Despite all the hardships the live entertainment industry endured throughout the COVID-19 era, it’s safe to say we learned some valuable lessons. The pandemic opened our eyes to what the industry is really made of and the direct impact live experiences have on the world around us. It made us consider what live events mean for fans, for professionals and for communities. COVID forced the industry to overcome many obstacles, but along with the suffering came a lot of insights that prove not only that live entertainment is crucial to the world’s economies but also that some things need to change

1. Independent venues are the backbone of live entertainment

There is no doubt that independent venues are the foundation of live entertainment. Without them, many entertainers performing  on the big stages wouldn’t be where they are today. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to remind us how important they really are in keeping the industry alive.

We witnessed grassroots venues struggling during worldwide shutdowns, but they aren’t completely out of the woods yet - some are still fighting to get back on their feet. Unable to host shows, they were left without the means to pay rent, staff salaries or the general upkeep of the venue itself, among other things. It was a devastating blow to the entire live industry and it quickly became obvious how crucial it was to help keep these venues alive.

Grassroots venues are where artists get their start and they pave the way for future talents, so with a number of them having to shut doors for good, there will be  a significant impact on live entertainment in the future. Fewer venues (300 venues already permanently shut by early 2021) means fewer stages for artists to showcase their talents. We’ve become more aware of the important role that they play and it’s clear that local stages need all the support that they can get to ensure the industry continues to exist.

2. Local economies thrive from live events

Consider the last time you traveled for an event - did you grab a meal or drinks before you headed to the game or show? Did you stay the night at a hotel or take public transport to the venue? Maybe you bought a band T-shirt or a jersey?

According to a 2018 study, for every $1 spent at a venue, it resulted in another $12 for surrounding businesses. Multiply this amount by the almost 2 million events put on every year in the US; this results in billions of dollars poured into local economies as people pay for accommodations, transportation, retail and food when they attend an event. The industry has a massive impact (both directly and indirectly) by supporting sales, jobs, workers’ wages and overall GDP.

In 2019, US reports show that non-local attendee spending supported around 913,000 jobs and contributed $32.6B at off-site establishments like accommodations, shops and local transport. The breakdown below indicates where the spending for 2019 concerts and live entertainment by out-of-towners was made:

pie chart indicating visitor spending

To no one's surprise, the implementation of travel bans during COVID severely hindered economic growth as fewer performers, attendees and production teams were able to cross borders for events. Even when some events were given the green light, there was still some reluctance from people to travel, further depriving these cities from that extra bit of spending money from fans.

The 2019 data is strong evidence that live shows can significantly increase the spending in a city, proving that touring doesn't only have a positive impact on artists, but for a community as well. The total economic impact of the concerts and live entertainment industry nationwide that year was an impressive $132.6B ($6.5B and $12.3B in Texas and California respectively), indicating that the revival of shows, sporting events, conferences and festivals will only mean good things for host cities.

3. There’s nothing like a live event

Having been forced to tune into virtual concerts and other hybrid events during the pandemic, it reminded us that there is nothing quite like the live experience. They were a temporary fix when we were stuck in the confines of our own homes and looking for any sort of interaction or entertainment. We yearn for human contact, and while virtual events were a great alternative when gatherings were prohibited, they will never completely replace the live experience. Even though it proved that organizations in the industry and its workers are extremely resilient and adapted incredibly to the major setbacks they faced, the digital experiences simply cannot live up to in-person events.

While some events had positive experiences from going hybrid or even completely virtual, it was clear that others relied more on in-person networking and simply weren’t as successful. As a number of live events have announced their return this year and tickets have been selling in record time, it proves that it’s the in-person experience that people want so badly. There are more opportunities coming up to attend a live concert, festival or sports game as we roll into spring ‘22 and fans are jumping at the chance to be a part of it.

4. The effects on the environment are substantial

From using private planes during months of touring, to food production and waste, live events have considerable short and long-term impacts on the environment. While live events were basically nonexistent during COVID, Mother Nature could take a breath of fresh air - literally. Ultimately, the pause on live events was a win for the environment, with less infrastructure to cause disruptions, less local travel from visitors and transport to venues and even less food waste from large events.

Long before COVID was around, American festival-goers were producing an average of 53,000 tons of waste annually. Once things came to a halt in the festival world, the amount of waste produced from such events all but disappeared. We were well aware of the impact events had on the environment, but the pandemic helped solidify the facts.

The growing issue of climate change has forced individuals to actively shift their ways to become more sustainable while planning or participating in an event (like Live Nation’s ‘Green Nation’ program). Everyone is becoming a bit more mindful of the issues and it’s about making the small changes today to achieve the long-term goals, like eliminating single use plastics and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. As we now have a better picture of the drastic impact all of these activities can have, adopting new ‘green’ strategies will be the only way forward

5. Never underestimate how crucial insurance is

Two years of live events being canceled and postponed on the regular pushed us to consider the importance of protecting financial investments. Event professionals have come to realize that focusing on insurance should be a priority when planning their event and it should never be overlooked.

We learned how important it is to understand an insurance policy and know exactly what it does and doesn’t cover. Far too many were surprised to find out their policies didn’t cover them against the threat of COVID and were left footing the bill. We’re not only talking about communicable diseases here either. Extreme weather events and wildfires are also often found in the exclusions section of a standard policy and 2021 caught several off guard.

From the somewhat expected (climate change), to the completely unexpected (war), things in our world are constantly evolving and avoiding potential catastrophes requires constant re-evaluation of your needs when it comes to insurance. It’s never wise to assume your policy is good enough and will cover everything that comes your way. Being diligent about buying the insurance that’s right for you could be the difference between running a successful event and being in deep financial troubles.

It only took a pandemic

From the significant role of grassroots venues to the importance of insurance, there’s a lot that we have walked away with having learned from live events being canceled for the majority of the last two years. Understanding these lessons will help event professionals and fans be more conscious about the decisions they make and how they will impact the industry. As events make their comeback, we can all play a part in helping the industry thrive.