Spanish rock band Vetusta Morla performs at WiZink Center during a concert Dec. 27. (Getty Images)

Spain first in Europe to open clubs, but big venues get little guidance

Spain is the first European country to announce an official plan for reviving the country’s cultural industry, and it’s a slow burner in four stages.

After an initial preparatory phase that will last until May 11, indoor venues up to 90 capacity will be allowed to host a maximum of 30 people. Open-air events will be allowed to host up to 200 people, as long as they’re seated and ensure that restrictions on distance are kept.

Every two weeks, capacities will increase, to 50 people indoors and 400 outdoors from May 25, which is when cinemas, theaters, exhibition halls and other public spaces will open, albeit at one-third of their usual capacity. Their capacity will be increased to 50% come June 8, which is when indoor capacities go up to 80, and outdoor events will be allowed to host 800 safely distanced people.

Spain has been hit hard by the pandemic and is nearing 25,000 deaths, but the number of daily deaths attributed to the virus remained below 300 for the second day in a row Friday. The government-imposed restrictions on public and economic life caused Spain’s gross domestic product to shrink by a historic 5.2% in the first quarter. It is forecast to contract 9.2% for the full year, according to the country’s economy minister, Nadia Calviño.

Making events viable under such conditions is a challenge, to say the least,  and there’s no government guidance for midsize and large venues. VenuesNow reached out to Manuel Saucedo, general manager of the 17,400-capacity WiZink Center in the Spanish capital of Madrid, who confirmed that the Spanish government hasn’t made any clear decisions about massive public events yet.

“It is possible that the sports events may start without the public,” Saucedo said, adding that “the last and really bad news is that the public will be banned from venues and stadiums until there is a vaccine against COVID-19. It’s still not confirmed, but that’s what the highest sports authority in Spain just said.”

Should the government follow through with this, it would kill all of the country’s concert business in 2020, but some professionals working in larger venues are still hoping that they’ll also be allowed to gradually increase capacities if the four-phase plan turns out a success.

WiZink Center is reacting with different initiatives, Saucedo said. “For instance, we are working on a project with paid-for concert streams, in contrast to the free online performances taking place worldwide that may harm this industry,” he said.

According to Saucedo, “paying for streams, making use of the latest technologies available, might be an interesting alternative in the short term, and also may change the future of live events.” He envisioned a mix of live and streaming going forward, but reemphasized that “the recent trend of concerts being streamed via the internet for free could be a great danger for the industry in the future.”

He said WiZink Center was in the last technical stage of getting the project online so that it could start to book shows. “Many artists are interested already,” Saucedo said.

“It is important that these shows are performed live and at the venue, because it is not just a TV broadcast,” he said. “We will try to convey the greatness of a live experience and transform all of the feelings through new perspectives and sensations, for example by playing with the location of the cameras, which the fan will be able to choose; by creating virtual lounges so that a group of friends can meet and talk about the concert; and even meet and greets with artists — all presented in a high-quality, secure broadcast.”

Saucedo said his team was looking into the amount of spectators that could legally fit inside the venue. WiZink Center’s size offers ample opportunity to keep everyone distanced while seated. Saucedo wants to try to bring concerts back as soon as possible, seeing that all of the small-capacity shows that’ll be happening across the reopening phase this month are hardly going to be economically viable.

He has already designed an all-new security strategy for when all of this is over, which includes “the disinfection of staff and the venue, access protocols, gradual exits to avoid audience clusters, food and drinks at the seats to avoid contact at the bars, and more that will allow us to offer our services with the maximum security and safety.”