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New lockdown forces early Unity Arena closure

The final shows at the UK’s socially distanced Unity Arena will no longer be able ahead after the government announced new lockdown restrictions in north-east England.

Promoter SSD Concerts confirmed today (17 September) that shows by Jack Savoretti (Friday 18 September), Kaiser Chiefs (Saturday 19 September) and Declan McKenna (Sunday 20 September), as well as 19 September’s Bongo’s Bingo event, have been called off. Tonight’s Chase & Status show will go ahead as planned.

Since opening its doors in August, Unity Arena has hosted the UK’s only major live shows since March, welcoming more than 50,000 fans in total and employing over 200 staff and crew.

Jim McGee of Engine No.4, the production company behind the venue, told IQ last month that he’s proud to have been involved in its creation, noting that the open-air venue – which separates fans with a 2m gap between viewing areas – could be used as a model while social distancing is necessary. “A lot of hoops have had to be jumped through to make this work, and it isn’t particularly economically sustainable, but what we’ve managed to create could be used as a model going forwards,” he explained.

The perfect storm: Inside the UK’s only live shows

Since launching, Unity Arena has welcomed performers including Van Morrison, Sam Fender, the Libertines, Supergrass, Ronan Keating and comedian Jimmy Carr.

Commenting on the early closure of the venue, SSD’s Steve Davis says: “It is extremely disappointing to have to cancel these final shows at the end of what has been an incredible six week run of successfully socially distanced concerts. We’re honoured to have been able to provide a little happiness and joy to thousands of music and comedy fans throughout the region and the UK, in what has been such a tough 2020 for everyone.

“We have complied with all government guidance to ensure the safety and enjoyment of our audience, artists and crew throughout. We’d like to thank all who attended these genuinely heartwarming and uplifting events. For the last six weeks, Newcastle has been the leading light for the live music industry and for that, we should all be very proud.

We’d like to thank all who attended these genuinely heartwarming and uplifting events

“Unfortunately, due to the rise in infections in the north east, we must comply with the council’s and the government’s latest advice. This should not take away from the fact that the people of the north east and from all over the world have embraced this pioneering run of shows.

“On behalf of everyone involved – our sponsor, Virgin Money; Newcastle City Council; the dedicated crew and staff who have worked so hard to make this a success – again I thank you so much. Sadly, the new lockdown measures will bring an end to our run, but the safety and the wellbeing of the people of the north east is our prime and utmost concern.”

As of this evening, the north-east of England – Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, Gateshead, Northumberland, South Tyneside and County Durham – is subject to new restrictions, including a 10pm curfew, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

 


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All write now? Insuring events in the age of Covid

This summer’s events and festivals may have been largely wiped out due to the ongoing pandemic, but live event organisers are determined to return to some kind of normality.

With large-scale event bans due to lift before the winter, the live music industry is daring to plan for the future – but at what cost?

Organisers are still reeling from the economic impact of this year’s cancellations, and few are willing or able to risk shows without cancellation insurance in place for Covid-19. Even with government go-ahead for venues to reopen, without insurance, the industry is at a standstill.

So what might live event insurance look like over the next 12 months? Insurers from two of the biggest global markets, the UK and the US, tell IQ why a government-backed insurance fund is needed (but problematic), what’s causing many underwriters to quit offering cancellation insurance, and how policies may change in the months ahead.

 


When it comes to insurance for future live music events, there’s only one question on the industry’s lips: When will insurers provide cancellation cover that includes Covid-19?

The answer is, according to brokers in the UK and the US, not any time soon – if at all.

The problem, as Steven Howell from Media Insurance Brokers (MIB) in the UK explains, is that it’s impossible for underwriters to put a price on Covid-19 cover while we’re still in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s a bit like asking us to insure your house while your house is still on fire; it’s too late. You can only assess what the damage is and what repairs are needed once the fire is out. And once that happens, underwriters can assess the likelihood of that house burning down again and work out what premiums to charge you to cover it,” he says.

“Asking an underwriter to take a view on the likelihood of whether the government will impose a local lockdown, forcing the cancellation of an event, is impossible because no one knows. No one is in control of the infection rate and no one is in control of the government.” 

“You can only assess what the damage is and what repairs are needed once the fire is out”

However, it’s the authorities that the industry is turning to for support. When the UK government announced its £500 million scheme to kickstart film and television productions struggling to secure insurance for Covid-related costs, there was a question of whether the live music industry might receive the same.

The programme will support productions if future losses are incurred due to Covid and fill the gap left by the lack of available insurance and cover coronavirus-related disruptions, such as delays in filming caused by unwell staff.

A proposal is currently being worked on by entertainment and sports broker Tysers in partnership with the UK’s various industry associations, though no details have yet been released. One of the difficulties, as Martin Goebbels from Miller Insurance points out, is that live music events present an entirely different set of variables from that of TV and film productions.

“Productions are behind closed doors, in more contained environments, and generally can be far more easily controlled and contained. The problem for live music events is the audience and everything that comes with that, such as public transport and having large crowds in any restricted area, whether it be the actual venue or extra numbers arriving in a town,” he says.

So far, only one arena in the UK has risked staging events with the possibility that the government could enforce a local lockdown at any time, forcing the organisers to cancel.

Howell at MIB insured the UK’s only major summer concert series of 2020 at the country’s first socially distanced arena, Newcastle’s Virgin Money Unity Arena.

“Insurers might need to be prepared to cover certain losses not contemplated as part of coverage offered today”

While MIB couldn’t provide cancellation cover which includes a Covid-19 extension, it could provide public liability cover, in case anyone gets ill or contracts the virus at the event and tries to sue the event organiser.

In order to ensure there was no exclusion for coronavirus added to the public liability policy we needed to review the organisers risk assessments and Covid-19 protocols to make sure they are adhering to latest advice and minimising risk of catching or spreading the disease,” says Howell. 

The organisers have said that they were keeping “one eye on government legislation,” hoping there wouldn’t be any major changes or a local lockdown that would put the series into jeopardy. 

So what are the possible solutions that would give event organisers the confidence to start planning for next year and committing costs?

One suggestion from Howell is to increase the tax on insurance premiums, in line with VAT, and reserve the excess for cancellation cover.

“Most people are used to paying 20% VAT. On insurance, you pay 12% so even if you increase it to 15 and siphoned off that 3%, it would create a pot of money through insurance that is available to bail out in case of cancellation.

“It’s similar to what the US did after 9/11 when they increased premiums and siphoned off a small percentage in case your business or event gets affected by terrorism,” says Howell. 

“Once live events do come back, there will be an adjustment period for those who wish to put on the shows and those who wish to insure them”

Carol Thornhill from Epic Brokers in the US also cited the terrorism pot as a possible solution, but says in the current political climate she doesn’t necessarily see it happening.

“We do have some clients that are actually working in venues with proper social distancing protocols, in the hopes that the state stays open.

“A lot of states like Florida and Tennessee are a little bit more relaxed than others and so they’re really not shutting down promoters and events much at this point,” she says.

Any changes to insurance policy in the US is much further down the line, as underwriters have to go through a state filing process, which Tim Thornhill of UK-based Tysers says is more of a lengthy procedure.

Scott Carroll from Take1 Insurance in the US says he imagines adjustments to the Covid-related insurance cover would take into account factors such as the venue’s protocols for sanitisation; food service; public toilets; adherence to Centers for Disease Control guidelines; and duty of care.

“The insurers might need to be prepared to cover certain losses not contemplated as part of coverage offered today. Once live events do come back, there will be an adjustment period for those who wish to put on the shows and those who wish to insure them,” he says.

Another change coming in both the UK and the US is an increase in premiums. In the UK, that increase is down to lack of capacity in the insurance market and a higher demand, according to Howell.

“Travel insurance is likely to increase as well, which may have a small effect on future tour budgets”

“Lots of underwriters we used have quit,” says Howell. “They’ve said, ‘we’ve lost so much money in this first wave of cancellations that we’re not going to write contingency or cancellation for the foreseeable future,’ and closed their books.” 

This means that the remaining underwriters will be looking to claw back some premium by charging higher rates.

Tysers has been more fortunate with business during Covid-19 and was able to pay out on cover in many instances, says Thornhill.

“In relation to non-appearance policies, our wording, drafted in the time of [predecessor companies] Robertson Taylor and later Integro allowed most of our clients the opportunity to successfully lodge claims,” he explains.

“It was significantly different to the standard Lloyd’s wording used by others, as our communicable disease [CD] exclusion was limited to a number of named diseases. Covid-19 was not one of those and consequently we were able to confirm fairly quickly that coverage operated as opposed to the blanket CD exclusion offered elsewhere.”

Goebbels points out that Covid’s effect on the insurance industry will have other knock-on effects in other ways too.

“Travel insurance is likely to increase as well, due to massive losses in recent months, but at present we do not know by how much, as touring is not happening,” he says. “That may have a small effect on future tour budgets, but it is too early to say.” 

With insurance a key consideration for festival season 2021, the topic will be discussed in more depth at next week’s Interactive Festival Forum, with Thornhill and Howell among the experts speaking as part of the Insurance & Covid-19 workshop.

Register for iFF 2021 here.

 


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

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Socially distanced Unity Arena announces opening line-up

UK promoter SSD Concerts has announced the opening line-up for its new Unity Arena near Newcastle.

The 2,500-capacity venue – the first of its kind – ensures social distancing with a “parking-to-platform” system that sees concertgoers arrive by car and then proceed to a dedicated viewing platform located at least 2m from other viewing areas.

Unity Arena will open on 14 August with a DJ set by broadcaster Craig Charles, with the first live concert performance coming courtesy of Two Door Cinema Club the following night.

They are followed Supergrass on Saturday 22 August, Tom Grennan on Thursday 27 August, the Libertines on Saturday 29 August and Maximo Park on Saturday 5 September.

“We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times”

The first slate of programming also includes three comedy performances, from Jason Manford on 30 August and Bill Bailey on both 1 and 2 September.

Steve Davis of SSD Concerts, which – backed by sponsor Virgin Money and production company Engine No 4, is the driving force behind the arena – comments: “We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times for the industry and the general public.

“The rock’n’roll, can-do attitude of the artists performing and the team behind Virgin Money Unity Arena will make these shows ones to remember for the rest of our lives.

“We were determined to make this special, and hopefully today’s line-up is a strong statement of intent. We’re not finished yet and we’ll be announcing yet more acts soon.”

 


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‘First socially distanced arena’ launches in UK

A new outdoor venue, billed as the UK’s first dedicated socially distanced music venue, will launch in Newcastle, in the north-east of England, this summer.

Unity Arena, sponsored by Virgin Money, will be located at Newcastle Racecourse in Gosforth Park, around four miles from Newcastle city centre, and open soon after its first line-up announcement on Tuesday 7 July.

The venue, the brainchild of regional promoter SSD Concerts, will be built in partnership with production company Engine No 4 (Parklife, Kendal Calling). SSD, the organiser of This is Tomorrow festival, promises a completely socially distanced “parking-to-platform experience” offering “full safety” for concertgoers.

Punters will stand on viewing platforms placed two metres apart, with food and drinks available for preorder. A one-way system, meanwhile, will allow for the “safe and full use” of toilet facilities.

Unity Arena will have a capacity of 2,500, a spokesperson tells IQ, with organisers promising a “festival experience” with “full production”.

“This feels like a unique opportunity to celebrate music and all the wonderful emotions that come with it”

Steve Davis, managing director of SSD, says: “Since all of our scheduled concerts have been postponed to later in the year and all venues in the city closed, the staff at SSD had a willingness to continue.

“We can’t be without music during these times, so our only thought has been how can we bring music back to the British public safely and responsibly.

“We have been hosting loads of live sessions and DJ sets across our social media, supporting local artists and raising money for the NHS. Now, we’re taking it one step further as the UK slowly comes out of lockdown.

“Working with our brand new partner Virgin Money has been exciting, and we think, even in these hard times, the people of the north east will come out in their thousands to see the artists they love.”

Helen Page, group brand and marketing director of Virgin Money, adds: “This feels like a unique opportunity to celebrate music and all the wonderful emotions that come with experiencing it live alongside other music fans. We’re looking forward to partnering with the Unity Arena on this event near to our Virgin Money home in Gosforth.”

 


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