Q’s With John Reid, President Live Nation Europe-Concerts: ‘Business Has Never Been Better’

John Reid
– John Reid
President of Live Nation Europe-Concerts

There may be no better person on the planet to comment on the state of the European live market than John Reid. As president of Live Nation Europe-Concerts since 2012 (and the former president of Warner Music Europe) Reid’s seen the market’s continued rise (including the last several banner years), the launching of many festivals and knows exactly why in Europe “one size doesn’t fit all.”
Are there too many festivals around these days?

John Reid: It’s a great time for festivals. Business has never been better. We had 4 million people at our European festivals last year, and we’re very optimistic about this year in terms of where we think it’s going. People trust the well-run, well-curated festivals, which have become trusted brands. And they trust the people who run them and do a good job.
Until you break their trust like Fyre Festival did last year.

There are always going to be fly-by-night operators with no experience in the game. That one was a particularly public one, because there was a lot of schadenfreude involved, given the nature of the event. There’s no room for middle-ground stuff that isn’t well-curated and well-run. We’ve got a lot of people who do this for a living and have been doing it for many years, and they know what they’re doing. New ideas are great, that’s why we have new festivals every year. There is room for more, there is room for what we’ve got. We feel good about it.
When you say room for more, are you talking about acquisitions or launching new events?

Both. We look at it on a market-by-market basis. In the case of Rock in Rio or Openair Frauenfeld, which is going to have a fantastic year this year, an acquisition was the right thing to do. We’re looking for acquisitions where we believe there’s an opportunity for us to help grow that festival or that business. The question is always: where can we add value? Can we help them with talent, with ticketing or with sponsorship, to help them commercialize their business? Where can we make a difference, and create a symbiotic relationship?

Depending on the market, we might build something new, or introduce a great brand like Lollapalooza into new markets. We’ve got our fingers on one or two new ones every year, whether it’s a homegrown one or a brand we’ve already used.
Speaking of Lollapalooza: the German event had to move its site four times in four years. What do you say to that?

They’re in a home now [Berlin’s Olympic Stadium] that everybody feels is going to be more permanent, and that would be great. Having said that, they executed a great show three years in a row, right?
They basically had to launch a new festival every time.

Right, it’s a combination of a great team on the ground – Melvin [Benn], Fruzsina [Szep] and C3 – and a great brand. A trusted and unique brand.
Any other recent festival or concert success stories you’re particularly happy about?

Our touring business is looking good. We had 115 stadium shows all over Europe last year – our biggest year ever for stadium shows. Some 760 arena shows in Europe last year, our biggest ever arena year. We sold some 26 million tickets in Europe in 2017. We had a stellar year, and we’re off to a flier this year. It feels great.
Security: Is enough being done in the industry? What can you actually do against people with an insane plot?

Look, we take it very seriously: Fan security and safety is the No. 1 priority. You’re trying to run an event, but your No. 1 priority is always going to be the fan and looking after them. We’ve hired specialist staff across Europe. It’s a big issue for people. Our festival guys are constantly talking to their local authorities and agencies in terms of what the local security is. I think we’ve done a great job executing on the ground and on our own sites. It’s a constant work in progress, but one that’s top of our list.
Are festivals and concerts two separate departments at Live Nation or do the lines blur?

Both. On the one hand you have festival specialists, people who get out of bed and all they think about in the morning are their festivals. People like Melvin Benn, who has been doing it for a number of years on all levels of the business. In some markets, you run a giant touring business, and in some markets you run both. Herman Schueremans in Belgium, for example, runs both a touring and festival business, and a remarkably successful one at that, or Rob Trommelen [in The Netherlands]. You tend to find that you do need a festival-specific set of thinking. It’s a unique individual who can do both every day.

Concerts and festivals are both part of the development curve of an artist. So when we’re talking to artists in the early stages of their careers, we take both into account: which stages to play in our festival portfolio, as much as which clubs or theaters to be playing in.

Any markets you’re eyeing in particular?

For starters, we believe there’s room for growth in every market that we’re in, which are all the big ones. The German team, Andre [Lieberberg], Matt [Schwarz] and Marek [Lieberberg], have done a remarkable job in growing what was already a great business, but turning it into something quite special, and will continue to do so, also in Switzerland and Austria.

New markets, for us, are markets we have limited access to. Streaming is driving the music business on a now-unparalleled growth basis. That helps us open up new markets as well. So it’s a combination of new and old geography.

Open-Air Frauenfeld
Mallaun Photography
– Open-Air Frauenfeld
One of Europe’s main events

Are there any tough markets in Europe to crack and why?

Not really. I think people [everywhere] enjoy going to festivals. You just need to make sure your offering is different, unique and well-executed. We don’t like to take a one-size-fits-all approach to business. It’s important that our festival people are allowed to do their own thing, and that’s why their festivals are special.

Festivals aren’t just a field full of fans and a headliner or two. There’s something extra that makes a festival a unique success story over a number of years. You can’t just start buying festivals, and proclaim, “Hey, we’re a festival business,” as others have found out.
Any concert, tour or festival you’re looking forward to in particular in 2018?

I’m looking forward to Jay-Z and Beyoncé as always. I love Beyoncé. There’s some great new bands out there.
I love Greta Van Fleet, I saw them a couple of weeks ago, I look forward to them coming back. I will go and see a couple of festivals this year.

To round out here, could you sum up Live Nation’s strategy in Europe?

We want to grow the number of shows and events we do, and make them compelling destinations and great fan experiences. When you give the artist a great show opportunity, and the fan is happy, you’re going to see the benefit of that financially and economically.