ON ICE FOR NOW: A lone skater takes to the ice at Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals. The NHL suspended its season March 12. (Getty Images)
In what would once have been an unthinkable turn of events, the plug has officially been pulled by the NBA, NHL, March Madness, MLB spring training and virtually all of March for sports and live entertainment events. And travel, so essential to our business, is being heavily curtailed from Europe and elsewhere and discouraged domestically.
The ripple effect is stunning. On the music front, not only are artists and their extended teams impacted, but cancellations, postponements, or simply waiting for more news before making a decision impacts vendors like staging, sound, light, transportation and video companies, bus and truck drivers, tour personnel like tour managers and production managers, travel agencies and all the people they do business with. Many venues are facing the double whammy of not only lost touring content but also sports tenants and/or NCAA events, all of which hurts ticket takers, ushers, concessions workers, security pros, and the myriad others who come to work to make the magic happen.
It’s like nothing this industry, indeed our modern society, has ever faced. SARS, which hit in 2001 and never impacted the live industry like this, does not really compare in its limited scope or manifestations. In fact, the Rolling Stones headlined a benefit concert in 2003, a mass gathering of record-setting proportions held at Toronto’s Downsview Park that July 30 with a stellar lineup that also featured Justin Timberlake, Rush, the Flaming Lips, the Isley Brothers, the Guess Who and AC/DC.
While there surely will be COVID-19-related concerts for the public good held at some point, likely of a global nature, possibly on the level of Live Aid, nobody’s talking about that now, at least publicly. The conversation is more about how to present events without fans, conferences without face-to-face contact, the total antithesis of why we, as an industry, have these live events and conferences in the first place. As we learned in the wake of 9/11 in the stunned silence that followed, the human connection and shared experiences are vital and indispensable and ultimately will be what heals the world.
Even as a barometer, the current situation transcends the fallout from the 2007-08 global economic crisis spurred on by the collapse of the housing market, the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of 1929. Many lost their livelihoods, their homes and, live music, for some, was a luxury they couldn’t afford. The industry experienced long-simmering pushback on ticket prices in general, and the 2009-10 concert season came to be known as The Great Slump.
But this is something very different. It’s a public health crisis limited in who it threatens, but the sheer numbers it can potentially impact could threaten our entire society. It is in no one’s interest to put anyone’s health at risk, and this industry has acted in an incredibly responsible manner in putting public safety far ahead of profits and heeding the advice of health experts. While some may still believe that the cancellations and media-induced near panic are an overreaction, most seemed reconciled to the fact that social distancing is the correct course of action. Social distancing and live events are diametrically opposed, and this is an industry that tends to err on the side of caution and safety.
More importantly, when not advised or ordered how to proceed by public officials, municipalities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or any other part of the federal government, the bold proceed in a direction steered by ethics and moral obligation, putting safety ahead of the severe financial implications, as we’ve seen play out from leaders on the sports and touring business front. This is admirable, and where the bold go, others follow. People crave clarity and decisive action, and that is what we are seeing from the private sector leaders in our industry.
Buses and trucks that were set to go out in April and will now stay parked are generally booked for August and September. Venue avails that appear unexpectedly in March do not suddenly reappear in the fall. The whole scenario is complicated to the extreme in the U.S., immensely more so on the global level. Make no mistake, phones are ringing, emails are flying, brains are scrambling and everybody is on hyper alert, including the folks at Pollstar and VenuesNow. So when the tours and events come back — and they will come back — it will be like a Bizarro World that’s a slightly-off replication of what previously existed. In a best-case scenario, people are sitting in the exact same seat they would be in when they bought the ticket, just six months later. I would say that’s overly optimistic; some things will be diminished, and others, like man hours, marketing expenses, and the most valuable asset of time, are gone forever. With some 70 percent of concert activity taking place in the April-September time frame, we can only hope that April sees the peak of this thing and some normalcy returns by the end of the summer, another best-case scenario.
We promise you that in these pages and at our industry-leading conferences you will remain informed and continue to learn from the preeminent experts in every live industry field imaginable to make sure your business is doing everything it possibly can in this new environment.
We encourage you to keep sending us your news, your developments, your avails, your boxoffice reports. Even if it’s not good news (though we could use some about now), you serve the greater industry good by sharing your information.
The industry will return, stronger than ever, more evolved. Live will thrive.
President, OVG Media & Conferences