Latest COVID surge has caused a spike in no-shows and cancellations, live sector survey confirms


December 20, 2021

UK live music trade group LIVE again called for urgent financial support from the government on Friday after a new survey of the sector revealed that up to 50% audience no-shows and widespread cancellations are now occurring as a result of the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

Although the UK government is yet to put the country back into full-on lockdown to constrain the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, ministers and officials have basically been telling people to restrict their social activities. As a result, the live and night-time sectors argue, this has created a quasi or pseudo-lockdown, where clubs and venues are allowed to open, but everyone is being told to stay at home.

Meanwhile, with COVID cases spiking once again, an increasing number of shows are being cancelled as performers or crew members test positive for the virus. So, even where an audience is still eager to attend, some shows still can’t go ahead.

A snap survey of the sector conducted by LIVE revealed that 70% of organisers were forced to cancel at least some of the shows they were involved in last week. And the cancellations look likely to extend well into the new year, with 50% of venues having already cancelled shows due to take place in January or February as a result of COVID.

Meanwhile, for those shows going ahead, ticket sales have slumped as COVID-caused uncertainty has returned, and with repeated speculation that a full lockdown will be announced shortly after Christmas.

Plus for gigs taking place now, there is a significant no-show rate, as ticket-buyers choose not to attend, either because they are quarantining or because they are responding to government messaging to cut social activity. And, of course, when shows operate at lower-than-expected capacity – in some cases as low as 50% – that impacts on all-important bar sales, which can result in shows operating at a loss overall.

Commenting on those stats, LIVE CEO Greg Parmley says: “These statistics paint a bleak picture for the sector which is why it’s absolutely vital that the government provides additional support immediately. We need urgent assistance to avoid the live music industry running into the ground, forcing venues to shut up shop and creating a Christmas of misery with job losses, and freelancers and artists without work”.

“We also face a double-whammy as next year’s sales take a nosedive”, he adds, “meaning organisers do not have the cash needed to cover soaring costs as they struggle to stay afloat while operating at a loss”.

Among other things, LIVE is calling for short-term financial aid for the sector, plus for previous COVID-related tax relief schemes – mainly in relation to VAT and business rates – to be extended. It is also asking that the government-backed cancellation insurance scheme be reviewed, amid claims that the kind of coverage currently offered is far too narrow.

Those calls have been backed by UK Music, which adds that recording studios are also seeing a spike in cancellations as a result of the latest COVID surge. The existing Culture Recovery Fund should be extended and adapted to deal with the new challenges, UK Music argues, plus new furlough and freelancer support schemes should be urgently introduced.

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin adds: “While the government is not formally cancelling events, the nature of the messaging is appearing to advise people not to attend them. This messaging is clearly harming audience confidence at live music events and is tantamount to a lockdown in all but name for our sector, yet without any of the necessary financial support being made available to see us through this latest crisis”.

“Public health concerns and the safety of music workers and consumers are always paramount to the music industry”, he goes on, “this is why our sector has spent the past 22 months adjusting to the threat of COVID-19 and ensuring our operational and working practices are as safe as possible to mitigate against the challenge of this highly transmissible virus. Through initiatives like the Events Research Programme, we have collaboratively worked with the government to achieve the successful reopening of live events in 2021 and instil confidence in audiences as part of our post-pandemic recovery”.

“The mitigations we have established as an industry mean that forced closure should not be necessary, as we have established protocols that enable us to operate safely”, he continues, before concluding: “It is vital that we have the financial support that we need to survive this winter, so we can ultimately return to play a positive role in our nation’s recovery from this pandemic”.

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