fbpx

PROFILE

MY SUBSCRIPTION

LOGOUT

x

The latest industry news to your inbox.

    

I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities

    

I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

Wembley’s John Drury talks restaffing and no-shows

The SSE Arena, Wembley’s VP and general manager John Drury has spoken to IQ about the challenges of restaffing the venues sector as it emerges from the Covid-19 shutdown.

With a number of seasoned backstage hands defecting to other industries during the pandemic to make ends-meet, the business is battling a short-term talent shortage.

Drury, who predicts the Covid-induced upheaval to the global touring calendar could last until at least 2024, suggests the issue is far from straightforward.

“On security, in particular, a lot of SIA licences haven’t been renewed, and some of that will be no doubt people just picking up different work elsewhere and moving out of the industry,” he says. “Some will be people moving back to a home country, there’s probably a bit of Brexit in there as well, so that’s made it a challenge.

We’re still seeing more of a drop-off in numbers than normal

“We’re not really seeing it so much on the F&B side, but we’re certainly seeing it on front of house, stewarding and security, where it’s harder. We’ve not got to the point where we haven’t been able to service a show, obviously, and I don’t think we will get to that point. But it’s a challenge.

“We had a show last weekend where it ended up that we needed to bring the riggers in a couple of days earlier because that’s when they could get them and not on the show day. It meant the rigging for this one event came in ahead of the show the following day, but it was all done very amicably and everybody worked together to get it achieved. But we’ll see those challenges for a little while, no doubt.”

As previously revealed by IQ, promoters have reported the rate of no-shows by ticket-holders at concerts has been far higher than usual since the restart. Drury describes Wembley’s no-show rate as “up and down”.

“The standard tends to be around about 10%,” he says. “We were only seeing 5% on comedy, which was really encouraging, but at other events we were seeing as much as 20%, or more.

“We were finding it depended partly on shows that had been rescheduled once or twice. So some people might have just forgotten they were on, even though we’d been emailing and sending them reminders, and there is a bit of uncertainty out there, for sure. We’re still seeing more of a drop off in numbers than we normally would.”

Because we’d had some activity, it allowed us to get back into the swing of things more quickly

The 12,500-capacity London venue, which is due to round off 2021 with dates by acts including Manic Street Preachers, James + Happy Mondays, The Human League, Nightwish, Il Divo and Madness, stayed busier than most, if not all, UK arenas during 2020/21 “partly because of our size and partly because of location,” according to Drury.

“We ended up doing some filming for the BBC series The Wall through summer last year, and then we did some behind closed doors boxing for another six weeks with Matchroom,” he says.

“That led to us hosting the Anthony Joshua fight in December, [2020] for a crowd of 1,000 people. It was in that very short, small window where you could post some events for a very limited number. You couldn’t normally make that work for arena but, because of the pay-per-view, it worked.

“It was strangely like opening a new venue and was an interesting taste of what we were going to have to go through.”

The arena also hosted a Culture Club livestream and was used for filming a Tesco Mobile advert, along with the Strictly Come Dancing and Masked Dancer British TV series, and was utilised for UEFA’s Euro 2020 international football tournament over the summer.

“It was good to have that activity in the building, not because it made money – it covered its costs to a certain extent – but what it did was help us give work to our regular full-timers,” notes Drury. “It allowed us to bring in some contractors and give some of the supply chain some work that they very badly needed. So it was a real motivation for us to do something in the building – to be able to give some work to people that desperately needed it.

“We opened up with boxing on 24 July, which was our first proper event with no social distancing. And then the first proper gig, was McFly in the middle of September. And because we’d had some activity, it allowed us to get back into the swing of things a little bit more quickly. It’s been really good to be back doing shows, and let’s hope we can carry on.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

SSE Arena, Wembley boss on sector’s recovery hopes

SSE Arena, Wembley boss John Drury predicts it could be at least 2024 before the arena business gets back to a “normal” calendar.

The 12,500-capacity London venue’s long-serving VP and general manager tells IQ the multitude of postponements in ’20 and ’21 has inevitably led to complications.

“It’s been a challenge as we come out of something we’ve never experienced before, so everybody has been finding a way around it as best they can,” says Drury. “What it’s done to the diaries, though, is it’s effectively meant that we probably won’t have a normal year until ’24.

“Next year is affected by all the shows that moved from this year into next. And it’s busier, but it’s not a normal year. We’ve seen promoters putting in tours for ’22 and then starting to look into ’23 because they’ve not been able to put together the run of dates that they wanted – and that probably cuts across European dates and beyond as well.”

As a result, projections for a “rammed” 2022 had been downgraded even before the Omicron variant presented fresh cause for concern.

A bunch of shows that we thought were going to happen in ’22 are now going to happen in ’23

‘What we originally saw as ‘2022 is going to be absolutely rammed,’ has changed a little bit into, ‘2022’s busy and a bunch of shows that we thought were going to happen in ’22 are now going to happen in ’23.’ That makes us think that the only time that we’ll get back to any sort of normal looking diary is probably ’24, unless something else happens – another variant comes along or there’s another challenge – but so far, that’s how we’re looking.”

Wembley, which began holding non-socially distanced concerts again in September, is due to round off 2021 with dates by acts including Manic Street Preachers, James + Happy Mondays, The Human League, Nightwish, Il Divo and Madness.

“Back-up dates were held for the spring for most of the shows we’ve got coming up in December,” notes Drury, who says ticket sales are largely in line with expectations.

“Nothing that we put on is doing business that we didn’t expect it to do, which is encouraging,” he suggests. “We just went on sale with a rescheduled K-pop show for Ateez and it flew out, so there’s pent up demand there and I think we’ll see a bit more of that coming our way.

“Long term, we’re not seeing a decline in sales, we’re seeing the same patterns that we used to. What we need to see is what that translates into when we get to the show days, as people get more comfortable with going about their business. But it’s probably on a knife edge because nobody knows what’s going to happen and it just needs something like a new variant to come in and we take another hit.”

Drury adds there is at least a positive legacy to come out of the pandemic where the live music biz is concerned.

“One thing that has been helpful for us as an industry is working together,” he says. “Gradually, we got to the point of the LIVE group being created, and that’s a real bonus because we’ve not had that ability to work together in this way before.

“To be able to put together policies and procedures to lobby government, has been really positive. We were working with our competitors and there wasn’t any point in having secrets because we all wanted the same thing – to get back to business.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.