Leading promoters in the UK live industry say they’re experiencing mixed fortunes following the full reopening in England on 19 July.
As the sector launches into recovery mode, executives are reporting high levels of pent-up demand for many shows.
Denis Desmond, chairman of Live Nation UK and Ireland, says: “Artists, promoters, production and marketing teams are champing at the bit and ready to meet the demands.
“Thankfully our festivals happened, and we were very pleased with sales which proves that the demand for live music is still going strong. Now we’re moving into touring season and we have a busy schedule lined up for the rest of the year and into 2022.”
As the live sector prepares for what looks to be its busiest year ever from 1 January, promoters say the UK’s next challenge will be keeping up with demand given that much of the supply chain has yet to recover.
“We’ve got 18 months of touring coming up across the UK and all of the suppliers are going to be hugely stretched,” says Richard Buck, CEO of TEG MJR, the UK subsidiary of Sydney-based live entertainment and ticketing firm TEG.
“ARTISTS, PROMOTERS, PRODUCTION AND MARKETING TEAMS ARE CHAMPING AT THE BIT AND READY TO MEET THE DEMANDS”
Desmond agrees, adding: “Going forward there are still challenges including issues with the supply chain and many talented specialists have been forced to leave the sector, plus there remain complexities for touring in Europe post-Brexit.”
And as an autumn period of touring kicks off, the ongoing spectre of Covid-19 is a continued source of uncertainty for promoters who say the rate of no-shows at concerts is far higher than usual.
Buck reports “anywhere up to 50% no-shows, especially on postponed shows. It’s a little less if the show is taking place closer to the time when it was announced but at sell-out shows, there has been significant no-attendance”.
Buck believes the no-shows are down to an “amalgamation of low confidence, forgotten tickets and isolating” and predicts three to six months for the levels of attendance to go back to what they were pre-pandemic.
UK-based promoter and venue operator DHP Family is also experiencing high rates of no-shows and says it’s increasingly hard to predict attendance post-Freedom Day.
“[Attendance] varies by artist and how many times the show has been rescheduled etc,” says DHP’s director of live, Anton Lockwood.
“[THERE HAS BEEN] ANYWHERE UP TO 50% NO-SHOWS, ESPECIALLY ON POSTPONED SHOWS”
“We’ve seen 20–30% on bigger shows. Typically smaller shows are less predictable; it can be 100% attendance or, if it’s the kind of show where the artist has been relying on their friends and family to turn up, it can be up to 75%. It’s all over the place.”
While refund requests are reportedly very low, most events are currently offering a refund to ticket holders who can’t attend due to a Covid-related illness on a discretionary basis.
“If it’s a rescheduled show, you’re entitled to a refund, the end,” says DHP’s Lockwood. “But there’s a debate about if you’ve got Covid, whether you’re entitled to a refund or we should just give a refund out of kindness.”
Fortunately, DHP has also not seen huge numbers of refund requests so far: “It’s not caused a problem but it is a worry because if you settle the show with the artist and then some of the refunds come in, you’ve got a problem.”
Buck says TEG MJR is being “lenient” when it comes to refunds but they are dealing with it on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re being a lot more liberal with refunds because we want people to buy in confidence when the market opens which is a slight double-edged sword,” he explains.
“2022 AND 2023 SALES HAVE BEEN DISPROPORTIONATELY STRONG… PROBABLY 20-25% UP ON FORECAST”
“Previously, if you had a sold-out show it was sold out. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to settle on the other side because you’ve got refunds post-event,” Buck concludes.
But while Covid continues to cause operational complexities, Buck says the increase in spend-per-head at concerts is “dramatically up” versus pre-Covid and ticket sales for new shows have soared.
“2022 and 2023 sales have been disproportionately strong,” he says, “Probably 20-25% up on forecast.”
And with the threat of last-minute venue closures due to staff being ‘pinged’ (told to self-isolate by the NHS app) or contracting the disease, alongside similar worries with touring parties, many say recovery feels like a gradual process.
“We don’t know whether the shows are going to happen or not, whether the artist is going to be able to travel or they end up catching Covid,” says Lockwood.
“People assume it is all back to normal but everything is just much harder. It’s great to be back, don’t get me wrong, but the uncertainties have ramped up.”
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