‘We’re Clearly At The Limit’: Switzerland Is Approaching Saturation Point

Patrick Bruel performing at Paléo Festival Nyon on July 28.
Anne Colliard
– Patrick Bruel performing at Paléo Festival Nyon on July 28.
The festival has a daily capacity of 35,000

In April this year, the Swiss promoters’ association SMPA, published its latest market findings. They’re based on the 2018 business reports of SMPA members, which includes everybody who is anybody in the Swiss world of live entertainment. The numbers indicate, that while overall business is still very good in Switzerland, the days of plenty are slowly but surely coming to an end.
SMPA members booked more artists than in the year prior, 3,289 artists in total for concerts and other event formats, cementing Switzerland’s significance as an event location. 
However, this growth is mainly the result of a significant increase in SMPA memberships of 13%. Looking at the market more specifically, there’s been decline in both visitors per show as well as tickets sold per show. Ticket prices have been decreasing as well, leading SMPA CEO Stefan Breitenmoser to draw the following conclusion: “There’s an excess of supply in the event market. Too many tickets are being released.”
Dany Hassenstein
– Dany Hassenstein
Talent buyer at Paléo Festival Nyon and Opus One

Dany Hassenstein, talent buyer at Paléo Festival Nyon and Opus One, and SMPA board member confirms: “It was a tough summer in Switzerland, because there were a lot of extra tickets in the market compared to other years, especially in the French part of the country.” 

He was referring to the Fête des Vignerons wine festival, which only happens once every 20 years, but when it does, it releases 400,000 tickets into the market. Paléo still sold out all 210,000 day-tickets this year with a lineup that included The Cure, Lana Del Rey, Twenty One Pilots and more, July 23-28. While Paléo did well, “ticket sales for concerts and other events were lower [than in the previous year],” according Hassenstein, who added, “for now, we’re still okay, but we’re also at the limit. Clearly.”
Paléo was founded in 1976. As the biggest and oldest event in the region it enjoys a lot of loyalty from its customers, the vast majority of which – around 95% French speaking locals – live within a 50-mile radius of the festival. It could be one of those events that sell out before announcing a single act, but Hassenstein and his team don’t bank on that: “We announce the lineup and go on sale one week later. It’s important to give people the chance to look at the lineup, to choose a day they’d like to come, talk to friends, talk to family, and then buy the tickets. It’s intentional, we don’t want to sell before we announce the lineup, because we think it’s not fair for the audience.”
A non-profit association runs Paléo Festival, the majority of people working on the event each year are volunteers, some 5,000 in total across all positions, with the exception of the management level. 
“All the money we earn with this even, we reinvest into the event. And the audience feels that they’re our first priority. They feel like they’re being taken serious, and the value for money is the best they think they can get. And when they’re at the event, the experience is always close to perfection. It’s all about the audience, and this makes the whole difference,” Hassenstein explained.
Paléo’s non-profit status also makes it an unlikely acquisition target for multi-nationals or investors, which is relevant in a country where industry consolidation is in full swing. 
ACT Entertainment’s Greenfield Festival celebrated a new visitor record in 2019.
– ACT Entertainment’s Greenfield Festival celebrated a new visitor record in 2019.
82,000 attended last year

Said Hassenstein: “You can’t buy a company, which is not making a profit, so I believe we will remain independent. It could be, in the near future, that we’ll have trouble accessing certain artists, because they only tour with a multinational. As long as we have such a solid position in the market, as long as the artists want to come and play at Paléo, it’s okay. But if we suddenly have to defend ourselves against an attack from another event owned by a multi-national brand, then we would have an issue I think.”
There are few independent promoters left in Switzerland, one of them is Paléo-owned Opus One. Managing director Vincent Sager told Pollstar, that “getting major international acts has become more difficult for an independent promoter,” which is why he diversified a long time ago: “Apart from promoting French and international acts, we are also very active in some specific niches such as comedy, musicals, exhibitions and we produce our own projects within the Swiss market.” The formula works, Sager said 2019 was better than the year before in terms of box office sales, which he described as “mostly good or even excellent.” 
Vincent Sager
– Vincent Sager
Managing director of Opus One

However, Sager sees “some signs of saturation” in the Swiss concert business: “In 10 years, the quantity of events promoted yearly in Switzerland has nearly doubled. In the same time, the number of tickets sold only increased by 35%,” he outlined. Still, Opus One’s 2019/2020 calendar has been filling up nicely: Eros Ramazzotti, Lenny Kravitz, Mika, Stomp, Slava’s Snowshow, Flying Bach, Cirque du Soleil, Niki Minaj, Zaz, Angèle, NTM, Jethro Tull, Voca People, Paw Patrol, Gianna Nannini, and many others have already been confirmed.

Opus One isn’t the only case suggesting agile independents can still thrive even in a crowded market. Another one is promoter and booking agency TAKK, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019. According to company founder Sebastien Vuignier, “it was the busiest and most successful year ever. We promoted or booked more than 300 shows this year, with the major successes being sold-out shows with Muse, Florence and the Machine, Amy Macdonald, The Lumineers, Royal Blood, Foals, Glen Hansard, Of Monsters And Men, Chilly Gonzales, and more.” 
Domestic up-and-comers like Emilie Zoé, The Two, and Coilguns, as well as established Swiss bands like Bastian Baker or The Gardener & The Tree, also sell a lot of tickets for TAKK. “We also had a very strong festival season with Thom Yorke, Bon Iver, Jorja Smith, IDLES, Parov Stelar, Mac Demarco, Yann Tiersen and many more,” said Vuignier. 
Muse at Hallenstadion Zurich,  July 3, 2019.
Patrick Holenstein
– Muse at Hallenstadion Zurich, July 3, 2019.
TAKK promoted the show.

“It looks like there is still good business left for independent promoters,” he continued. “Loyalty is still very strong. I feel that some artists, managements, agents, still enjoy working with ‘boutique’ promoters. Our dedication is immense as it’s our own money which we put on the table. Our partners feel it.”
Sebastien Vuignier
– Sebastien Vuignier
Founder of TAKK

Vuignier emphasized, that the power of the big players could be seen as an opportunity, seeing that they will appreciate a local partner with local knowledge taking on the risk: “We’ll promote our first show with AEG next year, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, at Hallenstadion, in Zurich,” he revealed.

Thomas Dürr, CEO of Act Entertainment, which is part of CTS Eventim’s pan-European promoter network Event Live, said the consolidation in live entertainment was only going to continue. Dürr’s highlights of 2019 include a visitor record at the 15th anniversary of Greenfield Festival, which was headlined by Die Toten Hosen, Slipknot and Swiss metal icons Eluveitie, June 13-15, as well as sold-out shows by Seeed or The World of Hans Zimmer at Hallenstadion in the Swiss capital of Zurich.
The venue’s CEO Felix Frei described 2019 as a “solid average year. There’s high volatility in the entertainment segments in particular, which has only been increasing over the past years. Shows that sell incredibly well alternate with shows that sell poorly. Average visitor numbers have been on a slight decline for years, as this year has accentuated again.” 
Frei holds two developments in the Swiss market responsible for this trend. “Firstly, the offer in the market is huge. Secondly, the really big headliners aren’t getting more, but rather less, and the whole world wants them, which means that tiny Switzerland will sometimes be left out. What is more, since Switzerland is a small market, the international artists that do make it there, usually perform three to four times in one year at different festivals and open-air concerts. For Hallenstadion this trend resulted in more mid-size shows.” 
Domestic artists, on the other hand, have never been in more demand. “We never had as many Swiss artists performing at Hallenstadion as we’ve had this year,” Frei said. Schlager artist Trauffer and rock newcomers Hecht, both singing in their local dialect, both sold out the 13,000-capacity Hallenstadion on their last visits. Swiss rock icons Korkus, who enjoyed quite a bit of success in the U.S. in the 1980s, performed a sold-out farewell show at the venue this December.
Felix Frei
– Felix Frei
CEO of Zurich’s Hallenstadion

Hallenstadion can be configured in three different ways, to serve as club, theatre or arena. According to Frei, flexibility is one of the main factors in operating a successful venue in 2019, and he said that any show from 3,000-capacity upwards would look and feel great at the arena.

He is looking forward to many new dates opening up in the venue’s calendar in two-and-a-half years’ time, when ice hockey team ZSC Lions leave the Hallenstadion, their current home turf, and move into their own brand-new arena, which is currently under construction. “It will give us even more flexibility in hosting small event formats, which is going to become increasingly more important,” explained Frei, who has a pretty clear vision of where the Swiss live entertainment business is at: “The long-term statistics of the Swiss Promoters Association show that the number of events has increased year-on-year, while average visitor numbers declined. In other words, the market is made up of more events, that sell less tickets. I think there’s no more room for massive growth.”
Two major changes on the Swiss venue market occurred in 2017, when both the 5,000-capacity Samsung Hall and the 3,500-capacity Halle 622 opened in Zurich, adding to the competition in the mid-size event market. 
Samsung Hall CEO Anke Stephan said three short years were enough to establish the venue in the market. As things stand, the venue makes most of its turnover with corporate and public business events. What is more, Stephan and her team have been developing in-house formats that cannot be found elsewhere in Zurich and the wider country. “We for example hosted the first and biggest Super Bowl party this year,” said Stephan. Watching American Football on a 120 square meter LED screen in comfy lounges, while enjoying American food classics was a hit with ticket buyers, which is why the second edition no Feb. 2 is already in the books.
Anke Stephan
– Anke Stephan
CEO of Zurich’s Samsung Hall

Stephan’s key factors to running a successful venue in 2019 are “a stable and fair value-for-money-ratio, competent and loyal employees, good partners, and never losing sight of the needs of different stakeholders: artists, management, promoters, guests. What its more, don’t focus on one market only, but support a broad business case and play on your strengths. We offer all services from a single source: in-house technology, catering, infrastructure, staff. It makes us extremely flexible and able to adapt to sudden changes anytime.”

Flexibility is needed in times when anyone can become a star over-night on social media, but sink into obscurity just as quickly, replaced by a new hype. Said Stephan: “The music isn’t prioritized anymore, the show is. It means that productions are getting larger and more expensive. At the same time, they’re being squeezed into smaller venues, because the artist doesn’t sell the amount of tickets to match their ostentatious show. The pieces of the pie in the entertainment business are getting smaller for everyone.”