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Europe Divided: Looking At The New Status Quo As Festivals Vie For Fans

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Europe Divided: Looking At The New Status Quo As Festivals Vie For Fans

The mantra among Europe’s festival organizers has shifted from “there’s room for everyone” to “there’s room for specific types of events.” While boutique events still seem to have ideas to make their businesses work, the mid-sized market increasingly relies on partnerships with the industry’s biggest players. Pollstar takes a look at the new status quo.
Quantifying the overall worth of the European festival market is difficult. The only live events association that has so far attempted to survey its members is Yourope, which represents nearly 100 festivals, from boutique events such as Switzerland’s Baloise Session to the continent’s biggest festivals, including Rock im Park, Wacken and Lollapalooza Berlin in Germany, Primavera Sound (Spain), Rock Werchter (Belgium), Openair Frauenfeld (Switzerland) and Sziget (Hungary).
The variety of events also shows in their annual turnover. In Yourope’s most recent member survey, around 20 percent reported an annual turnover of less than €1 million (approximately $1.1 million), while 19 percent reported a turnover between €1 million and €2.5 million ($2.8 million). Twenty-five percent of respondents described annual turnover between €2.5 and €5 million ($5.7 million). 
The survey’s top end is divided into segments of €5-7.5 million ($8.5 million) annual turnover (12 percent of respondents), €7.5-10 million ($11.3 million; 8 percent), €10-12.5 million ($14.2 million; 2 percent), €12.5-15 million ($17 million; 2 percent), €15-17.5 million ($19.8 million; 4 percent) and more than €20 million ($22.7 million; 6 percent).  

Rock am Ring

Rock am RingRock am RingThe biggest events, like Rock am Ring, rely on the biggest names.
The submitted results indicate the combined revenue of Yourope’s members for the 2018 festival season amounted to €480 million ($543.8 million).Yourope’s member festivals have increased the number of tickets sold since 2014, but their rate of growth has decreased. In another annual survey of members, Yourope asks what negatively impacted ticket sales for that given year. In 2018, 58 percent answered “competition.” This marked a shift from previous years, when “lack of headliners” was the most cited negative impact on sales. 
The development is significant, as European promoters long said there was room for everyone. Stuart Galbraith, CEO of UK promoter Kilimanjaro Live, summed up the state of Europe’s festival industry at Pollstar Live! earlier this month during the “International Festivals: Juicing Up a Mature Marketplace” panel. 
The marketplace is buoyant, with expansion occurring in many territories, he explained, but the proliferation of international brands makes it harder for smaller, local festivals to start. According to Galbraith, the current market offers two options to new entrants: “You either start by paying a headliner a shitload of money or start from scratch and grow organically.”
Galbraith’s panel concluded that industry juggernauts aren’t going anywhere, because they can compensate one event’s bad year with another’s good year. At the same time, space exists for boutique events, which cater to audiences offput by larger gatherings. These smaller festivals center their unique experiences, not their music alone, in their marketing. Therefore, they rely less on major bookings than larger events. 
It’s the middle market that’s having a tough time, with “lots of festivals coming along and either going bankrupt ahead of time or after the event,” according to Galbraith. The promoter concluded “there is still room for growth, but it has to be small and boutique.”Analyzing the history of European festivals offers answers about how the market hit this saturation point so quickly.
The number of European festivals has grown since the 1970s. The 1990 Schengen Convention, which supplemented the 1985 Schengen Agreement, abolished many border controls and implemented common visa policy, enabling Europeans to travel the continent more freely and increasing the proliferation of European festivals further. As Yourope data indicates, another significant increase in the number of events occurred after 2010. 
This coincided with the emergence of streaming, which massively changed listening habits. “Streaming is driving real-time development of artists,” said John Reid, Live Nation Europe’s president of concerts, during a Pollstar Live! session. Gone are “the old days of waiting six months for some licensee somewhere in the world to put your record out.” Records now drop nearly globally at once, generating demand for artists simultaneously across the world. Moreover, listeners now have access to more music and genres than ever, which makes them want to see more artists live.
At about the same time streaming became mainstream, the emergence of Europe’s many low-cost airlines made short trips affordable. “It is now possible – and not that expensive – to go surfing in Biarritz in the morning, to have meetings in London in the afternoon and to attend a show in Paris or Brussels in the evening,” said Clotaire Buche, co-founder of Paris-based agency and management company Junzi Arts.
Cheaper airfare undoubtedly fueled the emergence of the economy of experience emerged. Younger generations want to go on adventures that allow them to share experiences others haven’t yet had. The continent’s promoters realized that festivals can be places to achieve that and launched more events, even outside the summer months. The ensuing competition has not only started to impact the festivals’ ticket sales but also those of the traditional touring business.
Festivals used to be open-air events taking place between June and August. In recent years, however, many indoor and multi-venue events joined the fray, extending the festival period from mid-May to mid-September. Other festivals use snow in winter as a selling point. As WME’s Tony Goldring pointed out at Pollstar Live!, Europe’s current festival boom is great, but has also cannibalized the traditional touring business to some extent. That development will, again, affect industry giants less than mid-sized independents, which is why hardly a month goes by without another independent promoter being swallowed up by a behemoth.

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