For most festivals in Europe, 2022 was the first year back after the pandemic. What did it take to survive the last few years, and what lies ahead? Our survey of hundreds of festivals across the continent reveals some fascinating insights.
Festivals are a key part of cultural life across Europe – in some places for more than 50 years. Opportunities to see
multiple bands, hang out with friends, have new experiences, and see various types of art from around the world, they are often the highlight of people’s year.
Yet, the last few years have been extremely tough. Lockdowns across Europe and the ban on live events taking place saw the fields fall silent. Some festivals couldn’t cope, and businesses failed, leaving a hole in cultural life.
Most of those that survived saw their first return this year, although some lucky ones were able to take place in 2021. So, what has it taken for them to get through, what have they learned, and what are the lasting effects of Covid on an industry that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of euros in economic activity across the continent?
To find out, the European Festival Survey asked festivals across Europe to answer questions on topics from ticket pricing and length of festival to concerns in the industry, no–show rates, staffing issues, and the effects of Covid-19 on their businesses and the wider industry.
A TOTAL OF 157 FESTIVALS FROM 29 COUNTRIES ACROSS EUROPE RESPONDED, REFLECTING A BROAD VARIETY OF EVENTS
A total of 157 festivals from 29 countries across Europe responded, reflecting a broad variety of events from very small capacity to those attracting more than 50,000, those taking place in city centres to those on greenfield sites.
What we discovered highlights the enormous impact the pandemic had – not just on the festival businesses themselves but the associated suppliers working with such events, as well as audiences and artists. The survey results also show the effects of financial support from governments as well as the resilience and determination to succeed that is the hallmark of people working in this business.
We’ll delve into the details of the survey results, painting a picture of European festivals’ return after Covid, and we’ll look ahead to some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The big picture
A total of 94% of responding festivals were multi–day events. Most were three (33%) or four (27%) days long, with just 13% coming in at two days, 10% at five days. The average length of a festival was 3.9 days.
So where do these events take place? Some 46% described themselves as city–based festivals and 54% were on greenfield sites. 12% were multi–venue events, taking place across a variety of existing venues and infrastructure.
The average age of a festival that responded to the survey was 19.9 years – highlighting the length of time such events have been a key part of cultural life. However, perhaps it also indicates that being well–established – with long experience, a secure financial footing, and committed audience – was a key factor for surviving the pandemic. Only a handful of respondents were less than five years old.
Of the festivals that responded to the survey, 2% were very small (500–2,500 capacity), 11% were between 2,501–5,000 capacities, 17% could accommodate between 5,001 and 10,000, while the same percentage had 10,001–20,000 capacity. Reflecting a fairly even spread across capacities, a total of 16% of events were between 20,001–30,000–capacity, 15% were 30,001–50,000, and 22% were 50,000 and above.
THE PRICE OF AN AVERAGE DAY TICKET IN 2022 WAS €74.70, WHILE AVERAGE WHOLE-EVENT TICKETS WERE €176.85
There were multiple ways to buy tickets to these events, ranging from whole event passes to single day and others. On average, festivals offered 4.94 categories of tickets. Most festivals had both whole-event (79%) and single-day ticket options (78%), with just 7% offering people the opportunity to come to single shows.
In terms of costs, the price of an average day ticket in 2022 was €74.70, while average whole-event tickets were €176.85. When it comes to getting tickets, there’s good news for younger people, who often make up large numbers of audiences – a large proportion (26%) of festivals offer discounts for this demographic and 20% make it cheaper for students to attend. Only 5% offer discounts for senior citizens, while just 6% offer cheaper tickets for people on lower incomes.
For those looking to save money, 66% of festivals incentivise people to buy early by offering early–bird discounts on tickets, and 29% say they just have one price no matter when you buy. 5% use dynamic ticket pricing.
If money is less of a concern and you’re looking for a premium experience, plenty of festivals have some sort of VIP offer – with 41% providing regular VIP passes and 22% having a premium VIP ticket. 22% have glamping, while 19% don’t provide any kind of VIP treatment.
WITH SO MANY FESTIVALS NOT HAPPENING IN 2021, HALF OF FESTIVALS SAY THEY HAD UP TO 25% OF THEIR TICKETS HELD FROM A PREVIOUS YEAR
Audience travel is a significant contributor to festival emissions, and some events aim to ameliorate this by offering transport solutions with their tickets. Of the people we asked, 15% offer festival shuttle buses, 10% have offers with local bus companies, and 6% have a general local transport offer.
7% give festival goers the option of including a regional train fare, and just 1% have national train fare ticket options. 66% of festivals do not provide transport and ticket bundles at all.
With so many festivals not happening in 2021, half of festivals say they had up to 25% of their tickets held from a previous year; 13% saw between a quarter and a half of their tickets held from an earlier year; while just 5% had almost all (91–99%) of their attendees coming on passes from another year.
How close were festivals to selling out?
Whether or not people kept tickets from another year, the level of ticket sales in 2022 was a mixed bag. Of the respondents, 11% said their sales were “much worse” than 2019 and 25% said they were a “little worse”; 20% said they had the same level of ticket sales as the last time their event took place, while 28% said they were somewhat better and 16% said they were much better than pre–pandemic.
Demonstrating how much people value festivals as social events (and probably the fact that people were spending on average €176.85 on a ticket), no–show rates were low – 70% of respondents said they had less than 5% no-shows. 20% saw between 6–10% of people not turn up and just 9% had 11–20% no-shows.
14% OF FESTIVALS SAID THEY SAW AN INCREASE IN THE PROPORTION OF PEOPLE COMING FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY
Festivals continue to attract people across national borders, with a fifth of festivals drawing between 11% and 20% of their audience from outside their own country. 59% draw less than 10% of their audience from abroad. Interestingly, 5% saw more than half their audience come from abroad.
Perhaps reflecting a pent–up demand for experiences after the lockdowns, 14% of festivals said they saw an increase in the proportion of people coming from another country, while 67% said their proportion of foreign visitors remained the same. 20% saw fewer people come from abroad.
Effects of Covid
Respondents were asked about the effects of Covid–19 on their business, and the responses make for depressing reading, with plenty of comments such as “a disaster” and “a catastrophe.” All describe huge financial impacts, some reflect on the decline in consumer confidence, and many talk about the resulting reduction in available workforce, as people left the industry for other – more secure – jobs. The period also had a major effect on people’s mental health, as noted by a significant number of festival organisers.
Other impacts included the effects of young people getting out of the habit of going to festivals or not having their first experiences – which could affect audience numbers in future.
Yet some festivals were able to put the enforced hiatus to good effect, including the opportunity to review and reframe initiatives and focus on new projects. Others found the pandemic forced them to be more creative whilst others carried out restructures to become more efficient. As one festival put it: “We learned to dance in the rain.” And another said: “Our industry took a huge hit. But we got through it.”
A FIFTH OF FESTIVALS SAID THEY HAD TO CUT BACK OR REDUCED THEIR ACTIVITIES AT THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL AS A RESULT OF THE PANDEMIC
A fifth of festivals said they had to cut back or reduced their activities at this year’s festival as a result of the pandemic. Among the changes were things such as programming fewer artists, reduction in festival decoration, fewer ‘nice to have’ elements or other items that enhance the personality of a festival, or reducing the size of the festival site. Others were forced to cut back on sustainability measures because things such as reusable cups are more expensive than single-use. Some stopped offering free tickets for media.
But as one festival noted: “Fortunately, the cuts were hardly noticeable to the audience.”
What seems to have been key to the survival of these important cultural events was government support programmes. Some 80% of festivals say they had some form of government help. Without it, there’s a strong argument that many of these events wouldn’t have survived. And for the 20% that did make it through without any assistance, it’s testament to their resilience.
Perhaps as a result, 42% say they feel “well prepared” for another pandemic wave (let’s hope not!) and 25% feel “a little prepared.” Just 11% feel “not really prepared” and 4% say they are “unprepared.” Showing just how unpredictable the pandemic situation has been, 19% say they just don’t know.
So, what measures did festivals take to survive the pandemic? 56% say they relied on ticket roll– over, while most had some sort of state support systems, even if they didn’t cover all the losses.
34% ran alternative events, 24% engaged in lobbying and campaigning, while 10% saw fans spend money on merchandise.
HALF OF FESTIVALS SAID THEY MADE “BIG” CHANGES TO THEIR EVENTS IN 2022, AND 57% PLAN TO NEXT YEAR
Half of festivals said they made “big” changes to their events in 2022, and 57% plan to next year – perhaps reflecting a more optimistic outlook for 2023.
Some of the changes festivals made in 2022 included marketing or programming initiatives to encourage younger festivalgoers to come back to events, while many said they improved their sustainability measures or introduced Covid–safe measures. Going cashless was a popular change. Some city–centre festivals said they changed some of their venues. In positive news, some festivals increased capacity and others added days to the event.
Among the changes festivals plan to make to their 2023 editions is an increased focus on gender equality on the bill – as referred to by a large number of those who made changes. There was also a strong focus on increasing diversity and on improvements to accessibility for disabled people. Others said they were aiming to be more sustainable, while some plan to increase the size of their festival site and add more stages or wider food and drinks choices or even increase capacity.
The well-documented problem of staff shortages across the live music business was felt at many events – 53% of respondents said they were short staffed. Of these, 69% were 1–25% down on staffing levels, while 25% said they faced shortages of 26–50%. And this is continuing to be a worry for festival organisers looking to 2023.
Almost half (46%) said they were worried about staffing next year.
We asked what other challenges were ahead, and rising production costs – with their potential to affect profits or force ticket prices to increase at a time of inflation – was the top concern, with 90% of festivals saying this was a major issue for them.
Of course, one major inflationary driver is rising energy bills for everyone, driven up in most places by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, it’s not surprising that 35% of festivals feel that political outlook is likely to figure in the 2023 festival season.
Sticking with costs, artist fees were a worry for 63% of respondents, while 51% said they felt “selling tickets” would rank highly as a challenge.
EUROPEAN FESTIVALS ARE VERY CONSCIOUS OF THE IMPORTANT ROLE THEY CAN PLAY IN REDUCING THEIR IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Sustainability is a key issue for festivals. Attracting thousands of people; building production and staging; providing food and drink; and more requires significant energy–use, waste, travel emissions, and other effects on the planet.
European festivals are very conscious of the important role they can play in reducing their impact on the environment – a
massive 86% plan to be a climate neutral event. Of these, 42% expect to be climate neutral within three to five years and 46% say they will be by 2030. Impressively, 4% of festivals say they already are and 8% expect to be within two years.
There are many initiatives aiming to help festivals and their audiences be more environmentally friendly.
Diversity of line–ups has been a focus of the industry for some time. A 2019 survey of UK festivalgoers showed that 29% of people felt there wasn’t enough diversity on line–ups, and 29% of people said a gender–balanced bill played a role in their festival selection. The good news was that 49% of people thought that line–up diversity had improved over the years.
While many festivals are taking their own measures to address this issue, there are a variety of formal initiatives aimed at creating gender–balanced line–ups at festivals. Among them are Keychange, a global network and movement that aims to reach full gender equality across the music business, and UK– based major company Festival Republic’s Rebalance, which supports female musicians.
Our survey shows that in 2022, the average proportion of female artists on bills was 32%. There’s still some way to go when it comes to achieving gender equality across line–ups, but as the results of cross–border talent programme ESNS Exchange shows, things are looking up. The top 11 acts that saw the most bookings through the scheme were majority female or female–fronted.
In terms of the number of women working in the festival industry, the picture looks much better. Our survey shows that on average, 52% of staff were female.
The European Festival Survey was originally published as part of the European Festival Report (EFR), a packed annual summary of the biggest trends, happenings, and initiatives on the continent’s festival scene.
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