From January to December, the good and the bad
We've been through a lot this year. Live events have returned but not without significant challenges that we're still trying to navigate. We can't say 2022 will be any easier, but considering how far we've come and what we've been able to accomplish, we're confident it's going to be an amazing year.
The UK left the EU as promised in January. Since then, the UK government and the rest of Europe have been bickering like an old married couple. International touring is a significant part of any musician’s success and the challenges that have arisen because of Brexit largely remain unresolved. While visas aren’t necessarily a problem for many US artists, there are still issues surrounding cabotage and hiring local support staff (be it UK or EU talent) that now face additional restrictions when crossing borders.
Just over a year into the pandemic and the US decided it was time to get back in action. Large sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and NASCAR’s Daytona 500, welcomed back fans to the stadiums. While Super Bowl LV saw the lowest attendance in history at just 25,000 people, it was still one of the first large gatherings to take place since COVID was officially declared a pandemic. Capacity was restricted to just under 40% and 30% respectively.
Despite the knowledge that it would come with a significant number of challenges, we saw the likes of Live Nation share some optimism. Bob Roux, president of US Concerts, shared his thoughts that “All signs point to 2021 getting back to the summer concert season we all know and love.” He went on to say that because vaccinations were ramping up, full-capacity shows were on the horizon. There was a lot of confidence within the industry that by summer, the end of the pandemic would be in sight (Oh, how naive we were.).
With sports arenas and stadiums already welcoming back fans, live music venues finally got their turn. April saw more and more shuttered venues across the country reopening with limited capacity. Restrictions were largely determined at city and state levels but many states were hopeful for a full, unrestricted reopening by mid-June.
May brought a flurry of summer festival announcements. With nearly all festivals canceled in 2020 and the remaining uncertainty surrounding talent availability, restrictions and capacity expectations, organizers were hesitant to make announcements too early. As a result, we saw summer festivals sell out in record time. Annual festivals like BottleRock, ACL and Outside Lands (to name a few), festivals that attract thousands and hundreds of thousands every year, reportedly sold out in hours.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG), a program approved by Congress to provide $16.1 billion in financial relief for independent businesses in the live entertainment industry, failed to deliver. Applications were submitted for the grants in April and as of June there was still very little movement on the distribution of funds - less than 100 businesses had received any support. Despite venues being allowed to reopen, many smaller, independently owned and operated venues didn’t have the financial resources to welcome patrons back.
After more than a little controversy, the first international sporting competition, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, began on July 23rd. Due to rising cases in Japan, international travelers were barred from entering the country and spectators were banned from attending a majority of the events. The athletes and their crew were required to submit to a 14 day quarantine upon arrival and were very limited in their movements for the duration of their time in Tokyo. Luckily, the Games were a success.
The Q2 report released by Live Nation once again brought some desperately needed good news to the live event industry. The huge growth reported was still below 2019 levels, but considering much of the world remained in varying stages of lockdown, the outlook for the next half of 2021 was promising. According to the report, the number of concerts scheduled was already 2x the 2019 levels and tours were on the verge of stretching into 2024 to meet demand.
Weather events abounded in September. From wildfires to hurricanes, events fell victim to something other than COVID. The rescheduled September dates for Bonnaroo presented a different level of risk, aka hurricane exposure, which was unanticipated at that time of year. On the heels of Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Nicholas made landfall and the weather forecast for Imagine Music Festival was deemed too hazardous to carry on. The wildfires out west resulted in several artists to push for postponements or relocations, namely Phish and Eric Church (okay that last one was August, but late August).
Independent venues took a huge hit over the course of the pandemic. Many faced the possibility of being permanently closed, which would be devastating to the music world, so the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) stepped in for support. Their campaign #SaveOurStages launched earlier in the year to raise awareness of the importance of these grassroots venues. Their efforts led the way to obtaining $16 billion in federal relief funding. Their role was significant in saving many of these venues from shutting for good, after which they received a much deserved honor at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.
Astroworld turned tragic and shocked the live music industry and the world. The Houston festival, one of those that sold out in less than an hour back in May, made global headlines after a crowd surge left 10 dead. The incident sparked conversations around event safety and the importance of having qualified staff, not to mention enough staff, to accommodate such large crowds. It led to the forming of a “Concert Safety Task Force” in Texas to discuss actions that can be taken to help avoid such situations in the future.
Major international labels such as Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, along with a handful of other independent labels, came together to sign a “Music Climate Pact” pledging their support for “actionable climate targets”. It’s become a hot topic of discussion in the industry that has set goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Big names in the industry have backed the mission for the last couple of months, including Coldplay who became one of the first high-profile acts to commit to such goals.
And that’s a wrap on 2021.
Our predictions for 2022:
- We’ve learned a lot (and not just COVID related things) from pilot and test events in 2021. Organizers have tested the boundaries and discovered new ways to plan their events with more confidence. New practices will continue to develop and evolve surrounding safety and general operations in the months to come.
- New technology will continue to rule events. Tools that improve the fan experience, reduce unnecessary contact and minimize environmental impact will become the new focus for organizers in 2022 and beyond.
- Outdoor events and those that feature a variety of talent will continue to be a more popular choice for fans and organizers alike.
- Clearly the pandemic isn’t going anywhere and it could be a while before the industry completely recovers from the staff shortage. Training new talent is going to be a crucial part to hosting a successful event in 2022.
- International touring will slowly make a comeback, but local events will likely still dominate for some time. Travel restrictions and country lockdowns continue to be a problem which present significant challenges when it comes to planning a tour at home, let alone abroad.
- Fans are hungrier than ever to return to live entertainment, demand for tickets will continue to be insane!
- And finally, we feel compelled to mention insurance. Getting insurance has always been one of the most important things on an event to-do list; the pandemic brought it to organizers’ attention. Going forward, we are going to see significant enhancements in the event insurance space with digital tools (hint: eve) and policies that match event risk (hint: also eve).