Rich Howells

Live Nation plans for concerts to return ‘at scale’ by summer of 2021

Live Nation plans for concerts to return ‘at scale’ by summer of 2021
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Despite a steep 95 percent drop in revenue this summer, Live Nation is optimistic that concerts will return “at scale” next year.

On Nov. 5, Live Nation Entertainment reported $184 million in total revenue from July through September, as compared to $3.7 billion in the third quarter of 2019. The second quarter saw a 98 percent loss in revenue, and while the company did host drive-in shows at places like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, most of its venues, like The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, remained closed since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country in March.

NEPA Scene’s coverage of drive-in concerts in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area during the summer and fall showed that public reactions to these events was mixed, with some concerts selling out or doing fairly well while others were not well attended. COVID-19 cases have recently risen in Northeastern Pennsylvania, so only time will tell if conditions will be safe enough to return to regular events next year or if drive-ins will be the new normal. Whether or not fans will feel safe will also be a contributing factor, as well as their financial status as unemployment claims remain high.

“There have been no major changes in our business conditions or outlook over the past three months, and while we see signs of promise around the world as some live events return, most regions we operate in continue to have various restrictions on live events. For now, we continue to maintain a strong cash management discipline while planning for the ramp up to resume live shows as soon as possible,” Live Nation President and CEO Michael Rapino said in a press release.

“Meanwhile, we are working on our roadmap to get back to live safely. We are encouraged by progress on testing technology, treatments, and vaccines, which helps us build our plans. We still expect shows at scale next summer but recognize that the exact timeline of this return will vary by region, and so we continue to focus on remaining flexible.”

Rapino added that their survey data shows that 95 percent of fans plan to attend concerts when government restrictions are lifted, noting that 83 percent of global fans are keeping their tickets to rescheduled events rather than asking for refunds. 2021 festivals have also seen strong ticket sales, though most of his examples were overseas.

Ticketmaster, the largest ticket distribution company in the United States and a part of Live Nation Entertainment, recently announced the development of SmartEvent, “which includes new products such as our social distancing seat mapping tool and timed entry technology that have been created to give venues the flexibility to plan how to manage everything from venue access to box office interactions,” he described.

“Existing products, including our SafeTix digital ticketing technology, can fulfill new needs, including being a key facilitator for contact tracing when required. And the ability to integrate third-party applications with our digital ticketing platform enables a range of customizable features, from contactless concessions to testing and health questionnaire tracking,” Rapino continued.

“Live Nation is developing a set of standards for executing shows at our venues. We are collaborating with health experts to create show guidelines that put in place procedures which can adapt to various situations, across all regions. From venue sanitation procedures to fan-friendly policies on ticket purchases and the latest testing options, we are setting standards that will give fans, crews, and artists peace of mind before, during and after the show.”

Ticketmaster has considered asking ticketholders to verify that they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 or have been vaccinated (once a vaccine is available) prior to an event via their smart phones, but that plan is still in the development phase, according to Billboard. This news proved to be controversial online, so the company later clarified that there will be “absolutely no requirement” for mandated vaccines, adding, “We are not forcing anyone to do anything.”

Live Nation also received backlash at the onset of the pandemic after fans reported trouble receiving refunds for shows marked as “postponed” rather than canceled after some fine print on its website was allegedly edited. On April 16, U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell and Katie Porter wrote a letter to Live Nation and Ticketmaster criticizing their handling of the situation and urging them to help their customers in their time of need.

“A New York Times report found that this same Ticketmaster webpage used to read that refunds ‘are available if your event is postponed, rescheduled, or canceled’ and was quietly changed. In response, Ticketmaster has asserted that the change was made for ‘clarity,’ and your company then deflected responsibility to event organizers,” the letter said.

“Your claim that Ticketmaster’s refund policy was not changed but clarified is so absurd it insults the intelligence of your customers. Furthermore, given your enormous power over the marketplace, your company’s assertions that this inability to obtain a full refund for postponed events shows rings hollower than a drum. In effect, your company is holding hostage money that could constitute a rent check, electric bill, or groceries to feed children.

“There is no question that this crisis is badly hurting members of the live events community, from promising artists to striving promoters, small venue owners, set designers, concessionaires, and others. But given your market power, your responsibility to customers is broad.”

Ticketmaster President Jared Smith issued a response on April 17.

“Neither our clients, nor Ticketmaster, intend to withhold refunds on postponed shows. In fact, as of today, both Live Nation Entertainment and AEG Live, two of our largest event organizers, have announced they will begin to provide refunds, on a rolling basis, for all events impacted by COVID-19,” he said.

“The industry has come together to navigate this unprecedented time. We know fans are eager to return to live events, and collectively share in experiences with their favorite artists, athletes, and actors. We need time to manage through so we are all in a position for that to become a reality, and we look forward to the day when we can come together again.”

Fans who are seeking refunds for previously purchased tickets to any Live Nation show can visit for more information.

Even though it’s been a rocky year for the music industry and live entertainment in general, Live Nation’s latest report shows that it still has $2.6 billion, including $951 million in free cash. It states: “This free cash, along with $963 million of available debt capacity, provide the company with over $1.9 billion in available liquidity. The company believes this level of liquidity provides it with the ability to fund operations until the expected return of concerts at scale in the summer of 2021, preceded by ticket sales earlier in the year.”

“As we look ahead, it is clear that the path to live will not be a straight line,” Rapino said on Nov. 5.

“As such, we will maintain flexibility and focus on innovating during this time.”

Photo of The Pavilion at Montage Mountain by Scott Kucharski Photography/NEPA Scene