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NAA chair Lucy Noble reacts to England’s ‘Plan B’

National Arenas Association (NAA) chair Lucy Noble has outlined the implications of the UK government’s “Plan B” measures for live music in a new interview with IQ.

In an effort to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, prime minister Boris Johnson announced last night that the wearing of face masks will be mandated in all venues from next Wednesday (15 December), and vaccine passports will be required to gain entry.

Johnson said the new rules, which include negative LFTs following extended lobbying by the live sector, would “help to keep these events and venues open at full capacity, while giving everyone who attends them confidence that those around them have done the responsible thing to minimise risk to others”.

Noble, who is artistic director at London’s Royal Albert Hall, anticipates the tightened regulations to hit public demand at what is traditionally a busy time of year.

I’m mostly worried about the impact on ticket sales

“I think ticket sales and attendances will be impacted,” she says. “I think there will be more no-shows over the coming weeks. And it’s going to cost arenas to check everyone – it’s a huge undertaking, a huge cost and it also impacts on customer service. But I think we can get over all of that; I’m mostly worried about the impact on ticket sales.”

Noble says ticket sales had been “really strong” before declining slightly amid the emergence of the new Covid variant last month. She adds the significant volume of no-shows reported by other venues had not been replicated at the Hall, which took out a £20 million loan from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund last year.

“People see the Royal Albert Hall as a really special night out, so they don’t really want to forego that,” she surmises. “Events always see no shows, but ours are at the same level as they were before the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the Hall’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which were due to kick off on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years to the day of its opening – will now extend to 2023 due to the disruption caused by Covid-19.

“It was sad that we were shut for our actual 150th birthday,” reflects Noble. “But what was exciting was that we had commissioned [composer] David Arnold to write a piece to celebrate the Hall’s 150th birthday and that, fortuitously, landed on the day that we could open at full capacity – 19 July.

“That was a wonderful way to come out of the pandemic, but also to celebrate the hall’s anniversary and it was a great concert. We have lots of other exciting things planned for it – we plan to extend it through to the end of 2023 now – so we’re just going to have a long 150th birthday.”

I’m feeling positive about our recovery as an industry

Noble, who previously held a hybrid commercial/artistic role at the venue, was recently appointed as its first artistic director by CEO Craig Hassall. The Hall is also recruiting a new chief operating officer in 2022.

“We’re about to embark on our next business plan, and sustainability is a big pillar of that, along with diversity and innovation,” she explains. “We want to think of our talent pipeline, and our future artists and audiences as well.

“We’ll also be looking at the whole visitor experience for the Royal Albert Hall, so it’s not just about the performance; it’s about the Hall becoming a destination in the daytime as well and opening it up more.

“In the new year, we’ll announce a new associate artist scheme where we’re going to be working with younger artists. It will be the first time the Hall has ever done that and we’re quite excited about it.”

Artists scheduled to play the venue in 2022 include Eric Clapton, James Arthur, Brian Wilson, Gladys Knight, Joe Bonamassa and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Noble, who succeeded Motorpoint Arena Nottingham chief Martin Ingham as NAA chair in 2019, adds she has been impressed by the teamwork displayed by the events sector and singles out new trade body LIVE for special praise.

“We were able to influence government to a certain point,” she says. “When [the pandemic] first started, we had no voice at all. So that’s been key. I’ve enjoyed working with my industry colleagues in a way that we never have done before. If there’s one good thing to come out of this, it’s that there is a stronger, more unified voice across the industry – and that’s going to be a great thing moving forward for the whole industry.”

She concludes: “For the NAA, the pandemic has taken up so much of our time, but sustainability will be high on the agenda moving forward. We’ve all got a common goal to improve and work together to eventually work towards net zero

“At the moment, we’re right in the middle of this new variant and I don’t know what that will bring. But I’m feeling positive about our recovery as an industry.”

 


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Australia and NZ announce first insurance schemes

After more than 18 months of lobbying, Australia and New Zealand have announced country-first insurance schemes for live music.

In Australia, the Victorian government yesterday (14 November) announced plans to launch a 12-month pilot scheme that will insure up to AUS$230 million (€148m) of events.

Subsidised by the government and delivered by the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA), the cover will insure concerts, festivals, sporting events and conferences “against cancellation due to public health measures, or where events have reduced capacity due to restrictions”.

Organisers who have taken out the cover will receive 100% of the event’s declared value if the event has to be cancelled for the aforementioned reasons, or 50% of the event’s declared value if the event goes ahead with reduced capacity (or the organiser chooses to cancel the event because of those capacity restrictions).

The insurance will be available in December 2021 and more information can be found here. The premium is rumoured to cost 2% of the declared value of the event.

“For music lovers, it means your favourite festivals will be up and running again, and you’ll be able to book your tickets with confidence – and for industry, you’ll be protected whether your shows goes ahead or not,” Victoria premier Daniel Andrews wrote on Facebook.

The AFA has called the scheme a “game-changer” for the domestic industry but continues to call for a national solution

The Australian Festival Association (AFA) has called the scheme a “game-changer” for the industry but continues to call on other states and the federal government for a national solution.

“The inability to insure against Covid-related cancellations and restrictions has been a huge barrier to festivals getting back to business,” says AFA MD Julia Robinson.

“Health measures such as restrictions on gatherings and lockdowns, while necessary, often come with little or no notice making it difficult when festivals are months and years in the making. Access to a product that allows organisers the certainty to balance risk and safety with commercial reality would address this market failure, and it’s needed across the country.”

In addition to the scheme, the Victorian government has announced a $20m Live Music Restart package to bolster the recovery of the live music sector.

Music venues will benefit from a $8m programme to recruit and train new staff, invest in CovidSafe infrastructure and get more musicians and industry professionals back to work.

While music festivals and events will receive a leg up with $8m to help them recover from the uncertainty and impact of rescheduled and cancelled events due to the pandemic. A further $4m will bring music performances to the CBD and inner-city, complementing a previously announced $5 million for regional and outer-suburban events.


The support comes after Victoria’s sixth lockdown ended last month, with further restrictions on venue and festival capacity limits set to be scrapped in late November once the state has reached its 90% fully vaccinated target.

According to the AFA, “Victorian audiences usually enjoy over 150 music festivals each year, and just a handful have managed to get their gates open since the pandemic started”.

On 30 October, the state hosted Play On Victoria as its first ‘Covid Safe Test Event’, welcoming 4,000 people back to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to watch Amyl and the Sniffers, Vika and Linda, Baker Boy, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Grace Cummings.

In New Zealand, the government recently announced that it will cover 90% of “unrecoverable costs” for paid, ticketed events with audiences of more than 5,000 vaccinated people, if organisers are forced to cancel or postpone due to Covid-19 public health measures.

Eligible events must implement the use of vaccine certificates, take place live and in-person, and have been in the market prior to the announcement of the scheme, according to the government’s criteria.

They will also have to be run by New Zealand organisations and not already be funded by other government sources such as the majors events fund or the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

The NZ government will cover 90% of “unrecoverable costs” for paid, ticketed events with audiences of more than 5,000

It will cover “actual direct costs” and organisers will have to agree to honour eligible costs incurred by suppliers.

The scheme will pay out for any events operating under alert level 2 or higher, or under the new traffic light scheme any events in an area under the new ‘red level’, or in a localised lockdown. At least 50% of the tickets will have had to be sold in order to qualify.

The event date must be scheduled to begin between 17 December 2021 and 3 April 2022 and organisers can only apply once for cancellation and once for postponement for an event.

The scheme, which is now live, has been welcomed by promoters of major events such as Rhythm & Vines (scheduled for December 2021) and Electric Avenue (slated for February 2022) but there are calls for smaller events to be included.

Insurance schemes have already been announced in the UK (£800m), Germany (€2.5bn), Austria (€300m), the Netherlands (€300m), Belgium (€60m), Norway (€34m) Denmark (DKK 500m), France and Estonia (€6m).

 


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Q&A: Move Concerts boss details LatAm’s recovery

As markets across Latin America gradually reopen, Phil Rodriguez of Move Concerts – the biggest independent concert promoter in the region – says he’s optimistic about the region’s recovery.

Emerging from the most difficult year in live music history, Rodriguez expects the industry to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic “stronger and wiser”.

However, according to the Move Concerts boss, there are a number of obstacles that stand between Latam’s industry and a full recovery.

Below, Rodriguez outlines those obstacles, reflects on the lessons learnt from the pandemic, and addresses “the elephant in the room”…

IQ: How is Latin America’s return to business going?
PR: It’s a patchwork of different sets of rules and regulations per country so it has been a challenge to get them all aligned to have a proper tour of the region. But we’re finally getting there!

In which markets are you now able to fully operate?
Puerto Rico was able to start at full capacity (with proof of vaccination) as of August and business has been incredible. Not only have the shows been selling out, but single dates became multiples. That market came back STRONG.

What’s the deal with vaccine passports and capacity restrictions in Latam?
As noted, it’s a patchwork. Brazil is operating at 70% capacity with proof of vaccination and will open to 100% this week. Argentina will open at 100% capacity with proof of vaccination and with requirements for face masks from 16 November.

Uruguay is at 55% without vaccination and 70% with vaccination. Colombia will be at 100% capacity for vaccinated people from 16 November. Chile is currently held to 40% and in some cases 60% capacity – vaccinated and socially distanced. The expectation is to be open at 100% for the vaccinated by January 2022. Costa Rica will be at 100% as of March 2022 for the vaccinated.

“The lack of cancellation insurance for Covid is the elephant in the room for all of us”

Where has Move’s focus been since markets started to open up?
Rescheduling, booking new tours for the end of 2022 and 2023. Plus our management company and indie record label, Grand Move Records, which are both at full speed.

What opportunities do you see during this recovery period?
The chance to reinvent ourselves and look outside our comfort zone. We all had to do this during the pandemic. We should not get complacent once we return to some normalcy and forget that.

What are the challenges you’re facing right now? 
The lack of cancellation insurance for Covid is the elephant in the room for all of us. The rest we can deal with but will still present a strong challenge such as inflation and devaluation of currencies – which have been hit hard by the pandemic – and the economic consequences of the lockdowns, etc.

How long do you think it’ll take for Latam to get back to pre-pandemic levels of business?
The Covid issue, in my opinion, has been both a health and political issue, unfortunately, and that has not helped us get a better picture of what is ahead of us. But if by the second half of 2022, we are not on a solid road to pre-pandemic levels, we will ALL have bigger problems to worry about. That said, I’m an optimist by nature and I think we’ll come out of this wiser and stronger!

“If by the second half of ’22, we are not on a solid road to pre-pandemic levels, we’ll all have bigger problems to worry about”

When and how do you see international acts coming back to Latin America?
In South America, we kick off with a-ha in March 2022 – Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Move hosted Latam’s first drive-thru show during the pandemic. Is that a format you’ll be returning to?
Not really…we do not see the need nor demand for this any longer as live concerts startup.

What about livestreaming – is there still demand in that area of the business?
This has essentially stopped. With the return of live shows – with reduced capacities – streaming has lost its initial appeal. I’m sure it will still be a good tool to have in our toolbox for use in the future but in a different form… more related to marketing or a special event, etc.

What one thing are you most proud of doing during the pandemic?
That we kept all our team in place and did not have to furlough or lay off anyone. We all took salary cuts and weathered the storm together.

Also, our office in Bogota took the initiative and created an internet site with different content – entertainment, cooking, lifestyle, etc – that raised over US$10,000 to support the local production crews and their families in the middle of the pandemic. That was a fabulous effort that made me very proud of our team there.

 


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UK nations divide over vaccine certification

UK governments have this week announced varying approaches towards vaccine certification and Covid-19 requirements, in some cases posing new logistical challenges for the live music industry.

Wales
On Tuesday (6 October), the Welsh government announced that everyone will need an NHS Covid Pass to enter nightclubs and large events from next week.

As of 11 October, anyone aged over 18 will be required to show the pass to prove they are either fully vaccinated or have had a negative lateral flow test result within the last 48 hours.

The pass will be compulsory for anyone who wants to attend:

People in Wales will need an NHS Covid Pass to enter nightclubs and large events from next week

Pablo Janczur, director of events at Think Orchard, which operates in more than 20 venues in Wales, says that the implementation of the Covid Pass will add another obstacle in venues’ post-pandemic recovery.

“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up and the Covid pass just adds an extra layer of resources – no matter how small,” he says.

“It’s going to require extra resources to check everybody and deal with the people who didn’t get the memo and turned up without a pass for whatever reason. I think it’s going to make life a bit more difficult for us, operationally, with all the venues we work with.”

Janczur also warns that Wales’s restrictions will put the market at a competitive disadvantage to neighbouring England, which lifted all restrictions on 19 July.

“Since the opening happened, people have been popping over the bridge to Bristol so we’ve been worried about a competitive disadvantage for a while. People can do stuff in Wales, but they can easily get to Bristol or Hereford or anywhere over the border,” he adds.

In Scotland, vaccine passports became mandatory for large events and nightclubs last Friday

Scotland
Promoters and venues in Scotland are facing some of the toughest restrictions in the UK after the government introduced mandatory vaccine passports.

Vaccine passports became mandatory for large events and nightclubs last Friday (1 October) but ‘a vast majority’ of people experienced repeated problems in registering and uploading their personal vaccine status to the app.

The event industry – which warned against the policy – is calling for the scheme to be scrapped immediately to avoid further damage to a ‘very fragile nighttime economy’.

Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live, which works in numerous venues across the UK, said the Scottish government’s position on a mandatory vaccine passport “seems overly draconian”.

“Currently, most shows we are running require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative lateral flow test result to be shown when required,” explains Galbraith.

“We think this is the best approach as it offers customers reassurance and provides a safe environment for our shows to take place.”

N.I yesterday announced a rollback of restrictions which will see the reintroduction of non-seated indoor shows

Northern Ireland
In more positive news, Northern Ireland yesterday (7 October) announced a rollback of restrictions which will see the reintroduction of non-seated indoor shows from 14 October.

In addition, the legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants is to be removed from 31 October.

Nightclubs are also to be allowed to reopen for the first time since March 2020, meaning legal restrictions on dancing in venues will be scrapped.

However, ministers have agreed to retain the mandatory wearing of face coverings in certain settings.

The government has asked some sectors to put in place mitigations including proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test but it is not legally enforced.

Plans for vaccine passports could be revived under the English government’s Plan B for coronavirus

England
As of 19 July, large events, such as music concerts and sporting events have resumed without any limits on attendance or social distancing requirements and attendees are no longer legally required to wear a face mask.

However, the compulsory use of vaccine passports would be implemented under the government’s more stringent Plan B rules, with only double-jabbed gig-goers allowed entry, and negative lateral flow tests no longer allowed.

The proposal will only be introduced if the country faces a difficult winter with rising Covid cases in the colder months, the government said.

Ministers recently warned that the government needed to be prepared to “act swiftly” and adopt measures such as vaccine passports “at short notice” if there were “unsustainable pressures” on the NHS as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 


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Scottish gov apologises for vaccine passport ‘shambles’

The first minister of Scotland today apologised to the event industry for the botched rollout of the country’s vaccine passport app.

Vaccine certification became mandatory for large events and nightclubs last Friday (1 October) but ‘a vast majority’ of people experienced repeated problems in registering and uploading their personal vaccine status to the app, according to the events sector.

Scottish venues reported high levels of customer frustration over the lack of information from government and the chaotic rollout of the app.

 

In her weekly Covid-19 update this afternoon, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said NHS Scotland systems were to blame for the troubled launch rather than the app itself.

Sturgeon went on to say that the “initial backlog” of those waiting for the vaccine passport had been “cleared” by Saturday (2 October) lunchtime and that the Scottish government would continue to monitor the performance of the app.

“As anticipated, the rollout of this ill-conceived policy led to chaos and confusion in the street”

However, the event industry – which warned against the policy – is calling for the scheme to be scrapped immediately to avoid further damage to a ‘very fragile nighttime economy’.

Donald Macleod, MD Holdfast Entertainment/CPL, said: “Sadly and predictably [Friday’s] front door trialling of the Scottish Government’s new Covid Certification App proved to be problematic and highly confusing, with the vast majority of punters unable to access the app or show the required proof. This is an APP-ALLING shambles which if allowed to continue will have a devastating effect on the very fragile night-time economy. This ridiculous ‘Big Brother’ experiment and infringement of an individual’s civil rights should be dropped immediately.”

Mike Grieve, chairperson NTIA Scotland & Sub Club director, said: “As anticipated, the rollout of this ill-conceived policy led to chaos and confusion in the street [on Friday] with only a handful of our customers in possession of a functioning app passport. Around 50-60 others had a photocopy or screenshot of the wrong vaccination information or other spurious evidence of vaccination. Despite this we successfully checked all attendees for same-day LFTs to protect the health and safety of our customers and staff. What a shambles!”

Tony Cochrane, director of Club Tropicana, said: “The majority of customers at my clubs throughout Scotland told us they were annoyed and frustrated at multiple failed attempts to download the vaccine app and lost all faith in it. Others found no guidance on how to get it. You only get one chance to launch anything and this one must be one of the greatest failures ever. Public confidence in this has gone.”

Sturgeon said that Covid certification remains, in the Scottish government’s view, “a proportionate way of helping large events and night-time hospitality to keep operating during a potentially difficult winter”.

 


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Scottish parliament approves vaccine passports

The Scottish parliament yesterday (9 September) approved plans for vaccine passports, which will come into force from 1 October for those seeking entry to nightclubs and ‘analogous venues’, as well as large-scale events.

Scotland is one of the few countries in the world to implement a vaccine passport that doesn’t include test results – following in the footsteps of Israel which also restricts entry to those who have been fully vaccinated.

The new vaccine certification rules will mean that anyone over the age of 18 will need to show they have had both doses of the vaccine before they are allowed entry to:

Exemptions will apply to under 18s (to be kept under review), participants in vaccine trials, people unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons and employees at venues within the scope of the scheme.

The Scottish government is yet to finalise a definition of ‘nightclubs and analogous venues’ prompting music industry bodies to criticise the lack of detail in the policy.

“[This policy] potentially disproportionately penalises young people, excluding one in four of them from the late-night economy”

Music Venue Trust CEO, Mark Davyd, says: “As it stands this Scottish government policy amounts to an attempt to exclude some people from going somewhere at some time, without proving adequate information on when, where, who or how.

“In doing so it potentially disproportionately penalises young people, excluding one in four of them from the late-night economy, and people from diverse backgrounds, excluding nearly 50% of them from the late-night economy.”

Davyd also complains that no financial support has been offered to deliver the policy, and none offered to mitigate the impacts it will have on business.

Affected venues will be required to download a free QR code verifier app to a smartphone or device and staff will be required to check a customer’s QR code to ensure the record of vaccination is genuine.

The cost of the app is free, but any additional staffing or infrastructure costs to deliver the scheme will be absorbed by the business.

“The Scottish government has targeted the late-night economy throughout this pandemic”

An overview on the government’s website suggests that the regulations should impose a legal obligation on the person responsible for operating the business or venue to ‘take all reasonable measures’ to restrict entry only to those fully vaccinated.

The Scottish government plans to publish guidance to set out what ‘reasonable measures’ would be proportionate in different settings with different capacities.

The Nighttime Industries Association (NTIA) – the membership of which includes many clubbing businesses that will be affected by the new requirement – says the vote has “put an already fragile nighttime economy on a dangerous path to devastation”.

“The Scottish government has targeted the late-night economy throughout this pandemic,” says Michael Kill, CEO, NTIA. “Our industry has gone to exceptional lengths to support the public health strategy in Scotland, and have been led to believe that consultation would be considered and enacted upon, but instead, we have been met with empty promises and hollow words.”

“Thousands of people in Scotland’s nighttime economy have lost jobs, businesses are overburdened with debt and many have not survived.”

“The call for evidence from the Scottish government has been ignored, and has left us no option but to challenge this, as an industry in the coming weeks, or we will suffer the catastrophic consequences of ill-thought out policy.”

Elsewhere in the UK, the British government has said it will press ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues from the end of next month. It is rumoured that Wales is also considering launching a vaccine-only passport this autumn.

 


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Scotland to implement vaccine passports for large events

Vaccine passports may be legally required to enter certain events in Scotland from later this month, in a bid to ‘help stem the recent surge in the number of Covid cases’.

Pending approval from MPs, the new vaccine certification rules will mean people over the age of 18 will need to show they have had both doses of the vaccine before they are allowed entry to:

Medical exemptions will apply but proof of immunity or a negative test will not be accepted – something which DF Concerts boss Geoff Ellis disputes.

“It’s important that the [passport] includes lateral flow testing and immunity as well as double vaccination + 2 weeks for reasons of practicality and non-discrimination,” Ellis tells IQ.

“If [vaccine passports] are necessary then it should also be applied widely and not just for live music and nightclubs”

“If it’s necessary – which we are led to believe in Scotland that it is – then it should also be applied widely and not just for live music and nightclubs.

“That way it will be more effective in reaching [the government’s] goals by keeping the virus to manageable levels. If that’s the case then I think the live industry as a whole will support this as a temporary measure – DF Concerts certainly will,” Ellis concludes.

The government have not announced a specific date for the introduction of vaccine certification but they have stated this will only happen when all adults have been given the opportunity to receive both vaccines later this month.

Scottish MPs are due to debate and vote on the regulation in parliament next week. If the policy is passed, it will be reviewed every three weeks in line with other Covid regulations.

A similar debate is underway in England, where the government has said it will press ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues from the end of next month.

Scottish MPs are due to debate and vote on the regulation in parliament next week

John Sharkey, executive VP, European operations, ASM Global, commented for IQ: “We believe that public health and the safety of our patrons should be at the forefront of everyone’s thinking as we begin to live with Covid in society. However, our industry, which has been largely closed for nearly 18 months, should also have equality and proportionality applied to it in line with other parts of the economy such as retail, transport and other areas of public life.

“If the government is looking to implement measures that are beyond this equity and proportionality test then they should be clearly stating why the measures are needed and also provide support to the industry in the implementation of such measures.”

A spokesperson from the O2 in London added: “The O2 has taken the decision to implement the NHS Covid Pass and we’ve found strong fan support and compliance with this measure since our events restarted and we will continue to apply it moving forward.

“There are however a number of unanswered questions about how those unable to obtain a vaccination are to be handled, so we urge the government to consult constructively with the industry to iron out these circumstances before any plans are finalised.”

 


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