The Venue’s Venue: Big rooms & big data
Chair: Brian Kabatznick, AEG Facilities (UK)
Jenny Blomqvist, Stockholm Globe (SE)
Adrian Doyle, SSE Belfast (UK)
Anne-Marie Harwood, EAA (UK)
Brandon Lucas, Carbon House (US)
Victoria Matthews, Sema4 Consulting (UK)
Kai Müller, Barclaycard Arena (DE)
ILMC kicked off its inaugural Venue Summit with a first look at the most recent annual reports from the UK’s National Arenas Association (NAA) and European Arenas Association (EAA).
The findings, presented by SEC market research manager Anne-Marie Harwood, showed a 4.2% drop in the number of shows in participating venues – 44 of the associations’ 51 members – and an 8.2% decline in attendance compared to 2015.
Last year was tough for music, explained Harwood – ice-hockey matches and Disney on Ice were the arenas’ top draws, with total attendance of ~2.5m and ~994,000, respectively – with the top-three tours (Adele, Muse and Justin Bieber) being attended by roughly 450,000 people apiece. (That compares to 2015's biggest tour, Take That, which drew crowds of more than half a million in the UK alone.)
Attendance for comedy shows also fell, said Harwood: “The only thing that’s growing is ice hockey!”
AEG Facilities’ Brian Kabatznick then presented the results of a survey of various arenas by ILMC in the run-up to the conference, quizzing the venues on their concern over lack of suitable headliners; artist fees and ticket prices; shortage of skills; production costs; and industry consolidation.
Of those topics, only rising artist fees appeared to be a cause for concern, with 9% of venues saying they were extremely worried, 26% very, 31% slightly and 30% moderately worried.
Both Adrian Doyle of SSE Arena Belfast and Kai Müller of Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg said they don’t believe headliners are in short supply, with Doyle commenting that SSE Arena’s 2017 looks “buoyant” and Müller revealing that 22 new acts played the Barclaycard Arena for the first time last year.
Kabatznick suggested industry consolidation is no longer an issue, as it’s “happening on a weekly basis, so we’ve become accustomed to that.” He added that the growth of AEG and Live Nation “may have benefited our industry, as you can now speak to one or two people to book tours.”
Brandon Lucas, whose Carbonhouse company develops white-label websites for venues, spoke on the recent hacking of coachella.com and underlined the importance of proper website security. “It’s all about redundancies,” he explained. “Most people have a single firewall; we have multiple firewalls. The firewall is the most important thing.”
He added that Carbonhouse-developed websites are targeted by hackers “every single day.” He revealed that, “in most cases, they don’t want the data from your site – in most cases they want to access your site to attack other people.”
Moving on to political developments, Doyle said the UK’s vote to leave the EU – and the subsequent collapse in the value of the pound – had led to increased competition from arenas in euro-using Dublin, where artists can command higher fees.
He said the SSE Arena Belfast had responded with a renewed focus on customer service. Rather than hiring purely based on skills, he explained, “we interview staff on a set of values. If we get the person right, we can train them up. It’s a person industry.”
Despite a strong few years for music, Müller said Barclaycard Arena is also branching out into new formats, such as e-sports and original programming. “We have a League of Legends competition in April,” he said, “which sold 10,000 tickets on the first day – one of our best on-sales for years.”
Jenny Blomqvist of Stockholm Live, which operates the Tele2 Arena, Ericsson Globe, Hovet and Annexet, spoke on the challenges faced by venues that are also home to a sports team. She said “it’s a privilege to have four sports teams” – two football and two ice-hockey squads – at the arenas, but it also makes it difficult to programme other events. “We also have days for qualification, play-offs… sometimes with only a week’s notice,” she commented, “[and] fans are less interested when the teams are playing badly. But we get lots of confirmed events: it’s guaranteed content.”