Summer Slams Artist Marketing

The cancellation of this year’s Summerslam Festival due to poor ticket sales has led to Bank Austria ousting Richard Hoermann as managing director of Artist Marketing and cast doubts on the future of the company.

Hoermann, who owns 25 percent of Artist Marketing, is continuing to run upcoming shows with Joe Cocker, The Sisters Of Mercy and Patti Smith. But Bank Austria, which owns the other 75 percent, has put senior exec Ralf Bocher in charge of pulling the financial strings.

The success or failure of the shows – all scheduled for this month – is likely to have some influence on whether Bank Austria continues to cashflow the company, scales down the operation, or pulls the plug on it completely.

The bank has funded Artist Marketing since buying its majority share, with Hoermann using the money to clear the financial liabilities he sustained when the Austrian Promoters Group (APG) collapsed.

Summerslam, which was scheduled to happen in Imst July 15-17, originally had a bill featuring Lenny Kravitz, The Hives, Seeed, Juli, Silbermond and more. With ticket sales on the floor, and carrying a million-euro loss from this year’s disastrous Aerodrome Festival, the bank decided the event should be scaled down to one day and switched to a smaller site.

Kravitz, Juli and Silbermond all appeared on what would have been the third day, while The Hives and Seeed were among those switched to Forestglade Festival, which was on Vienna’s Wiesen site over the same three days.

This year’s summer season at Wiesen has also suffered lower attendances than usual, averaging less than 2,000 people per day for the Spring Vibration, Carpe Noctem, Forestglade and Wiesen Jazz festivals. The site capacity is 8,000.

The latest chapter in the tangled recent history of the Austrian live music industry comes at a time when its infrastructure seemed to be stabilizing, albeit with some German intervention from Folkert Koopmans’ Hamburg-based FKP Scorpio.

The irony is that the ill-fated APG was formed to unite the country’s promoters against the Germans moving in on the market, although the major threat was perceived to be Marek Lieberberg’s growing tendency to promote his own shows in Vienna.

The new company incorporated Artist Marketing, Rock Produktion, Wiesen Entertainment, PSI Music, Music Promotion and Libro Entertainment – an important financial partner with 265 record and CD retail outlets in Austria, which also sold videos, video games and mobile phones.

Within months of the APG deal being cemented, it began to crack. In June 2001, Libro reported annual losses of euro 71.4 million on a euro 369.9 million turnover. A further twist was that the poor figures were said to be down to a disastrous expansion into the German market, where it had opened – and subsequently closed – 19 shops.

Even before Libro officially went bust in June 2002 with debts of euro 436 million, APG suffered two further blows.

The first was when Franz Bognor, Ewald Tatar and Thomas Zsifkovits (Wiesen Festivals) and Paul Debnam (PSI Music), as if sensing disaster was waiting around the next corner, left to form Event & Festivals Production (Austria). Alex Nussbaumer, who had joined APG with Rock Produktion, also quit to join MC Live Künstler & Veranstaltungs.

The other disaster waiting around the corner, apart from Libro recording the third largest bankruptcy in the country’s business history, was Wolfgang Klinger and Andi Egger’s Rock Produktion going bust for euro 2.5 million. Under Austrian corporate law, Egger was forced to leave the APG advisory board and Klinger had to leave the board of directors.

When the dust finally settled, Richard Hoermann, Erich Zawinul and Wolfgang Mitter – with the backing of Bank Austria – had reestablished Artist Marketing as an independent company, and Klinger had started a new venture called Rock & More, with the main competition coming from Event & Festival Production and Nussbaumer at MC Live. A year later, Nussbaumer quit MC Live to set up his own company called AL-X.

Last November, Tatar, Debnam and Zsifkovits walked out on Event & Festival Production to form Nova Music Entertainment, a new company that has Koopmans’ backing. Koopmans already had Austrian business interests via Harry Jenner’s MusicNET Entertainment and the Frequency and Nuke festivals.

Although everyone stayed tight-lipped about the exact reason for the split, it was no big secret that Tatar, Debnam and Zsifkovits hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye with MC Marketing, the investment wing of Bank Austria and 51 percent owner of Event & Festival.

A year earlier, the three of them had successfully launched Aerodrome, a three-day event that pulled a total of 100,000 people to Wiener Neustadt airfield to see a three-day bill topped by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica.

The falling out looks to have concerned a disagreement over the running of that event, which passed to Hoermann and Artist Marketing. Hoermann had booked part of the bill for the first festival.

It led to a scrap for ground as Tatar tried to hang on to Aerodrome but, according to reports in Niederösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper, the Vienna Neustadt authorities opted to stick with MC Marketing because it provided “better legal securities.”

Working in cahoots with Koopmans, they set up Nova Rock to rival Aerodrome and slotted it for the same June 9-11 weekend as the German promoter’s twinned Hurricane and Southside festivals. System Of A Down, Audioslave, and Beatsteaks were among the acts to accept a “package deal” to play all three events.

Within five years of having no festival market beyond the summer events on the Wiesen site, Austria’s outdoor season was beginning to look a little crowded.

In addition to Nova and Wiesen, which runs events throughout the summer, Jenner and Koopmans already had the five-year-old Frequency Festival and the two-year-old Nuke. Artist Marketing had inherited the two-year-old Aerodrome and set up the new Summerslam.

The only festivals to have done any sort of business are Nova and Nuke, although both suffered from some filthy Austrian weather. However, this year’s Frequency (August 18-20) – with Oasis, Foo Fighters, Die Toten Hosen, Queens of the Stone Age, and Incubus filling the top slots – looks to be going through the roof with ticket sales expected to reach around 45,000 per day.

John Gammon