Music Venue Trust hopeful of closer link with Oak View Group over levy

Music Venue Trust chief executive Mark Davyd is hopeful of an improved relationship with Oak View Group following the furore generated by comments from Co-op Live's former chief.

It was a tumultuous week for the Manchester venue, which saw its grand opening delayed due to safety concerns. Added to that, Gary Roden, in an interview with the BBC, made a series of controversial comments regarding grassroots music venues and challenged the rationale for a levy paid by large venues to protect small clubs and bars around the country. He characterised conversations about the levy as “‘Give me a quid’” and described the campaign as “quite aggressive”. He also contended that many small venues are “poorly run”.

The furore surrounding those comments led to a blast of publicity for the levy campaign – proposed by the Music Venue Trust. Ultimately, Los Angeles-headquartered Oak View Group’s CEO and president of international spoke with a more conciliatory tone when discussing the grassroots scene later in the week.

Davyd told that he believes Roden’s opposition to the levy in both his public utterances and private conversations were driven by an uninformed view of the project and the momentum it has picked up over the last decade. However, he is hopeful that a closer relationship can now be forged between the two parties.

Davyd said: “We were encouraged by the statements that ultimately came out from Jessica Koravos and Tim Lieweke. I would say that Oak View Group’s view, essentially, is that they want to get Co-op Live open and then have discussions about the levy.

“The reality is that the levy is coming – the question is not what an individual thinks. The only matter in question is whether it’s voluntary or enforced by government.”

OVG “an outlier” in levy discussions

Davyd said he has “sympathy” for Roden and that he believes the former Co-op Live chief has a much deeper attachment to grassroots music than was expressed in the BBC interview.

Davyd added: “I spoke to Gary twice about the levy in December 2023 and March of this year. Sadly, the company position has always been that they don’t think the grassroots music scene is their problem.

“That position makes them an outlier. We are having discussions with all major arenas and operators. I think that Oak View Group — which is headquartered abroad — Co-op Live and Gary are maybe not quite aware that these discussions are well under way. They have been taking place since 2018, and we had four years of research and preparation even before that.

“Even the accusation of “aggression” maybe comes from an incorrect assumption that this is new and has come from out of the blue. But these are long-established conversations.”

The grassroots music venue levy would impose a £1 charge on every ticket sold at larger venues and raise an estimated £20m per year. Davyd contends that a levy mandated by government would seek to raise much more and thus prove to be more expensive for the large venues and operators.

Davyd said: “The options available are either that we come together and do it ourselves or the next government will look at the collapse of grassroots music, compare that to the revenues generated by large venues and say that they want a solution. But they’ll want more – they won’t just legislate for £20m a year.”

Backing for Co-op Live

Despite all the controversy of last week, Davyd is hopeful that Co-op Live will soon open and prove a major success for the UK music scene.

He said: “I want Co-op Live to open – safely – as soon as possible and attract thousands of fans and offer amazing experiences to them. I’ve done pretty much every role in music, from grassroots to major venues. This new venue is a great idea, and we need places like that. I simply want them to do that in a way assists everyone and secures the future of live music.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but once the venue is open everyone will forget about that.”

Davyd discussed the levy and the current grassroots music scene in a panel session at the recent TheTicketingBusiness Forum. Read more here