Where We Are Now
There’s no doubt about it...there has been a devastating impact on events over the last year and the state of the industry is still very much up in the air. Certain countries have had a better grasp on controlling the situation and as a result, have been partying like...it’s 2019. New Zealand just hosted the biggest in-person concert since COVID struck which attracted around 20,000 fans. We don’t know about you, but this gave us serious FOMO and a little bit of anxiety seeing that many people packed together.
For most of the world, there has been a very noticeable absence of events, meaning no shows for promoters to promote, no tickets to sell, no venues for booking agents to book and certainly no stages to build. This is our new reality. With the uncertainty surrounding the return of events, many individuals have had to give up their dream jobs in the live entertainment world and find work elsewhere. Most production teams have been struggling to keep their heads above water over the last year with many having to furlough staff or completely shut down as they have been unable to find work. Managing Director at Plasa, Peter Heath has expressed concerns regarding the future state of these teams saying, “we will lose the skillset that has taken years to build up.” So what does this mean for those skilled production teams or venue staff when events come back into full swing?
There’s more hope for 2021!
Some of the leaders in the live events industry have spoken out about the likely return of events later this year. Joe Berchtold, president at Live Nation, predicts that large outdoor shows will return to the U.S. by summer. Another mogul in the industry, AEG Chairman and CEO Jay Marciano, is anticipating a return for fall 2021. For this to become a reality, organizers will have to be very diligent about their reopening procedures.
Discussions around the logistics of operations at event facilities are essential for a safe comeback and new recovery strategies are needed for the shows to go on. Organizers have had to regroup and rethink their strategies, laying stepping stones for larger events to reopen. Since last July, we have seen professional sports leagues across the U.S. such as the MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL taking a phased reopening approach, with team bubbles and shortened seasons. New contingency plans and protocols have changed the way sports are being played these days and we have seen a number of familiar trends while planning event logistics, which can ultimately predict how it will look for the foreseeable future. The first wave of in-person events will set standards and get the ball (or puck) rolling for the industry to come back as a whole.
In a post-COVID era, an even greater investment in health and safety measures will be required for any type of event to return. It will be crucial to prioritize safety to ensure fans feel comfortable attending the event and want to come back again. H&S plans are being altered and fine tuned: implementing social distancing, reducing capacity (if any), masks, increasing medical team presence and even on-site testing.
Testing 1, 2, 3
The industry is embracing the idea of rapid antigen testing, a cost effective way to propel the reopening of events successfully and safely. Appropriate medical response plans will have to be in place as well as modifying spaces being used to adhere to the new rules. In addition, up to date training for staff on health protocols and issues surrounding the virus will be necessary. A handful of testing pilot projects, like this one in Austria, have been carried out to see how effective testing will be at large scale events moving forward.
So fresh and so clean
With the flow of fans, staff, athletes or artists in and out of venues, thorough cleaning will be a high priority. The increased frequency and intensity of cleaning, larger crews will be needed to ensure cleaning is up to the required standards and an appropriate amount of sanitizing stations will be installed within the venue. Event cleaning services will have their work cut out for them and definitely be picking up more jobs left, right and center.
Controlling the masses
A major rethink in crowd management will be paramount for a safe return. Limiting the number of attendees, monitoring gatherings in common places or blocking off seats within a stadium are solutions that have been implemented so far and have seen some success. There will be no shortage of needs for extra barriers or fencing to support these measures, which is good news for all of those suppliers across the industry.
Repopulating the events industry
As events begin to return, an overall demand for talent in the industry will skyrocket to get back on its feet. With stricter protocols being implemented, policing them accordingly will be of utmost importance. Security and medical personnel will be in considerable demand and require more staff onsite. Security will have more tasks to carry out and medical teams will have to be on hand to monitor athletes, staff, coaches, artists and fans a little more closely. Many venues are no strangers to in-seat food and beverage deliveries, but we are likely going to see a growing appeal to this luxury, meaning more staff to help deliver these orders. New strategies such as implementing separate entries and exits to monitor ingress and egress accordingly or one way traffic in common areas will all be part of a new COVID safe industry plan.
Tech to the Rescue
Another emerging trend for 2021 will be to digitize all event interactions, from ticketing, to contactless payments and fan engagement. Live events will be adapting and bringing more digital solutions to the forefront, allowing our entire event experience to be carried out by a quick scan or push of a button. Live Nation’s Berchtold believes a “greater focus on digital ticketing and touchless features at events" will be a necessary step to mitigate risks moving forward. This current situation has reminded us all that fans are the ultimate heartbeat of any event. They bring the energy that fires up the performers or athletes and play such an important role in the overall atmosphere of the show, which is why there has been a heavy focus on safe ways to get fans back to fill the empty arenas as safely as possible.
Cash is a thing of the past
Contactless payments will be highly prized for the foreseeable future as more and more organizers are searching for ways to support the new safety protocols. The increase in popularity and importance for contactless technologies will promote more hygienic solutions, manage crowds and reduce in person contacts. No excuses for forgetting your wallet now!
Just tap it
Since health officials have heavily advised to avoid handling cash, RFID wristbands and other similar solutions could become the new normal. Some of these technologies even include options for fan interaction to keep them entertained and engaged (with each other and with organizers), something that will be seriously limited with new seating and social distancing rules. The wristbands will optimize the event experience in a number of ways, from social media interactions, managing attendee entry and gaining valuable attendee insights.
Ticketing systems have seen little action lately, so how will these platforms make adjustments for a quick and successful recovery? New strategies to consider will include limiting the number of tickets sold, eliminating paper tickets altogether, blocking off certain seating sections, use of social distancing seating maps, solutions for group tickets and collecting appropriate information to support track and trace efforts. Ticketing companies will be preparing for all possibilities, including the idea of a system that supports proof of a vaccination or a negative test in order to attend an event. So, integrating third party health information companies with ticketing systems could become something we see more of in the future.
Sticking to the schedule
Another welcome change that could become more prevalent includes staggered entry times and locations to manage the ingress of fans to have better control over crowds. Avoiding the typical rush of eager event-goers could relieve a lot of headaches all the while adhering to the stricter safety measures. Last October, the Good Day Sunshine Musical Festival in Western Australia adopted an interesting new concept, separating fans into designated quarters around the stage to limit interactions.
The revival of production teams
The creators behind it all, the production teams, easily have one of the biggest responsibilities when it comes to live entertainment. With more events navigating towards the outdoors, it is likely that there will be a greater demand for all types of production needs.
Owners will have to come to terms with great losses in their staff and start from scratch in some instances. Finding the talent and experienced staff they once had could be difficult and it could take some time to get back to full capacity, considering hiring new staff means more training, eating into some valuable time. Finding the teams to create the show could be more challenging, but these teams have proven to be resilient and able to rebound from difficult situations, so we have hope that these times will be no different.
“ We cannot just have anyone coming into our facilities and welding trusses. We are hanging huge metal structures above peoples’ heads. Our workers require certifications and have to go through extensive testing. Probably one out of every 20 people we test is actually capable of coming to work for us. ... My point is that there are a lot of very talented people that have worked for us and I just can’t hang on to some of them. They have switched industries and I know a portion of them won’t be back.”
The growing fad: going green
In recent years, there has been a lot of work throughout the industry to reduce the environmental impact of festivals and other live events. Sustainability could become a common theme in 2021 in a more prominent way and have a huge impact on the future of events. Catering and bar services have been revamping their protocols, serving pre packaged foods, getting locally sourced products or providing one-time use biodegradable dishware. Shifting focus to produce more environmentally and COVID friendly products have changed the way these companies work, reducing costs for organizers and will be changing events altogether. Finding solutions where items are recycled or repurposed could be the new trend for event organizers and even more attractive and valuable to fans.
Overall, we'll see a number of changes throughout the industry to ensure that we can get back to live events sooner rather than later. With the success of smaller in-person events paving the way, we will slowly gain that confidence to attend large scale events as we once knew them. There’s a little more optimism surrounding the comeback of events these days, and we can hopefully expect some of the most anticipated sporting events of the year to return to some capacity (all eyes on Super Bowl LV scheduled for February 7). There is also a glimmer of hope for some of the major festivals to make a return, likely by summer or fall of this year (but we will have to keep a close watch on these). There’s a long road to recovery for the industry, but we’re already seeing considerable progress and a bright light at the end of the very long, very dark tunnel.