing issues are solved, production costs are skyrocketing at a time when many countries around the world are feeling the pinch of inflationary pressures. Will audiences swallow significant ticket price hikes, or will they choose to go to fewer concerts? Promoters could well be about to take some serious financial hits.
Artists also haven’t realised costs are rising and that this will reduce their income. They’re going to have to accept that for a while, they might not make as much money from touring. And while that’s less of an issue for the top flight of acts, what’s going to happen to smaller bands that make up the vast majority of the live touring industry? This is a problem that hasn’t been fully borne out yet. What effects will either massively reduced income or a lack of touring opportunities have on acts that don’t fill arenas?
“We’ve got tougher times ahead, but we can do it”
Having said all this, one thing the production industry excels at is finding solutions. “The show must go on” is a cliché for a reason, and there’s a feeling of determination to resolve this pinch point.
Paul Sergeant from international venues giant ASM Global said Covid had galvanised the industry like nothing before. “We’ve got tougher times ahead,” he told IPM, “but we can do it.”
The 7 Ps – the old British Army adage “Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” – has never been truer in these constrained times.
“It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget'”
In an effort to lock in prices and maintain some sort of stability in their budgets, some companies are seeking to contract suppliers on a longer-term basis. While this has the advantage of providing revenue security to suppliers, there’s also a downside. Bonnie May, CEO of catering and hospitality giant Global Infusion Group, said volatility in costs means it’s a struggle to ensure that margins remain sufficient over the lifetime of the contract. “How do we ensure year three is as cost-effective for us as year one?” she asked IPM.
Group COO at EFM Global, Lisa Ryan, said communication is vital. “It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget.’”
Consolidation of equipment
Faced with massive price increases and scarcity of equipment, more and more promoters are choosing to buy their own kit, such as staging.
Eps CEO Okan Tombulca said his company is frequently approached by promoters seeking to create joint ventures to buy equipment together – particularly in the US. He says Live Nation, for example, recently bought production for 28 stadiums and is touring eight bands through the venues, using the same set-up at all shows – much like at a festival. The bands are being told they have to use the set-ups in situ rather than bring their own production.
In Australia, the five major promoters got together, shared their lists of scheduled major shows over the next three years, and then invited vendors to make the equipment, leaving it in each of the major cities for all shows. The concept of “make it once and leave it there” is an effort to prevent huge convoys of trucks constantly crisscrossing the continent, plus the huge transport costs of getting gear there.
In the UK, Kilimanjaro-owned festival organiser UK Live already owns the kit it requires, deciding a few years back to acquire everything needed. They have toilets, staging, sound and more and are considering hiring them out to others, renting the greenfield set-ups to other promoters, or adding show days.
All this is old news for John Lickrish of Flash Events in Abu Dhabi. His company owns all its own production and has done since it formed. “When we started in 2007, we wanted to start the events industry in the region. So we trained people and invested in equipment.” He says this inspires strong loyalty in the staff, who tend to stay with the firm.
“We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost”
Pay & conditions
Long hours, being away from home for weeks or more at a time, below-average pay: life in music can be glamorous, but it’s not always attractive for everyone. A key reason for the staffing crisis is the pandemic not only saw people leave for full-time positions in other industries rather than zero-hours freelance roles. Equally, being forced to spend more time at home made them realise they preferred not being away from family and friends. So how can we attract people back?
An obvious solution is to pay people more. As Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith pointed out at ILMC: “We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost.
You can’t blame a truck driver for working for Amazon if they can get more money and be at home at the weekends.” He predicted shows would likely be lost, sharing that a tour manager he knows has 16 shows but not enough staff to fill them all.
During that ILMC panel, an audience member reported that in Denmark, stagehands had seen a 10% increase in their hourly rates. Staging manager Mark Hornbuckle from ES Global said some stagehands were being offered increased fees from £220-$300 (€257) a day to £300 (€346). And crew boss rates are £280-£350 (€323-€498) a day.
It’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important
But it’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important. Flexible hours and opportunities to train and progress are vital. José Faísca from Portugal’s Arena Altice says his company helps train security staff, even though they don’t own the company. “They’ve worked with me for more than 15 years. They see our company as their own.” He says training staff, giving them opportunities to grow, a fair salary, and rights, is fundamental to ensuring motivated staff. And motivated staff will not only stay with you but ensure the customer has a great time, too.
The opportunity to work from home is also key to ensuring staff have a good work-life balance. But it’s important for people to come to the office to get the collaborative working skills and pick up and learn from others. An upside of having a flexible work-from-home set-up is you can tap into people who live far from your offices, enabling you to have even greater diversity of workforce. Global Infusion’s May said her company offers people as much unpaid leave as they want during the quieter months of January and February.
Some venues are discussing with the rigging crew about having static equipment in venues, leaving it there but providing a “guarantee of work” for riggers, so they know they’ll get paid.
There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future
Many in the industry are calling for more production courses at universities. Plenty of people said that when they left school they had no idea about the career they’ve pursued and feel if more school-leavers knew this is a viable career, they would choose to
take it up. There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future.
Bryan Grant from production company Britannia Row said his firm started its own training scheme as a way of making a difference and ensuring people are taught everything they need to know to start in the business. He added that they get great feedback about their trained crew, whether or not they stay with his company or go on to other things.
ASM Global’s Sergeant says Australia has a Venue Management School for venue staff that offers diplomas following successful completion of courses. “This is a career option just as much as being a doctor or truck driver or lawyer,” he says, adding the Venue Management Association-run school is very active in recruiting people from other industries, as well as people who have retired and want to try something different, such as being a steward.
“The current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years”
While production costs increase but consumers face inflationary pressure, there’s going to be little room for passing on the cost increases to ticket holders. One solution could be to take smaller productions out. That’s not just good from a bottom-line perspective but also will be vital in the future from a sustainability point of view.
“Ultimately, all of us have to say to the artist ‘the current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years. We can’t be driving 30 trucks around Europe and saying this is how it’s going to be on the stage every time,” said Galbraith.
Flash Entertainment’s Lickrish said the Middle East doesn’t usually get the full production – and he doesn’t miss it at all. “It’s all about the crowd experience. Them having a good time is the most important thing,” he said.
“Cutting back on these productions will benefit the artist, too – because they spend less. The audience won’t notice. While bells and whistles are great, it’s about having a wonderful time.”
Not only this but audiences will increasingly be looking to artists to think about sustainability when touring. It won’t be socially acceptable for touring to have a huge impact on the environment.
“The solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient
Collaboration is key
One of the best things to come out of Covid was the level of cooperation happening in the industry. Competitors talked to each other, and the whole industry came together to support each other, find solutions, and work as one.
Says Galbraith: “If there’s one conclusion, the solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient. We’re going to see this level of cooperation for the next decade for sustainability reasons and more.”
It might sound ambitious, but we’re facing unprecedented times. The immediate health impacts of Covid may be lessening for now, but the knock-on effects are just as challenging and will require an equally collaborative approach to resolve them.
The latest on live music’s supply chain crisis
The perfect storm impacting touring’s supply chain ahead of the industry’s biggest summer in years took centre stage at ILMC.
Chaired by Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith, The Supply Chain: Restock, repair and recruit panel focused on the ongoing issues caused by the sector’s staffing exodus since the onset of Covid-19.
Galbraith noted that, with tens of thousands of freelance workers – and full-time staff – having left the industry over the past 24 months to find jobs elsewhere, shortages remained across the board.
“One of the key problems at the moment – and that’s been the case from last August, September and then through Christmas and now, as we head into what will be undoubtedly the busiest festival season ever in the UK and many other territories – is actually there just aren’t enough staff,” said Galbraith. “So many people have left our industry, whether it be riggers, bar staff, security, truck drivers, etc.”
It’s the task of everybody to bring in new talents and teach them”
Okan Tombulca of eps said that the uncertainty around the restart had deterred a significant section of the workforce from returning.
“A lot of people from the industry had other jobs and they said, ‘Listen, I’m happy to come back. But not only for two or three months, because then I’ll lose my other job,'” he said. “A lot of promoters brought in a lot of young people without any experience and the workload was really high. We saw many people burned out after the three months… It was just too much.”
Tombulca said that training the next generation of backstage talent was of paramount importance.
“It’s the task of everybody: promoters, service companies, that we bring in new talents and teach them,” he said. “We, as eps, were fortunate that we didn’t lose too many people. Nevertheless, we are very, very concerned about staffing.”
“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people”
Festival Republic’s Becky Grundy, event manager for festivals such as Reading and Creamfields South, described last summer’s season as the most challenging of her 25-year career.
“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people,” she said. “There was the uncertainty about when things would open up and the availability of equipment, because most of it was tied up on government testing sites. Working under those circumstances, you’re making 1,000 phone calls when you could be normally making 10. But it increased the dialogue between everyone in the industry. We couldn’t have got through it without the support of the suppliers.
“We did seven or eight full capacity events from July through to September and we didn’t really start bringing people back to work on those until May, so it was a lot of work to achieve in a very short space of time.”
ASM Global’s Ailsa Oliver, general manager of Utilita Arena Newcastle, called the circumstances around last year’s restart in the UK as a “nightmare” and said the situation was still some way from returning to normal.
“I’d like to say it’s fine [but] it’s not fine,” she said. “I think we’re possibly getting used to it. Our resilience plans are working. We’re working very collaboratively with our providers locally and really thinking about how we value our workforce and how we encourage people to come back to the industry, or just to join the industry. Because there’s been two years where they didn’t even know there was an industry to come back to.”
Oliver added that staffing costs were up “25 to 50%” in some cases. “Some of that is linked to Covid and hygiene protocols, and additional work is required from that,” she said. “But yeah, it is up to 50%-plus in certain roles.”
“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures”
CEO of UAE-based Flash Entertainment John Lickrish said the company’s biggest challenge related to content.
“Getting content in a six-hour minimum flight, logistics and operations was really challenging during the Formula One [Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of December 2021] where we had four big concerts and Foo Fighters cancelled at the last minute,” he said. “Trying to get a backup artist, or anyone to come and perform, was next to impossible.
“We were working directly with the airlines and with the authorities to make concessions about Covid, but we couldn’t get the equipment in. We ended up sourcing two people who happened to be in the UAE: one was in Dubai and one was in Abu Dhabi for F1, so it was a bit of a challenge. We used to be able to snap our fingers.”
Xenia Grigat of Copenhagen-based promoter and booking agency Smash!Bang!Pow, brought the session up to speed on the state of play in Denmark.
“We didn’t have a festival season last year, but we did some headline shows,” she said. “Of course, the majority was with local artists – it’s just recently that we have had international artists coming in, with all the challenges that that brings with it.
“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures that we cannot uphold because we can’t enforce that on the audience any longer. We get it that they want to have the audience wearing face masks and want crew to be tested, which we can do to some extent. But backstage, it’s still taking up resources.”
“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level”
Galbraith said that while Covid was “pretty much done” in the UK, there were still knock-on effects relating to neighbouring markets.
“It’s certainly done in the public areas of concerts and backstage pretty much too, but we’ve got artists that are coming in to the UK and touring who are still working on protocols based on what’s happening in Europe,” he said. “And they’ve got to, because they’ve got to go back there – and they can’t go back there with Covid because they have to quarantine there and they’ll lose the shows.”
Ending on an upbeat note, Tombulca suggested how the business could use the crisis to improve its inner workings.
“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level,” he said. “This situation is also bringing a lot of new ideas. From the vendors to the service companies, we’re developing a lot of new products, which are more sustainable and need less labour and transport capacities.
“We are forced to do that because we all know at the moment, we might be in a good position, because the demand is higher than the offer. But we all know in two years time, you guys will squeeze us again. So we have to be prepared for it, without doubt.”
The Great Refund Debate
With fans still sitting on event tickets that they bought as long ago as 2019, the industry is facing a dilemma when it comes to who merits a refund and who does not. And as Covid becomes endemic, should refunds remain obligatory for ticketholders who test positive? James Hanley investigates.
The race to contain Covid-19 outbreaks and variants over the last 24 months has been likened to a game of Whac-A-Mole. But as the international live music business begins to emerge from the horror of the pandemic, it will need its own mallet at the ready to combat the litany of fresh problems popping up day-to-day.
One of the more mundane but contentious debates to be sparked in recent months surrounds the matter of refunds. The issue was brought to the fore by Dead & Company and promoter CID Presents’ Playing in the Sand destination festival, which was set for Mexico’s Riviera Cancún over two weekends in January this year.
Amid the omicron surge of late 2021, organisers opened a 48-hour refund window for fans having second thoughts about attending (all ticketholders were ultimately refunded when the event was pulled at the 11th hour due to a spike in infections). However, CID declined to repeat the offer for its other January festivals: Crash My Playa and HootieFest: The Big Splash.
“If, at any point during the two weeks leading up to a particular event, the CDC Risk Assess- ment Level for Covid-19 for the Quintana Roo (Cancún) region of Mexico rises to a Level 4 or Mexico designates the area unsafe to hold an event, we will be offering full refunds to those not wishing to attend the particular event,” said a statement by the promoter. “We continue to recommend buying travel insurance, which may help protect against the risks of Covid-19 and travelling internationally during the pandemic.”
It was a similar situation at Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky “concert vacation” in Mexico, also in Janu- ary, produced by Cloud 9, The Bowery Presents, and Higher Ground Presents, which stressed its no-refund policy and encouraged festivalgoers to purchase travel insurance. “A refund, or the ability to hold one’s spot for a rescheduled date, will be available to purchasers if the event were to be postponed,” Cloud 9 told Billboard.
But far from limited to sun-drenched getaways, the refund question is pertinent at all levels of the industry, in every market across the globe. “There is a set Live Nation policy across the board,” explains Barnaby Harrod of Mercury Wheels, part of Live Nation Spain. “When an event is cancelled, you get an automatic refund. With reprogramming, the original tickets are, of course, valid for the new dates. However, if some- body can’t make the new show, or doesn’t want to, they have 21 days to ask for a refund, and that has been applied across the pandemic.”
Certain events and promoters also offer refunds or a voucher for anyone who is unable to attend due to testing positive. Harrod advises that every claim is assessed on its own merits.
“For exceptional refunds, which are requested outside the established timeframe, we work on a case-by-case basis,” he says. “So in the current climate, where the government has restrictions in place for people who have Covid, if somebody can certify that they have Covid, then they should be entitled to a refund.”
Elsewhere in Europe, AEG Presents France GM Arnaud Meersseman points to France’s “very protective” consumer laws, which allow customers to claim refunds up to five years after the event.
“Obviously, if a show is rescheduled or can- celled, it’s an automatic refund and there’s no discussion there whatsoever,” he tells IQ. “As for no-shows, as of today, they can warrant a refund. But we’ve seen in practice that it’s not really the case, as a lot of people don’t ask for them.
“The last big show I did was December at the Zenith Paris, and out of 6,000 tickets, we had 20% no-shows. The only other big shows I had be- tween September and December were two nights of Nick Cave, but they were seated shows at 2,000- cap each, and we had almost zero no-shows.
“Over here, what most people have done in practice is wait out a month in terms of refund requests, and if those refund requests haven’t come in during that time, we settle off the show basically. But that’s not really the law, I mean, people can ask for refunds after five years. But we’ve noticed that essentially, past one month, there’ll be the odd refund request here and there, but it’s really rare.”
DEAG executive Detlef Kornett says it is difficult to make general statements due to the fragmented nature of the German market but suggests most promoters have maintained a flexible approach to refunds.
“We have demonstrated a lot of flexibility and offered customers the opportunity to re-book their ticket if and when possible, use it for a different show, get a voucher, or in certain instances, even reimburse the ticket value,” he says. “That was true also if they were unable to attend due to Covid.”
DEAG’s UK subsidiary Kilimanjaro Live returned to action in August 2021, staging two arena dates by Gorillaz at The O2 in London. Kili CEO Stuart Galbraith attempts to sum-up the story so far.
“We never get 100% attendance – between 3% and 5% of people indoors and up to 10% outdoors buy tickets and then just don’t come – but we were back up at 95-97% attendance rates all the way through September, October, and November,” he says. “Then as omicron started to come into play and we headed into Christmas, those rates started to drop again to as little as 70% on some occasions.
“When we came back after Christmas, almost instantly, those attendance rates went back up to 95-97%, and that’s where they’ve been ever since. But what was very interesting is that virtually none of the customers who didn’t attend the shows before Christmas asked us for refunds. They’d just decided they weren’t going out and would take it on the chin.”
He continues: “The analogy I’ve used over the last couple of years is that, if you had an EasyJet flight booked that cost you £20 to £40, in my personal experience, I haven’t bothered to ask for a refund on that because I can’t be bothered. It’s just one of those things. However, if I’ve got a transatlantic flight, which is worth several hundred quid or thousands of pounds, I do want a refund on it. And I think that tickets and concert tickets fall into that EasyJet category – I don’t think people can be bothered to ask for the refund, to be quite frank.”
“People have almost been treating a ticket like something they bought off Amazon and saying, ‘Oh, we don’t really fancy that now,’ the day before. And at that point, what do you want the festival organiser to do about it?”
Paul Reed, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), reveals the organisation took legal advice with regards to refunds last year on behalf of its 90 members – and reached a definitive conclusion.
“The fact is a consumer is not legally entitled to a refund if they’re isolating and not allowed to travel, in the same way as if they were unable to travel for any other reason,” asserts Reed. “The view was that, ultimately, the customer is not due a refund, but I think it’s a decision that has to be up to the individual event. It is entirely at their discretion and there is no obligation. But from speaking to others in the industry, my sense is that it is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, irrespective of the legal situation.”
Reed adds that some AIF members have ex- pressed concerns that a “refund culture” has seeped in among punters.
“Perhaps it’s understandable, but people have almost been treating a ticket like something they bought off Amazon and saying, ‘Oh, we don’t really fancy that now,’ the day before. And at that point, what do you want the festival organiser to do about it?” he sighs. “You’re not due a refund, but I think that mindset has permeated a little bit more throughout festivals and live experiences – customer expectation shifting – and people feeling more entitled to a refund when it is more complicated than that.
“When you buy a ticket, it is binding, and that is all very clear in the Ts and Cs. I think customers need to understand a little bit more about what they’re committed to when they buy a ticket, so I don’t know whether some education is needed around that.”
Fans no longer able or willing to attend events are encouraged to sell on their tickets via face-value resale sites.
“Specific insurance is also available to the customer as a voluntary upsell, and I believe some travel insurance policies also cover it,” says Reed.
Guy Dunstan is MD, ticketing and arenas for Birmingham-based NEC Group, which manages five of the UK’s leading indoor venues including Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena and Utilita Arena, as well as national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory. He tells IQ the company has been proactive on the issue by offering ticket insurance with Covid cover included.
“I know that some venues and ticketing companies have been hit harder than others with regards to the refund situation,” says Dunstan. “We’ve been offering ticket protection insurance to customers for a significant period of time, so the refunds we’ve given have been pretty minimal because we’ve been able to point customers to the fact that they were offered the insurance at the time when they purchased the tickets.
“We were able to get that as cover quite early on in the pandemic through the ticket insurance provider that we work with, and it’s been of real benefit to us. So our sense is that we’re well protected from that moving forward.”
Down under, Live Performance Australia (LPA) administers the ticketing code of practice for the entertainment industry that outlines consumers’ rights to a refund. First released in 2001, the trade body reviewed and updated the code in 2020.
“While the impetus for the most recent changes was the Covid-19 pandemic, LPA was conscious to ensure any updates have a life beyond Covid-19,” says the group’s CEO Evelyn Richardson. “The ticketing code was widely used by the industry pre-Covid and will continue to be the go-to resource about refunds as Covid-19 moves to becoming endemic and beyond.”
Richardson says the LPA expects its members to treat ticketholders fairly if shows are forced to can- cel or are postponed due to government mandates.
“Whether ticketholders are entitled to a refund, exchange or other remedy will depend upon the ticket terms and conditions applicable when tickets were purchased,” she states. “Many companies have a Covid refund and exchanges policy, which sets out if ticketholders will get a refund, exchange or credit note if they are un- well with Covid symptoms, unable to attend the event due to contracting Covid, awaiting test results, [have been] in close contact, or [due to] border closure.”
With the world slowly emerging from the pandemic, the conversation turns to how flexible the live industry will be as things return to something like normal. Richardson indicates there could still be room for a little leeway.
“Ordinarily, if a ticketholder is unable to attend the event because they are unwell or other personal circumstance, they are not entitled to an automatic refund under Australian consumer law,” she says. “However, event organisers always have discretion to provide a refund or other remedy, if they wish, even though there may not be a legal requirement to do so.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has already announced the ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan, which has put an end to the legal requirement in England to self-isolate after a positive Covid test. Free testing has also been scrapped, although that isn’t an issue everywhere.
“They’ve never had free Covid tests in Spain,” testifies Madrid-based Harrod. “You would always have to go to the chemist to buy one.”
For Galbraith, however, the ramifications for the sector’s refund policy are obvious.
“Realistically, now that Covid has no legal status over and above any other disease, then that’s it, life is back to normal from an event organiser’s point of view,” he offers. “If somebody has flu, chickenpox, mumps, or whatever, and they can’t go to the show, then, unfortunately, that’s just part of life, and I think the same will be true of Covid.
“In the last two years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of customers taking out personal insurance on their tickets. For a very small percentage of the ticket cost, you can insure your ticket in the way that you can a holiday or anything else. That insurance, in many cases, does actually give you illness cover. So I think that is an easy customer solution going forward.”
“Now the isolation rules have changed, and you don’t have to isolate, then I think it just becomes like any other illness,” agrees Dunstan. “We all have to take a sense of responsibility to make sure that we’re healthy and well [enough] to be going to events. But as for venues and companies that have been offering refunds if you can demonstrate you are Covid positive, I can just see that going away.”
On that point, there appears to be something approaching a consensus.
“Once it is endemic, Covid would most likely not be a reason that entitles you to a refund as such anymore,” muses DEAG’s Kornett.
“At the end of the day, if somebody has gastroenteritis or common flu, or gets grounded by their parents because they have bad grades, do you refund them?” concludes Paris-based Meersseman. “At some point, there is no law in this, it’s going to be commercial practice. Once this virus becomes endemic and breaks out of the pandemic stage, I don’t see us offering refunds for people who have Covid.”
Stuart Galbraith talks getting back to business
Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith has told IQ he is “optimistic but nervous” about the concert industry’s return to business.
As co-founder of UK trade body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), Galbraith has been a key player in the restart efforts. But despite England lifting remaining restrictions last month, the promoter warns the spectre of Covid is likely to hover over the sector for a little while longer.
“We’ve been very optimistic, but we’re also still very nervous,” says Galbraith. “And I think for the next several weeks and months, we will still see some cancellations and postponements.”
Galbraith points out Kili was forced to hurriedly reschedule seven Simply Red arena concerts in February due to Covid cases in the camp (although, ironically, the band’s shows at The O2 would have been moved anyway due to the original dates falling in the week the London venue was closed due to storm damage).
Earlier this week, Belgium transitioned to ‘code yellow’ on its coronavirus barometer, meaning the majority of measures have now been lifted. Elsewhere in Europe, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Switzerland have all announced plans to lift all remaining limits, with Germany also set to axe most Covid curbs from its 20 March “Freedom Day”.
“Until the rest of Europe catches up with where we’re at in the UK, we’re going to also see some postponements and cancellations due to artists not being able to make the UK work in isolation,” advises Galbraith.
“Now that Covid has no legal status over and above any other disease then that’s it, life is back to normal from an event organiser’s point of view”
Speaking in the new issue of IQ, Galbraith also tackled the matter of ticket refunds as the world emerges from the pandemic.
“Realistically, now that Covid has no legal status over and above any other disease, then that’s it, life is back to normal from an event organiser’s point of view,” he offers. “If somebody has flu, chickenpox, mumps, or whatever, and they can’t go to the show, then unfortunately that’s just part of life and I think the same will be true of Covid.
“In the last two years we have seen a significant increase in the number of customers taking out personal insurance on their tickets. For a very small percentage of the ticket cost, you can insure your ticket in the way that you can a holiday or anything else. That insurance, in many cases, does actually give you illness cover. So I think that is an easy customer solution going forward.”
Discussing no-show rates, Galbraith says concert attendance is rebounding following a pre-Christmas slump, prompted by the Omicron spike.
“Customers were making the decision that they didn’t want to go out and expose themselves in crowded locations, and it crescendoed just prior to Christmas,” he says. “We could see a clear customer trait, which was, ‘I don’t want to catch Covid just before Christmas, so that I miss family Christmas. I don’t want to infect elderly relatives.
“As Omicron started to come into play and we headed into Christmas, [crowds] started to drop again to as little as 70% on some occasions. When we came back after Christmas, almost instantly, those attendance rates went back up to 95-97%, and that’s where they’ve been ever since.
“What was very interesting is that virtually none of those customers who didn’t attend the shows before Christmas asked us for refunds. They’d just decided they weren’t going out and would take it on the chin.”
“Just incredible”: Inside the O2’s emotional first shows back
The team behind Gorillaz’ two shows at London’s O2 Arena earlier this week have spoken of their joy in being involved in the UK’s first full-capacity arena concerts in 17 long months.
The Damon Albarn-led virtual band made their return to the O2, the world’s busiest music venue, on 10–11 August, playing a free show for National Health Service (NHS) workers on Tuesday and then a sold-out ticketed event for the general public the following night. Stuart Galbraith, CEO of the shows’ promoter, Kilimanjaro Live – who says he last saw a concert in May 2020 – tells IQ of his excitement at seeing “17,000 people all in one place, having world-class entertainment and just having fun. And [the first night] in particular, it’s brilliant that we could say ‘thank you’ in this way and give these heroes a night of free entertainment.”
Featuring special guests including Shaun Ryder, Little Simz, Leee John, Robert Smith and New Order’s Peter Hook, the shows marked both the return of full-capacity arena entertainment to the UK and Gorillaz to the stage, the O2 dates being the band’s first live performances since October 2018.
“The atmosphere was… I really can’t describe it. It was just incredible,” says Emma Bownes, vice-president of venue programming for the O2’s operator, AEG Europe, for whom the Gorillaz’ shows marked the first arena concerts at the venue since Halsey played on 8 March 2020.
“We’d been talking internally about how great it would be if we could have a really special first show back,” she continues, recalling the genesis of the free gig for healthcare staff, “and then Stuart from Kili got in touch, as he’d been talking to Ian [Huffam at X-ray Touring, Gorillaz’ agent] and also the band about this NHS show, so that was really fortuitous. He said, ‘We want to do this’, and we told him on the venue side we were also trying to think about how amazing it would be to have a special first show back, so it worked really well.”
“It’s brilliant we could say ‘thank you’ and give these heroes a night of free entertainment”
Bownes explains that the venue used a now-familiar system of Covid-status certification to keep concertgoers safe, with entry restricted to those who could prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have natural antibodies against the disease, or had returned a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 36 hours. Due to a combination of effective communications ahead of the event, she says, and growing awareness among fans of the need to keep shows provable free of coronavirus as they return, a huge 95% of the 17,000 people who attended the second Gorillaz show had their NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass ready at the gates – despite it being, in many cases, the first live event they had attended in nearly two years.
“What we spent a lot of time doing in the run-up to the show was trying to make sure that everybody knew what to expect before they arrived,” Bownes says. “For the ticketed show, only 5% of people weren’t quite set up, so the comms worked. Even among those 5%, she adds, “none of them required a test – some, for example, had already taken the it but they hadn’t uploaded the result to the NHS yet – and none of them were turned away.”
Helping with the speedy ingress was the fact that people turned up earlier than for a ‘normal’ gig, continues Bownes. “Because we did all these comms in advance, it wasn’t like it normally is, where you get a massive rush 45 minutes before the band goes on,” she says. “People turned up in good time and had factored into their journeys that we needed plenty of time to check their Covid Passes.”
Covid-status certification like that used at the Gorillaz shows is a “good thing to educate the audience on”, particularly as it could become mandatory for live events in the UK later this year, Galbraith says. “I think it’s a good thing to do it now and get people used to it,” he comments. “In the way that you’re going to use exactly the same system for travel, I think it will become the norm for many things in society for the next few months, and possibly a couple of years. And I don’t think it’s that big of an imposition to be able to just prove to your fellow customers that you’re safe – and that therefore enables us to say to the customers, ‘Come to the show with certainty that everyone around you is virus-free. That also adds to that overall customer confidence, which in itself will add to our ticket sales.”
“I think the vast majority of people are quite happy to do it and show that responsibility to their fellow members of the public,” he continues. “And we’re running similar protocols backstage as well: The ability to get a pass to work in the backstage area is contingent on providing your Covid certification in exactly the way that getting a ticket is in the front of house.”
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it”
With a busy diary of upcoming shows – Galbraith notes that ticket sales are picking up across the board, particularly among rock acts and those popular with younger audiences, with acts as diverse as Sabaton, Andrea Bocelli and film composer Hans Zimmer selling particularly well – the Kilimanjaro Live chief says he’s looking forward to getting back to doing what he loves after nearly 18 months of “politicking and lobbying” with LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) to help the UK business survive the coronavirus crisis. And while he’s under no illusion that the industry body will have plenty to deal with over the next few years, particularly the challenges posed by Brexit and the environmental impact of touring, “it’s going to be brilliant to get back to what we should have been doing”, he says.
“It’s been such a weird time because we’ve just been rescheduling constantly. We’ve rescheduled over 200 gigs, and we’ve had to cancel 55, and whereas normally we’d be doing all this work and have all these gigs – actually have something to show for it – the past 18 months have just been reschedule, reschedule, reschedule countless times,” adds Bownes. “So to have the show actually happen was amazing.”
“The bit that did it for me,” she continues, “was walking around the back of the stage to go and see Stuart and Ian. The O2 probably does 200 gigs a year so it was something that you used to do so often, but it was like you’d forgotten that you used to do it – just walking behind the stage on the way to see the promoter and the agent, and hearing the crowd… It was amazing. It was just great.
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it. You know what the industry is like: People don’t always go to gigs, or they’ll maybe see a few songs and go home, but I do feel like that will change.”
Another free show for NHS workers headlined by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will take place at the O2 next Tuesday (17 August).