The Pollstar and VenuesNow 2020 State of the Industry Survey, the largest live industry study of its kind, yielded a treasure trove of data, including critical insights into the state of the industry, a road map for recovery, a mandate for greater diversity and far more. The results of the full survey are available to all subscribers on our websites.
Here we examine responses, gathered between Aug. 23 and Sept. 7, from the venue sector, the largest group of respondents, comprising more than 24% of the survey’s 1,359 participants. The venue business offers valuable insights into the live business because as clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums, and festivals return, so do promoters, agents, managers, artists and, most important to all, fans.
As VenuesNow documents day in and day out, manifest changes are afoot. The first documented ticketed show following March’s mandatory closures came on May 18 in Fort Smith, Ark., when Travis McCready of Bishop Gunn performed at TempleLive. Since then, we’ve seen the return of drive-ins, outdoor shows and festivals; the rise of livestreaming from venues; clubs in some international markets reopening; and the return of sporting events, including more than 21,000 fans who cheered on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as well as the NBA, WNBA, MLB and NHL postseasons.
This while innovation and entrepreneurship have hit the market full force along with new product launches, a growing consensus for safety protocols and growing revenue opportunities. Seven months ago, how many of us thought to incorporate advanced sanitization technologies, livestreaming platforms, socially distanced ticketing algorithms, rapid testing or cashless payment systems into our operations? Or to aggressively pursue new hiring practices toward increasing diversity or converting parking areas to drive-ins or employ rapid COVID-19 testing? Going forward, many of these innovations, and others not yet to market, will become part and parcel of our reshaped industry.
It is critical then, in this transitional time, that we collect, process and share as much actionable data with our live industry partners as possible. This toward hastening our return and ensuring that our industry not only comes back but comes back better. And that as soon as is humanly possible, we are connecting millions upon millions of fans with legions of artists and events facilitating peak lifetime experiences — which is our industry’s core mission and what we do best.
There are three primary sections to our 2020 State of the Industry Survey. One tranche looks at how the live industry is managing during the pandemic and economic crisis, the second examines what the comeback will look like, and the third delves into social issues such as inclusivity and diversity in our industry in the wake of racial strife affecting our country.
While we still find ourselves in immensely challenging times, the good news is that the venue side of the business, according to this survey, is bullish on its return, with a majority predicting the industry will be back in full swing in 2021. Most are ready and willing to safely return to work now. They favor sharing increased expenses across the industry and have taken a multitiered approach to sustaining their businesses. Additionally, there is a consensus on the need for greater diversity and inclusivity. These are, quantitatively and qualitatively, promising signs for us all.
It’s encouraging that over half of all venue respondents, 55.6%, believe the industry will return to full capacity in 2021 as compared to 25.8% who say the comeback won’t happen until 2022. When breaking down 2021 by quarters, most peg it to later in the year: 27.8% said the industry will return in Q3; followed by 14.6% who put the comeback in Q4; 12.2% said Q2; while most have already written off Q1 with just 1% of the tally. This is undergirded by the 18.5% who candidly admit they “have no idea” when the industry will return.
It is further encouraging that the survey asked only when the industry would return to “full capacity,” when certainly the live business will be considerably further along than it is currently. This as we have seen a slow but steady proliferation of events including drive-in concerts and tours, increased socially distanced performances, the return of all major professional sports and better technologies including livestreams, more rapid and inexpensive testing, new sanitization methods, touchless transactions as well as political advocacy, new businesses and widespread industry philanthropy. We are decidedly on a path to comeback as our businesses are adapting and see an end point on the horizon.
The venues side of the business is even more bullish than the rest of the survey in which five percent more, some 32%, believe the business will Not return until 2022.
When do you believe our industry will be back at full capacity?
- Q1 2021 .99% .99%
- Q2 2021 14.57% 14.57%
- Q3 2021 27.81% 27.81%
- Q4 2021 12.25% 12.25%
- Not until 2022 25.83% 25.83%
- I have no idea 18.54% 18.54%
Would you personally embark on a tour or work a show if it were to occur now?
- Yes 15.56 % 15.56 %
- Yes, but only as long as health guidelines are followed 49.34% 49.34%
- No 27.48% 27.48%
- Unsure 7.62% 7.62%
One venue owner wasn’t sure how long they could last with the reduced business. “No doubt it’s better than being closed and it will help us bridge the gap,” they wrote, “but it would not be sustainable long-term.”
The 56 venue comments to this question mostly conclude operating at partial capacities is not a long-term solution. For those working larger events, these diminished models are even less viable: “I am a midsize concert venue,” one venue rep wrote. “At full capacity, I would struggle. Anything less than full and I cannot make the math work to justify an event.”
Would running at less than full capacity work for your business?
- YES 13.25 % 13.25 %
- No 29.14% 29.14%
- Somewhat 56.95% 56.95%
- Not applicable 0.66% 0.66%
The vast majority of venue respondents, roughly 90%, are more flexible in this business environment about having employees come into the workplace. Nearly half, 49.3%, agree that “Employees should be given the freedom to work from home more often if possible,” and 29.8% said, “Employees should be in the office/workplace whenever possible” and 11.6% said, “Employees should be allowed to work from home as they wish.” Only 9.3% said, “Employees should always be physically present in the office/workplace.” Flexibility is essential to our industry’s comeback.
What is your attitude toward returning to the workplace, once safe to
- Employees should always be physically present in the office/workplace 9.27% 9.27%
- Employees should be in the office/workplace whenever possible 29.80% 29.80%
- Employees should be given the freedom to work from home more often if possible 49.34% 49.34%
- Employees should be allowed to work from home as they wish 11.59% 11.59%
Underlying these encouraging signs for our industry’s return, however, is, to a substantial degree, worry. Some 70% of venue respondents expressed “concern about their company’s ability to survive COVID-19.” When those 70% were asked how long their company can remain in business, 32.8 percent, the largest group within the venue segment, said they could last another 10-12 months if “business conditions do not improve.” The second largest response, 29.4%, gave themselves 4-6 months. When that latter figure is added to those who answered 1-3 months, 11.44%, the survey indicates that nearly a third, or 32% of all venue respondents, feel they could be out of business in 6 months or less. This while 68% of all venue respondents said they had lost between 76-100% of their business due to the pandemic.
If yes, how much longer do you feel your company can remain in business if conditions do not improve?
- 1 to 3 months 11.44% 11.44%
- 4-6 months 26.94% 26.94%
- 7-9 months 12.55% 12.55%
- 10-12 months 32.84% 32.84%
- Not applicable 16.24% 16.24%
When asked to specify their concerns, most checked more than one: the biggest worry is that “shows will be cost prohibitive to produce” which 71.5% of people working at venues picked as their greatest concern. Considering the costs of new safety and sanitization investments, these concerns are to some degree warranted. This was followed by 64.9% who worry “fans will be afraid of large gatherings,” 41.9% who fear fans will be afraid of all gatherings, and 40% who think fans won’t be able to afford tickets. Additionally 38.4% and 35.1%, respectively, are concerned that “large indoor shows are done” and “stadium shows and large festivals of 50K or more are over.” And significantly, 26.8% believe general admission shows are done.
The comment section for this question provides a number of insights. One respondent said, “It’s a combination of a lot of these options,” while another mentioned that the “the mix of anti-mask folks in public and alcohol will make enforcing difficult” while yet another noted that, “The ‘experience’ as we know it will be forever changed.”
What are your biggest concerns
about the future of live entertainment?
- Stadium shows and large festivals of 50,000 people or more are over 35.10% 35.10%
- Large indoor shows are done 38.41% 38.41%
- Fans will not be able to afford tickets 40.07% 40.07%
- Fans will be afraid of large gatherings 64.90% 64.90%
- Fans will be afraid of small gatherings 15.23% 15.23%
- Fans will be afraid of all gatherings 42.05% 42.05%
- Shows will be cost-prohibitive to produce 71.52% 71.52%
- General admission will be over 26.82% 26.82%
- Other 7.95% 7.95%
With all of these changes come expenses (see the aforementioned No. 1 concern of production costs) so it is gratifying to see the vast majority believe expenses and financial burdens for increased safety and security should be shared among all the stakeholders in both the larger survey and when segmented for venues. An overwhelming 86.4% said a combination of promoters, artist/ management, venues, fans and municipalities should share in these costs, while all of these individual buckets received less than 3%. These costs will likely include reduced capacities and attendances, greater sanitization, retrained and repositioned staff, testing, cashless payments and screening attendees.
Who should bear MOST of the increased expenses related to safety and security going forward?
- Promoters 2.31% 2.31%
- Management / artists 2.97% 2.97%
- Venues 2.97% 2.97%
- Municipalities 2.97% 2.97%
- Fans 2.31% 2.31%
- Combination of these 86.47% 86.47%
In terms of actionable data, it is valuable to look specifically at how the venue industry believes it will be changed when business returns. The majority agree on four key areas of change: Increased sanitization protocols will be in place (95.7%), cashless/touchless technologies will increase (87.7%), more screening of attendees (78.4%) and reduced capacities/social distancing (68.4%). About a third, or 32.6%, believe more VIP/private areas will come online.
In terms of weathering these challenges, 39% of the venue respondents said they had taken on “significant debt” since the shuttering of the industry, while 61% have not. Some 52% of venue companies applied for some form of government assistance such as the Payroll Protection Program while 38.3% have not.
One commenter said their strategy is raising capital while another “deferred major renovations and maintenance” and one explained several strategies: “Rent reduction; government wage subsidy for full-time employees; government wage subsidy for new role.”
How will shows be different
when they return?
- Advent of cashless/touchless technology 87.71% 87.71%
- Increased screening of attendees 78.41% 78.41%
- Significantly reduced capacities/social distancing 68.44% 68.44%
- Increased sanitization protocols 95.68% 95.68%
- More VIP/private areas 32.56% 32.56%
Meanwhile many have already undertaken workforce changes. The results show 58.3% of venue businesses instituting furloughs, 53.3% reducing hours, 52% altering hiring plans, 46.3% making layoffs and 44% reducing salaries. In fact, almost 6.9% of the venue respondents said they had lost their job and 15.8% had been furloughed, while 47% had either lost hours and/or wages.
When asked how they were personally impacted 6.9% of the venue respondents said they lost their job, 15.8% were furloughed and 47% had either lost hours and/or wages. 30.3% of venue respondents, however, said they had no financial changes. This led to 45.7% of respondents saying they are considering leaving the live entertainment industry, though 53.6 said, “No, this is what I do,” and only 0.7% have already embarked on a new career.
Which of these workforce changes apply to your business?
- Furloughs 58.28% 58.28%
- Layoffs 46.36% 46.36%
- Reduction of work hours 53.31% 53.31%
- Salary reduction 44.04% 44.04%
- Changes to future hiring 51.99% 51.99%
- No workforce changes 8.28% 8.28%
- Not applicable .99% .99%
- Other 4.64% 4.64%
For those who have received assistance 49.2% said they got some form of unemployment benefits, 36.8% deferred their bills, 23.5% received low-interest loans and 17.4% used forbearance for a loan or mortgage. Additionally, nearly 26% checked “other” and named a variety of financial programs including non-profit grants and loans, refinancing, compensation from FEMA and CARES Act Funding, which four venue businesses said they received.
What kind of financial strategies or assistance programs have you used
- Forbearance on loan or mortgage 17.36% 17.36%
- Low interests loans 23.55% 23.55%
- Deferred bills 36.78% 36.78%
- Sale of assets or property 7.02% 7.02%
- Unemployment benefits 49.17% 49.17%
- Other 25.62% 25.62%
Demographics, Activism, Diversity And Inclusivity
In demographic terms, venue respondents’ ages broke down as follows: 30.7% fell between the ages of 45-54; 26.7% between 35-44; 20.4% between 55-64; and 13.5% between 25-34. Smaller batches fell between 65-74 (6.3%) and 18-24 (2%).
By average household income, venue respondents are relatively well-off: 18.7% said they earned more than $200K, and the exact same amount earned between $100K-$124.999K. Smaller groups earned between $125K-$150K (15.7%), $75K-99K (12.3%), $50K to $74K (9.3%), $150K-174K (8.3%) $175K-$199K (8%) and under $50K at 9%.
The current challenges have led to greater activism in the business with more than three-quarters of respondents, 77.3%, saying they have “engaged in or supported political advocacy” on behalf of the venue business. Uniformly, 97% say either the government isn’t doing enough for the live business (67.8%) or could do a better job (29.2%), which should come as no surprise considering the fraught political climate we find ourselves in.
These changes have led to greater activism in the business with three quarter of respondents, 75.2%, saying they don’t believe the government has “given proper consideration to the plight of the sports and live entertainment industry as compared to other impacted industries such as airlines, hotels, restaurants/retail.” Consequently, 67.1% say they are “engaged in or supported political advocacy on behalf of [their] sector of the business.” .
While there is clearly gender inequality in the live business as there are in other industries, we have made significant strides with 41.6% of venue respondents identifying as female as compared to 58.1% male, which is better than the overall survey’s industry average in which 32.3% identified as female and 67.6% male.
Racial diversity, unfortunately, is far less equitable with 87.1% of the venue respondents identifying as white, nearly the same as other parts of the business. The comments to this question also spoke to the difficulties of quantifying race, with many identifying in various racial mixtures such as “European/Slavik” Iraqi, Palestinian” “European mix with 1/5 Jewish” “Asian/white” “Chamorro (Pacific Islander)” and “Mexican,” with one comment perhaps summing it up best: “I am in a mosh pit of ethnicities.”
What is your gender?
- Male 58.09% 58.09%
- Female 41.58% 41.58%
- Nonbinary 0.33% 0.33%
The industry is well-aware of the lack of racial diversity in its ranks with 53% of venue businesses saying the “industry can do better toward achieving racial/cultural diversity” and 9.7% saying the industry has done a “terrible job.” Still, 25.5% think the industry “has done well increasing racial/ cultural diversity” and 11.7% say the industry has “made great strides towards having racial/cultural diversity.”
In the wake of the year’s violence against African Americans and the subsequent protests, the industry, including venues, agencies, promoters and production, pledged to increase diversity and change in hiring practices, which well-intentioned, in this economy it still remains to be seen if there’s follow through. The data, however, with nearly 2/3 recognizing the need for racial equity, is promising.
Which of these describes racial/cultural diversity in our industry?
- We have made great strides towards having racial/cultural diversity 11.74% 11.74%
- We have done well increasing racial/cultural diversity 25.50% 25.50%
- The industry can do better towards achieving racial/cultural diversity 53.02% 53.02%
- We have done a terrible job at increasing racial/cultural diversity 9.73% 9.73%
In terms of gender diversity, 44.3% said the industry can do better toward achieving gender diversity and 4% said the industry has done a “terrible job,” though 29.7% think the industry has done well “increasing gender diversity,” and another 22% say we have made “great strides towards having gender diversity.”
When asked if they had ever witnessed or themselves been discriminated against, 43% said yes as compared to 57.1% who said they had not. When segmenting the data to women respondents, the amount saying they have witnessed or been discriminated against rises twenty-one percentage points to 64.6%. And when segmenting the data to those who self-identify as Black Americans, though a smaller sample size, fully 71% said they had witnessed or been subject to discrimination.
Women accounted for nearly half, of the 145 comments for the entire survey. A self-described “female Tour Manager for a Grammy Award winning artist” said she was “discriminated against as a woman and bullied.” Another said, “Sexism is still rampant since I started in the industry 40 years ago.”
And a self-described “gay man” said he had been “degraded, humiliated and held back because of my sexuality.”
We can and must do better.
Which of these describes gender diversity in our industry?
- We have made great strides towards having gender diversity 22.00% 22.00%
- We have done well increasing gender diversity 29.67% 29.67%
- The industry can do better towards achieving gender diversity 44.33% 44.33%
- We have done a terrible job at increasing gender diversity 4.00% 4.00%
Interestingly, those surveyed put their own venue company, in terms of diversity and inclusivity, ahead of the overall industry. Fully 42% said their company is diverse with only 31.4% saying their company “can do better” followed by 20.8% who say they are “somewhat diverse” and only 3.3% who say we are not diverse. Overall 67% believe the live entertainment industry has made significant positive progress in terms of diversity and inclusivity in the past five years” and 33% disagree with that statement.
In terms of the social unrest currently affecting our society, 58.8% are “concerned” that it may impact live events while 41.2% are not worried. In a highly fraught and unnecessarily divided election year, the unrest may very well increase, something that could exacerbate a return. About 32% said the lack of live shows and sporting events, where so much social gathering transpires, contributed to social unrest, data that underscores the importance of the live sector returning.
How do you think your own company stacks up in terms of inclusivity and diversity?
- We are inclusive and diverse 42.05% 42.05%
- We are somewhat inclusive and diverse 20.86% 20.86%
- We can do better in being inclusive and diverse 31.46% 31.46%
- We are not diverse or inclusive 3.31% 3.31%
- Not applicable 2.32% 2.32%
Finally, there is a general ambivalence toward one of the mainstays of the pandemic-era: Livestreaming. Only 4% believe streaming shows will “continue to be a major way fans consume live music after shows return,” while 51% think it “won’t be a major factor.” The second highest respondents, 45% percent believe the industry will return with hybrid of live and livestreamed events.
What are your thoughts on streaming concerts?
- They were a nice diversion during the shutdown but won’t be a major factor once live shows return 50.99% 50.99%
- I believe that we’ll see a hybrid of streaming and in-person experiences for fans 45.03% 45.03%
- I believe streaming shows will continue to be a major way fans consume live music even after in-person shows return 3.97% 3.97%
As immensely challenging as this year is, there is much to be encouraged by in our 2020 State of the Industry Survey: The business sees paths to its return; the industry is ready and able to get back to work if and when safety measures are implemented; there is willingness to share added financial burdens; financial hardships are being mitigated; our industry is actively engaged in fighting for assistance; and the business is aware of the lack of diversity and how it is holding our business back and working to make changes.
Perhaps the most trenchant comment from the survey came in response to the question, “What are your biggest concerns about the future of live entertainment?” One respondent succinctly noted that, “Life is sad without us.” Indeed, but by all indications that is changing even as you read this.