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Save Our Stages funding leaves out majority of live sector

The US live entertainment industry has criticised the new $15bn (£11bn/€12bn) Save Our Stages aid package, claiming the funding fails to include the majority of the hard-hit sector.

Last month, US Congress agreed to terms on a $900bn COVID-19 Relief Bill, which includes the $15bn going to independent music venues, theatres and cultural institutions.

While such support will provide a lifeline for a portion of the industry, the bill does not grant aid to independent contractors and other businesses that fail to meet certain criteria.

“Save Our Stages was like landing at the beach in Omaha, but we still have to get to Paris. It does not cover the majority of our industry,” said Michael Strickland, owner of Bandit Lites, a Tennessee-based lighting provider.

Strickland has been advocating for the industry since the pandemic hit in March and testified on Capitol Hill at a hearing entitled ‘Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on the Live Event Entertainment Industry’ in December.

Strickland told Pollstar: “The independent venues, promoters and managers make up only a portion of the live industry. The majority of live event operators, promoters, talent reps and production companies don’t qualify for the Save Our Stages aid.”

The bill denies aid to independent contractors as well as businesses that are either publicly traded, have offices in more than one country, have 500 or more employees, received 10 per cent or more of their funding from the federal government, or have offices in more than ten states.

A “partial list” of companies and vocations part of the live ecosystem not eligible for Save Our Stages funding compiled by Strickland, include: “Artists, Performers and Musicians, Sound, Lighting, Video, Pyrotechnics, Lasers, Caterers, Rigging, Trucking, Busing, Staging, Wardrobe, Designers, Dancers, Festivals, Tours, Corporate Shows, Trade Shows, Conventions, Speakers, TV Studios and Stations, Radio Stations, Film, Theme Parks and attractions, Labour Companies, Freelance workers, Circuses, Fairs, Rodeos, Water Shows, Freight, Power, Radio Stations, Manufacturers, and many others.”

Jeanne Moran, a spokesperson for the Save Live Events Now (#SLEN) coalition, said: “For many in the live events industry, this is a band-aid on a large cut. It helps to cover a portion of the cut, but doesn’t stop the bleeding.”

SLEN includes Live Nation, AEG Presents, WME, CAA, UTA, Paradigm and Feld Entertainment among others.

Moran added: “Millions of live event workers are either directly employed or affiliated with medium to small-sized venues that are not independently operated. This bill does not provide financial relief for those venues – and major employers – which essentially punishes workers based on where they work.”

However, it is a “step in the right direction” according to Brad Mayne, president and chief executive of the International Association of Venue Managers, which represents some 1,200 venues, including amphitheatres, fairgrounds, universities, stadiums, arenas and performing arts theatres.

He said: “We appreciate that members of Congress have recognised the importance of venues. We’re grateful to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) for spearheading and moving that forward and really grateful that we finally got members of Congress to recognise that public venues needed assistance as well.”

The initiative was first proposed by NIVA and subsequently introduced in July as a bi-partisan bill in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Cornyn and in the House of Representatives by Peter Welch and Roger Williams.

The relief bill marks the first significant federal aid package during the pandemic and global crisis since April.

Image: Martin Fisch / CC BY 2.0 / Edited for size