As COVID-19 measures are being lifted across the world, the question of how fans and audiences will respond to venues and events reopening largely remains to be seen.
Live events were among some of the first businesses to close due to COVID-19 and will be some of the last to reopen, as countries list mass gatherings in the final phases of their roadmaps.
While several surveys have indicated that audiences would be hesitant to return immediately to live events, the packed stadiums at New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa games earlier this month tell another story.
Eden Park in Auckland welcomed a full house of 43,000 rugby fans in the largest crowd the Blues have hosted in 15 years in its win over the Wellington Hurricanes.
Several other nations have plans to reopen events with different capacity limits in place next month, with the likes of the Netherlands removing limits on seated indoor and outdoor events on July 1, as long as fans book in advance and undergo health checks.
We asked three prominent names from within the ticketing and events sector to answer the following question…
Will the COVID-19 outbreak impact the appeal of future live events in the long-term?
Greg Turner, founder and managing director of Shenzhen High Performance Event Management
Greg Turner has successfully led increasingly complex organisations in building, financing and presenting experiences. Based in China since 2000, he has previously held senior leadership positions in both the live event and venue management industries. He has dealt extensively with various levels of government and has vast experience working outside China’s 1st tier cities.
No… but the government’s slow support for the industry might.
From the first diagnosed case, China has been at the vanguard of the COVID pandemic and subsequent recovery. After a rocky start, strong government action helped bring a relatively swift end to the virus spread. At the same time, the government put clear steps in place for a controlled and regimented process to get the economy back up and running as soon as safely possible. In early March, just a couple weeks after the country was shut down, the first nonessential factories and offices were reopening. But it has been a long, tough road to bring the full economy back up. And the live event industry was left essentially hanging on the vine.
The government is the ultimate arbiter on the recovery pace for the live event industry. With a word they can shut the doors and cancel the shows. Xi Jinping did just this back in late March when theatres and sports were making some tentative first steps to reopen. Upon hearing that some cinemas had already opened their doors, he questioned the logic when the country was still struggling to get basic services opened. “If you want to watch a movie, just watch it online!” Xi remarked during a visit to Hangzhou in late March. This threw a wet blanket over the reopening of cinemas, theatres and sports events.
In late May, the government gave a limited green light to reopening theatres and performance halls. They outlined various guidelines including maximum capacity of 30%. Sports events received the green light a few week later. The CBA will be restarting on June 20th, with all games to be played in two cities with no audience attending.
As for the eventual return of fans, the people are ready. China’s new middle class and affluent consumers have grown exponentially over the past decade, now reaching nearly 400 million people. The difficulties faced by their parents and grandparents over the past 30 years of China’s development remain fresh in their minds. They are eager to use their growing economic power to improve their lives and explore new experiences like travel and live events. Any drop in spending can be attributed more to the general slow down in the world economy rather than any lingering effect of the Covid pandemic.
However, people will also look to the government on guidance for when it’s safe to return to large scale live events. While the government has given the OK for limited reopening, it hasn’t been the full throttled support seen for other consumer activities like shopping, dining and to some degree, domestic travel.
The recent flare up in Beijing has sent a chill through the industry. The live event industry in the city was shut immediately and those of us in the rest of the country now face this grim reminder on how quickly government action can close down any opening progress. Undoubtably this also weighs on the minds of our fans and audience.
Richard Dyer, director of Skiddle
Richard Dyer co-founded Skiddle in 2001, initially as a ‘what’s on’ guide, out of frustration for there not being enough online information for events. In 2006, Skiddle started selling tickets, and sells for big names such as Reading & Leeds, Creamfields, and Warehouse Project.
Consumer confidence in mass gatherings has been shaken, there’s no doubt about that, but for how much longer into the future that will continue, it’s hard to say.
What we are seeing right now from our customers is a huge desire to get back out there, into the nation’s live music venues, concert arenas and festival fields.
In a recent Skiddle survey of over 200,000 customers, over 65% of respondents said that they are planning to attend live music events within one month of lockdown lifting. 75% of respondents said they would be happy to attend a socially distanced music event in 2020.
If this is the case in the short-term, when concern about the COVID-19 outbreak is at its highest, then the long-term outlook looks positive.
Still, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. We’re cautiously confident about the future, but we must work hard to make sure events and venues are safe and we need the backing of government in order to do so.
Skiddle is about to launch an exciting new campaign to put pressure on the government to answer key questions on when live is coming back, so keep an eye out on social media for more.
Geoff Jones, chief executive of TEG
Geoff is the chief executive of TEG, Asia Pacific’s leading ticketing, live entertainment and data analytics business. His association with the company began in 2007 when he was appointed CEO of Ticketek. He spent three years aggressively growing Ticketek’s market share, partnerships and ticketing technology innovation.
TEG recently asked 1,000 My Ticketek members in Australia to reveal their attitudes towards live entertainment and sport, three months after the Australian Government banned live gatherings in response to COVID-19.
The findings proved what we already know: for us humans, the appeal of live remains timeless. Ticketek members share an almost unanimous belief in the importance of live music to our way of life with 96% of members saying that it is either very important or somewhat important, closely followed by performing arts (94%) and sport (90%).
It backs up my conviction that despite the short-term setbacks that COVID-19 has created for our industry, live’s enduring appeal will grow rather than diminish once this pandemic has passed. TEG believes that the live experience is a fundamental human need – and all the data bears that out. We are social animals, we crave connection, and we thrive on rituals.
The call to gather and sing, support our heroes, cheer victories, cry over defeats, and be wowed and inspired by spectacle and performance is perhaps as old as we are. As tragic and consequential as COVID-19 is, it is not going to change any of that.
Last month TEG asked 5,000 of our Ticketek Insider fans to names their favourite concert of all time. Eight of them chose The Beatles’ first World Tour in 1964; proof, if it were needed, that that live experience lays down memories that last a lifetime.
During COVID, I have watched some of the great efforts at live-streamed concerts. But seeing your heroes on stage “IRL” remains an unbeatable experience, and one that has grown ever more precious in the digital age.
There’s the staging, the sound, the visuals, the lighting and the thousands of things that go into making a major live show that can never recreated in any studio. There’s the thrill of the artists’ actual presence and that other key ingredient which creates buzz – the fans themselves.
Most singers will tell you that it is a live audience that truly elevates their performance; that often it is the fans who make the show, singing along in unison, and interacting with the artist. The same is true for our sporting heroes.
It is the roar of their supporters as they enter the arena and do battle that fires them up and can spur them on to greatness. Even as a lifelong rugby tragic, I have struggled to watch Australia’s National Rugby League stars on TV doing battle in empty, cavernous, silent stadia.
It is a great joy to see that some States have begun to allow fans back in. Bringing back fans in a sensible, gradual way will bring back jobs to our industry. Some fans will be more wary than others and it will take time.
For now, TEG is working closely with our competitors and with governments in all our markets to make the live experience COVIDSafe for the public, performers, athletes and staff alike.
That is our short-to-medium term mission. Safety is priority no.1 and we will be nimble and flexible as virus trends change. Longer term, TEG remains a huge believer in the power of live.
So, will the COVID-19 outbreak impact the appeal of future live events in the long-term? No. But right now, it is reminding us all of what we are missing, because we all know that life is better live.