Trans-Europe Supersonic Express: The Continent’s Live Market Explodes

Openair Frauenfeld
Mallaun Photography
– Openair Frauenfeld
The festival sold out in record time this year

Live business is booming in Europe. Greenfield, indoor and street festivals, multi-day open air concert series, family shows, theater performances, real or electronic sports: fans have literally thousands of events to choose from.
The offering ranges from gigantic 90,000-capacity flagship events such as Rock Werchter in Belgium to boutique festivals, like Summer Nights at the Bandstand in Glasgow, Scotland. The intimate 2,250 capacity series of twelve concerts just surpassed £1 million ($1.3 million) at the box office for the first time this year. 
The wealth of choices, combined with cheap flights, has fostered travel-happy festivalgoers. A recent survey by Festicket, based on an analysis of its own member base of over 1,000 festival partners and 2.5 million-plus users, showed a 29 percent increase in people going abroad to music festivals.
The makers of Exit Festival in Serbia, for example, took advantage of the close proximity of Europe’s countries to create a five-festivals-five-countries holiday package. The eastern part of the continent in particular is interesting to watch, as some of its countries are in the middle of emerging into attractive live entertainment destinations.
Croatia could be next, seeing that it has become one of the most sought-after summer festival destinations, its party potential on par with Ibiza’s, according to Jordan Rodic, CEO of Premium Events. While Croatia’s high VAT and PRS rates and the “lack of [professionals] in booking, promotion, ticketing, etc.” remained challenges, its geographical location and affordable prices, however, make it the ideal choice to combine a festival visit with a vacation, Rodic explained.
The stories highlighting Europe’s ongoing festival craze are plenty. Take Doctor Music Festival in Spain, for instance. The country’s first ever rock festival is celebrating a one-off reincarnation in 2019, after lying dormant for 20 years. The event takes place in a valley so remote, one wonders how David Bowie, Rage Against The Machine, Blur, Beastie Boys, Muse and all the other acts that graced its stage in the past even found their way there. 
The fact that promoter Neo Sala can count on tens of thousands to make that journey again in 2019 speaks volumes about the current demand for live experiences. “People increasingly want live events that are also real life experiences – much more than a bunch of great artists put together to play in a suburban parking lot that has been artificially embellished to create a set that looks good for Instagram,” he told Pollstar.
Sala’s company Doctor Music just got acquired by German live entertainment giant CTS Eventim, which plans on playing a major role in this European live entertainment renaissance for years to come. Group CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg told Pollstar, that “internationalization will be key in strengthening CTS Eventm’s solid market position. There are many artists that have long been addressing a global audience and who plan their live performances without paying heed to national borders. Our aim is to offer them cross-border touring opportunities and efficient ticketing services under one umbrella.”
One of CTS Eventim’s main assets in Europe is FKP Scorpio. Founded by Folkert Koopmans, the company operates in several countries on the continent including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, where it just celebrated its biggest domestic concert production to date with local superstar Cheek. The company also sold a whooping 750,000 tickets for Ed Sheeran’s European juggernaut. “We are able to take advantage of our offices and partners in other countries, and can offer artists like Ed Sheeran to play 13 stadium concerts in four countries,” Koopmans said.
Talking to the heads of the world’s largest live entertainment companies only confirms one thing: this industry is in its heyday. Live Nation France is looking back on sold out stadium and arena shows by Beyoncé and Jay Z, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Iron Maiden, Justin Timberlake and Shakira. According to company MD Angelo Gopee, “Mainsquare [in Arras] was sold out on all three days, which is incredible. Afropunk in Paris was sold out as well, and we did 100,000 at Lollapalooza Paris.” 
The promoter highlighted, how “the democratization of access to music has changed everything in our world. You can get any type of entertainment on any platform. We just did Kevin Hart in Paris, sold out, 2,000 people. This was not the case five years ago. Why? Because Netflix came, and now people can see Kevin Hart or Dave Chappelle all around the world.” According to Gopee, it works the other way round too: “Take [French comedian] Gad Elmaleh for example: we sold out in Singapore, Shanghai, Hongkong and Dubai.”
Promoter legend Gay Mercader, who may be retiring, but still seems omniscient when it comes to Live Nation’s business in Spain, said, the VAT reduction from 21 to 10 percent in 2017 was one of the greatest things that could have happened to the country’s live entertainment industry, as it helped lower ticket prices and still pay artist fees. Spain’s main events, Sonar, Primavera, Sonorama, all did “very well,” Mercader said, highlighting Live Nation’s Mad Cool Festival, which doubled its capacity from 40,000 to 80,000 this year.
Among Live Nation’s most successful concerts and tours in the GSA region were Eminem’s exclusive Germany show at Hanover’s Expo Plaza, selling all 75,000 tickets within minutes, arena tours by Imagine Dragons, Lana Del Rey, Metallica and Depeche Mode, two stadium shows by Beyonce and Jay–Z and Billy Joel’s only German performance to 30,000 people at the Volkspark Stadium in Hamburg. “Furthermore the first year of our partnership with Openair Frauenfeld in Switzerland saw the festival sell out in record time,” said Andre Lieberberg, president of Live Nation GSA.
Promoters need to be on their A-game if they want to stand out from the competition, especially the independent ones. Thomas Dürr, CEO of Act Entertainment in Switzerland, said, “the market seems to be saturated, especially for traditional events. In this regard, we are challenged to think in an innovative way to offer attractive, new events to an interested audience at regular prices. Bands or shows that keep playing in shorter intervals will continue to have declining numbers in the future. Therefore we will try to set the dates further apart to make them more exclusive.” 
In neighboring Austira, Silvio Huber, head of booking at Arcadia Live, said, “competition is still strong in our market and even with a successful season you can’t relax. So we are in a constant process of re-thinking concepts, finding new ideas or venues and how we can deliver a better experience for the audience. I do think we will see a market shake-out sooner or later so everyone must do their homework.”