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Mixed results for Dutch business in annual report

The live music business in the Netherlands achieved increases in revenue and visitor numbers last year, but costs increased “sharply” and “worryingly”, according to the sector’s latest annual report.

Published this week, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF) Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2023 study paints a mixed picture of the market, which could yet face further hardship via a proposed tax rate hike from 9% to 21%.

“While the sector report shows some positive developments, such as increasing revenues and visits, there are several concerns and some other risks that emerge from the figures,” concludes the organisation.

Due to the effects of the strict Covid-measures imposed on the industry during 2020-22, the report compares the latest figures with those from 2019. The VNPF, which represents 120 members, says income generated last year by its 70 venues amounted to €199.9 million in 2023 – an increase of 25%. Box office takings soared by 30%, while hospitality revenues and subsidies both rose by 27%.

However, expenditure was up 24% to €198.5m for an overall net positive of just 0.7%. What’s more, 38% of those venues recorded a loss over the 12-month period.

“The continuous passing on of higher costs in ticket prices can lead to negative price elasticity, with higher prices resulting in a decrease in the number of visits”

“This was the result of a general increase in the prices of goods and services, while there were fewer performances by artists,” notes the trade body. “The continuous passing on of higher costs in ticket prices can lead to negative price elasticity, with higher prices resulting in a decrease in the number of visits.”

VNPF venue members staged a total of 25,341 performances last year – down 5% compared to 2019, while the share of international artists declined from 41% to 32%.

“The 2023 data show a decrease in the number of artist performances, especially by international artists,” says the study. “Venues with smaller programme budgets sometimes have to be more cautious with financially uncertain or unprofitable programmes, such as programming artists at the beginning of their careers.

“Additionally, concerts, club nights, and festivals are becoming less accessible to large parts of the public due to higher ticket and catering prices.”

Nevertheless, visitor numbers jumped 11% to 5.8 million, with paid attendance increasing by 18% and the number of sold-out concerts and club nights “significantly higher” than in 2019, while employment sprung 7% to 8,372. In addition, festivals attracted 2.6m attendees in 2023, bringing the total number of visits to VNPF venues and festivals to 8.4m.

The report goes on to address the government’s controversial proposals to increase the VAT rate for concert, festival, sports and museum tickets (as well as books, hotels and newspapers) by 12 percentage points from 2026.

“Higher VAT rates will lead to higher prices, which will put pressure on the accessibility and affordability of culture”

“Higher VAT rates will lead to higher prices, which will put pressure on the accessibility and affordability of culture, events, books and media for the public,” states the report. “This increase will be at the expense of supply, especially in peripheral regions, and will reduce the earning capacity of self-employed people and institutions. Moreover, it will jeopardise the livelihood of artists and performers.”

The VNPF is part of a coalition of Dutch organisations to launch a joint campaign against the plans, which it warns will have a “significant impact” on the country’s cultural and creative sector. A full-page advert appeared in every national and regional newspaper on 3 June with the message #nohigherebtw (nohigherVAT) on behalf of the alliance.

The sector currently contributes €26 billion (3.4%) annually to the Netherlands’ GDP and accounts for almost one in 20 jobs in the Netherlands.

“The VAT increase will have negative economic consequences,” it adds. “For example, it is expected that this measure will lead to 1.5 million fewer visits to festivals and 900,000 fewer visits to performing arts – including pop culture. This will put further pressure on the financial position of the pop sector, which could lead to a loss of employment and a decrease in the number of available pop cultural programmes and events.

“This will mainly affect the middle class and people with a small wallet, which is at odds with the government’s goals of improving subsistence and stimulating entrepreneurship.”

 


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Campaign launched against Dutch ticket tax hike

A coalition of organisations in the Netherlands have launched a joint campaign against the government’s plans to raise the tax rate for the cultural and creative sector from 9% to 21%.

A full-page advert appeared in every national and regional newspaper today (3 June) with the message #nohigherebtw (nohigherVAT) on behalf of the alliance, which includes the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF), as well as other groups across culture, media, catering, books and sports.

It follows proposals unveiled by the country’s new right-wing government to increase the VAT rate for concert, festival, sports and museum tickets, as well as books, hotels and newspapers, by 12 percentage points from 2026. The sector contributes €26 billion (3.4%) annually to the Netherlands’ GDP and accounts for almost one in 20 jobs in the Netherlands.

A statement from the coalition reads: “The proposed increase in the VAT rate will inevitably lead to higher prices, which will put pressure on the accessibility and affordability of sports, media, books, culture and catering for the public. It affects everyone in the Netherlands in daily life and in several areas. It is an additional burden on the valuable free time, club life, curiosity and (mental) health of every Dutch person.”

The government says the increase will generate €2.2bn a year for the treasury, but campaigners say it will add 11% to the price of tickets. According to Dutch News, the measure is also the least popular of all the plans unveiled by the new coalition, with just over half of those polled opposed to the move and only 28% supporting it.

A total of 96% of respondents to a poll conducted by trade bodies Arts ’92 and The Creative Coalition said ticket prices will have to increase if the lower VAT rate is abolished, while research by economist René Goudriaan suggested the subsequent drop in visitors would most severely impact festivals (1.5 million fewer annual visits), resulting in €62.5 million less income.

“This increase in tax burden affects everyone: readers, festivalgoers, museum visitors, artists, musical fans, people who sing in choirs and play in brass bands,” says Arts ’92 director Astrid Weij. “In this way, what gives life colour and meaning takes a hit. The economy behind the creative sector is going to shrink. The effects on our prosperity, well-being and employment are negative.”

“The VAT increase is a serious setback for self-employed people and employees. Many fear forced layoffs”

“The proposed VAT increase is a blow to self-employed people and employees in the sector,” adds Thomas Drissen, director of The Creative Coalition. “It puts further pressure on the income of the makers. Many have not yet recovered from the corona years, when there was actually a professional ban. The VAT increase is a serious setback for self-employed people and employees. Many fear forced layoffs.”

Dutch live music association the VNPF has previously called on the authorities to reconsider the tax hike, warning it could have grave consequences for the domestic live music business.

“This measure makes ticket sales uncertain, leading to less investment in a sector that has already been hit disproportionately hard in recent years,” it said. “The jobs of more than 100,000 people working in this industry are also threatened.

“In addition, this VAT increase weakens the competitive position of the Dutch live music sector compared to neighbouring countries where low rates are still charged. Stages and festivals lose their offer to neighbouring countries, with all the financial consequences that entails. This policy puts the Dutch world-leading live sector at a great disadvantage.”

It continued: “Pop culture in the Netherlands is becoming less accessible, causing a broad audience to be excluded from cultural events. This makes the Netherlands less attractive for international artists, which has a negative impact on the business climate in this industry.

“The consequences extend beyond just the visitors – up-and-coming pop talent will find it even more difficult to break through and generate a sustainable income.”

Other groups to have signed up to the coalition include Dutch football association KNVB, the country’s top professional football league the Eredivisie, the Association of Theater and Concert Hall Directors (VSCD), Association of Event Makers (VVEM), the Alliance of Event Builders, the Association of Dutch Orchestras (VvNO), the Creative Industry Federation, the Culture Federation, the Pop Coalition and the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ).

 


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Dutch groups hit out at live music VAT rate hike

The Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF) is calling on the government to reconsider its plans to raise the VAT rate for concert and festival tickets by 12 percentage points.

The increase from 9% to 21%, which is set to come into effect from 2026, was announced this week in the new coalition agreement between the PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB parties.

But the national live music trade body is warning the move could have dire consequences for the domestic business, and is appealing for talks with the powers that be.

“This measure makes ticket sales uncertain, leading to less investment in a sector that has already been hit disproportionately hard in recent years,” it says. “The jobs of more than 100,000 people working in this industry are also threatened.

“In addition, this VAT increase weakens the competitive position of the Dutch live music sector compared to neighbouring countries where low rates are still charged. Stages and festivals lose their offer to neighbouring countries, with all the financial consequences that entails. This policy puts the Dutch world-leading live sector at a great disadvantage.”

Stressing that a healthy cultural sector is “essential” for the country’s economy, the VNPF says the impact on the tax hike would be felt on and off the stage.

“The consequences extend beyond just the visitors – up-and-coming pop talent will find it even more difficult to break through and generate a sustainable income”

“Pop culture in the Netherlands is becoming less accessible, causing a broad audience to be excluded from cultural events,” it continues. “This makes the Netherlands less attractive for international artists, which has a negative impact on the business climate in this industry.

“The consequences extend beyond just the visitors – up-and-coming pop talent will find it even more difficult to break through and generate a sustainable income.”

The Association of Event Makers (VVEM) has also shared its “major concerns” at the proposal.

“This increase is bad news for consumers,” says the group. “A decision like this also has far-reaching consequences for Dutch artists, who see the gap with their audience growing, but also for entrepreneurs in the events industry.”

A four-party coalition deal was provisionally struck this week to form a right-wing government, almost six months after PVV leader Geert Wilders won the Dutch election.

“The VVEM suspects that the new government has not realised that a measure like this will hit ordinary Dutch people who like to go to events hard,” it adds. “The flywheel effect is that the business climate in the industry is also hit hard. We would like to enter into discussions with a new government to convince them not to take this measure.”

 


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VNPF co-founder Fons van Iersel passes

The co-founder of the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) has passed away aged 72.

Fons van Iersel, who also co-founded 3,000-cap Tilburg venue 013 in the late 1990s, died at the weekend following an accident, reports BD.

The Dutch live veteran was the first winner at the VNPF’s IJzeren Podiumdier awards in 1997 and was later recognised with the association’s lifetime achievement award in 1999.

“Fons left us at much too young an age,” says the trade body in a statement. “VNPF members, VNPF board and VNPF office employees are more than grateful to Fons as an energetic source of inspiration for his positive involvement in the pop sector.”

“A striking man is gone who has meant a lot to the culture”

Van Iersel was passionate about talent development in the Netherlands, launching the Rock Academy, which helped nurture domestic stars such as Krezip, Danny Vera, Floor Jansen and Duncan Laurence, and had recently set up Tilburg production house Het Pophuis.

“From the realisation of 013 (Tilburg) to co-initiator and talent developer of Het Pophuis; from driving force at Noorderligt (predecessor 013) to founder of the Fontys Rock Academy, its significance cannot be underestimated.

“We wish family, friends, former colleagues a lot of strength with this loss.”

Speaking to BD, Van Iersel’s friend Chris Leenaars adds: “We are all shocked. A striking man is gone who has meant a lot to the culture.”

 


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Attendances up for Dutch live business

The concert business in the Netherlands has reported a post-pandemic resurgence, but concerns over rising costs remain, according to the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF).

The newly published Poppodia and Festivals in Figures 2022 report shows venues and festivals received a total of 7.6 million visits in 2022, compared to 883,000 in 2021 and 8.6m in the last pre-Covid year of 2019, despite an “abnormal” year for the business, with corona restrictions not lifted until three months in.

Employment in the industry was also up, with music venues employing more than 8,000 staff last year – approximately 3% more than in 2019 – with more paid working hours and less voluntary work.

The statistics are based on figures from 48 music venues and 55 festivals. However, the report notes that the total expenditure of those venues increased by 8% in 2022 compared to 2019, even though fewer activities were organised in Q1 2022 due to the strict Covid measures.

Chief among its stated concerns are high cost increases for venues, including for personnel, housing, catering and programme, while municipal subsidies “were not increased proportionally”.

“The costs for energy, personnel, catering purchasing and artists rose sharply, and will still do so in 2023”

“In addition to the aftermath of the pandemic, VNPF members also faced high inflation in 2022,” it adds. “Among other things, the costs for energy, personnel, catering purchasing and artists rose sharply, and will still do so in 2023.”

VNPF stages received €36.1 million in Covid intervention in 2021, with the vast majority of that amount coming from the national government and the organisation stresses the need for further support from the authorities.

“The figures for 2022 show that the municipal subsidy is increasing, but not enough to cope with autonomous cost increases,” it says. “This is particularly worrying for the longer term. This means that talent development of both artists and staff and the retention of good staff will come under further pressure.

“Adequate and appropriate subsidies for the subsidised part of our sector remain of vital importance. Organisations that are not subsidised also need the government as a cooperation partner and facilitator.”

 


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Dutch sector warns of ‘bleak’ financial outlook

The Dutch live sector is still feeling the “disastrous” effects of the Covid pandemic, according to the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals’ (VNPF).

Stark figures in the organisation’s newly published Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2021 report show that 883,000 visits were made to VNPF stages last year, down 16% on 2020 and 83% from 5.2 million recorded in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019.

And with Covid restrictions not fully lifted until March 2022, the market is a long way from recovering.

“The negative effects of the pandemic are still present in the autumn of 2022”

“The negative effects of the pandemic are still present in the autumn of 2022,” says the report. “There is a high workload due to staff shortages and higher absenteeism due to illness from Covid. There are many rescheduled concerts where part of the audience does not show up. This has negative consequences for, for example, the catering income.

“In addition, stages are now faced with high inflation, with costs for personnel, housing and energy, in particular, rising sharply.

“The public is buying fewer tickets due to inflation. In this situation, stages are more or less forced to cut back on staff and programme.”

The report notes that club evenings, night programming and festivals were completely banned by the government for all but a few weeks of 2021. While describing the closing of music venues as “disastrous” for the industry, the VNPF acknowledges that government support measures in 2020 and 2021 enabled venues to survive financially.

“This was very damaging to the entire infrastructure of the live music sector”

VNPF stages received €36.1m in Covid intervention in 2021, with most support coming from the national government (96%), but says continued assistance is “still very necessary”.

“The financial outlook is bleak,” it warns. “Many [businesses] indicate there is likely to be a need to cut back on talent development and personnel in the near future.”

The total income of the VNPF stages was €107m last year compared to €160m in 2019.

“Municipal subsidies and Covid support measures from the central government accounted for almost three quarters of the income in 2021,” it adds. “Income from ticket sales and catering is normally the most important source of income for pop venues and festivals, but in 2021 there was hardly any public income due to the restrictive measures.

“Revenues realised from ticket sales decreased by 81% compared to 2019 and that from catering sales decreased by 82%. Sponsorship and private rental income also decreased by approximately 50% compared to 2019.

“Programme and staff costs decreased in 2021. This was very damaging to the entire infrastructure of the live music sector and is one of the reasons for the current staff shortages and high workload in the industry.”

 


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Dutch no-show rates soar since reopening

Dutch trade body VNPF says the country’s music scene is recovering well since Covid measures were lifted last month – but no-shows at gigs remain a problem.

The government removed all remaining restrictions – most notably pre-admission testing for indoor events – on 23 March following tireless lobbying from the Netherlands’ live sector.

And despite ticket sales for cultural institutions such as museums and theatres struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels, the appetite for live music events has proved more resilient.

“It is going quite well at the music venues,” VNPF director Berend Schans tells NRC. “All programmes that would normally run well before the pandemic are now running well.”

Schans points out that shows by emerging acts are proving a harder sell than established artists, while customer demand has shown to be age-dependent.

“A relatively unknown band that plays post-punk with ’80s references, where more people my age would go, has a harder time than a hip new band that my daughter goes to,” he says.

The no-show rate at concerts has ballooned from 10% to up to 40% in the Netherlands since touring resumed

As has been reported in other territories, Schans adds that major issues have emerged around audience no-shows by ticket-buyers at concerts. The average 10% pre-Covid no-show rate has ballooned to up to 40% since touring resumed, he says, leading to knock-on effects for venues.

“The pop venues have to earn their money with the average €12 that people spend during a concert,” he says. “And they also need that money to buy new programmes.”

Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ taskforce for the cultural and creative sector has written to the government to call for “bridging measures” following the expiration of emergency aid, reiterating that visitor numbers were still below 2019 levels for large parts of the industry.

Jeroen Bartelse, director of TivoliVredenburg, tells the publication that theatres and classical music have averaged 60% of normal numbers since reopening, while Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw reports 65% occupancy, down from 85% in the same period in 2019.

 


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Netherlands concerts postponed amid new lockdown

Scores of concerts in the Netherlands have been postponed after the Dutch government imposed a new partial lockdown in the wake of rising Covid-19 infections.

A capacity limit of 1,250 has been imposed on venues, while sports events will be played behind closed doors.

Restrictions will last at least three weeks until 4 December, with the situation to be reassessed by the government on 3 December. Covid entry passes are already required to attend concerts in the country.

“If we succeed in reversing the current trend in the weeks ahead and the number of positive cases falls, the government believes it will be possible to reopen society as fully and as safely as possible,” it says in a statement. “We will then be able to roll out the coronavirus entry pass system more widely.”

High-profile postponements include shows by Burna Boy, Simply Red and Nightwish at Amsterdam’s 17,000-cap Ziggo Dome, while Burna Boy’s performance at the 16,426-cap Rotterdam Ahoy on 20 November and Nicky Jam on 21 November will also be moved.

Amsterdam’s 1,500-cap Paradiso, meanwhile, has postponed events by acts including Mykki Blanco, Oh Wonder and Spector.

The government says financial support will be available for businesses “directly affected” by the new restrictions. However, the Netherlands’ Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform have declared themselves “deeply disappointed” at the measures, which they claim are not backed up by the scientific data.

Once again, many event builders… suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty

“Professional events with corona ticket control have not or hardly turned out to be a source of contamination, according to the Source and Contact Survey,” says a statement. “They have hardly appeared in the figures of the RIVM since the restart in August, and no significant contamination clusters have arisen at events, while they have been visited by millions of people.”

The statement continues: “Once again, many event builders who were busy with their work today and tomorrow, events that the public longs for, suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty.

“The cabinet still seems to have no answers to the essential questions and continues to make ad hoc and arbitrary adjustments. They mainly react in the short term instead of anticipating.

“The Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform are not only concerned about the short term, but also very concerned about the period after the announced lockdown. There is again no road map, no plan, no end goal. The Alliance and the EventPlatform therefore call on politicians to opt for an approach that is based on facts, figures and clear insights and that provides a dot on the horizon.”

Prior to the announcement, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) also said that cancelling concerts was “not a solution to the problem of increased infections”.

“The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics,” it said. “Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.”

 


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Dutch trade body hits out at lockdown plans

The Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) has hit out at plans to impose a partial lockdown in the Netherlands.

With Covid restrictions on the cusp of being tightened in several European countries, Dutch media have reported that strict new measures will be introduced from Saturday (13 November) in a bid to combat record numbers of new Covid-19 infections in the country.

The restrictions, due to be announced this evening by prime minister Mark Rutte, are expected to last at least three weeks, sources have told public broadcaster NOS.

However, the VNPF claims that cancelling live events would merely be “symbolic politics”, pointing to figures showing infections are occurring mainly in family circles and schools, rather than at concerts.

“It is clear that the increase in infections is not caused by organisations affiliated with VNPF,” says the organisation. “The concerts and events are professionally organised and the corona [pass]/QR code is strictly checked everywhere.

“Cancelling concerts and other events is therefore not a solution to the problem of increased infections. The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics. Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.

“Moreover, such a measure erodes support for the policy of the corona admission ticket and its compliance, which is now working very well.”

Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise

The body recently published its new Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2020 report, based on data from 101 Dutch music venues and festivals, which reported that revenue from ticket sales and catering at domestic shows plummeted from €121.7 million in 2019 to €29.7m last year as a result of the pandemic.

Events in the country have been restricted to 75% capacity and are required to close between 00:00 and 06:00 CET. Insisting the new measures “must be effective and appropriate”, the VNPF warns repeated postponements could have lasting consequences.

“Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise,” it says. “So much programme has been shifted, so often, so the pop sector is confronted with a relatively large audience that does not show up. In a sector where the ticket proceeds go to the artist and the other public income, including catering, is for the organiser, this is very threatening.

“New restrictions are not necessary within the pop sector and, once again, cause programming and financial hopelessness for pop artists, pop venues, event organisers, producers and pop festivals.”

In its latest weekly report, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) revealed the number of new cases among EU/EEA countries increased 19% week-on-week.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s disease control centre the Robert Koch Institute has called for large events to be cancelled after the country’s infection rate hit a new high, while Austria is mulling introducing a lockdown for unvaccinated people.

 


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VNPF demands further support for Dutch live sector

The Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) has warned the sector will remain in need of financial support as long as Covid-19 restrictions remain in place.

The warning follows the recent publication of its new Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2020 report, based on data from 101 Dutch music venues and festivals.

According to the study, revenue from ticket sales and catering at domestic shows plummeted from €121.7 million in 2019 to €29.7m last year as a result of the pandemic.

“In 2020, almost 23,000 fewer performances were given by artists than in 2019,” says the report. “For pop venues affiliated with the VNPF, this led to €92m less income. As a result, many employees lost their jobs. The impact of the pandemic on the entire live music industry is still profound today.”

The damage was mitigated by generic and sector-specific support, with 83% of music venues receiving additional financial resources from support measures. However, events in the country are currently restricted to 75% capacity and are required to close between 00:00 and 06:00 CET.

Financial support remains necessary as long as restrictive measures are still in place

“The VNPF expects similar or worse results in 2021,” it concludes. “Financial support, such as guarantee schemes… are still very much needed. With the end of the generic support measures as of 1 October, pop venues and festivals, artists and suppliers could run into further problems, now that programming and receiving audiences at full capacity and at night is still not possible.

“There is understanding for restrictive measures that combat the coronavirus, because the stages and festivals want nothing more than for society to be able to open fully again, but the measures must be effective and proportional. In addition, financial support remains necessary as long as restrictive measures are still in place.”

In September, the Dutch event sector lost summary proceedings brought against the state due to the latest restrictions. Twenty organisations including Mojo, ID&T, Unmute Us and Apenkooi Events demanded in court that all events and club nights be allowed again without restrictions on capacity and time.

The sector has continuously argued that the government restrictions do not reflect the three months’ worth of findings from the Fieldlab Evenementen studies. However, the judge said that the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) factored in the results when giving advice to the outgoing cabinet.

The Dutch government has attempted to soften the blow of the restrictions by announcing a €15m fund to compensate promoters and venues for lost revenue from indoor standing shows – on top of its €385m guarantee fund.

 


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