The Coronavirus Impact: Global Live Business Takes Precautions, Keeps Watchful Eye

Perfume in Japan
AP Photo / Jae C. Hong
– Perfume in Japan
Fans get ready for Japanese girl group Perfume outside Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Feb. 25 as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said new measures will determine if Japan could control its coronavirus outbreak.

Update 3/6:
The City of Austin announced that SXSW 2020 has formally been canceled one week before it was scheduled  to begin.
“We are devastated to share this news with you,” SXSW wrote in a statement. “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented decision.”
This marks the second major music event in the U.S. officially canceled after Ultra Music Festival in Miami. 

Original story:
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread, affecting global touring from artists including Green Day, Avril Lavigne and Wolf Parade, events like the Korea Times Music Festival in Los Angeles and, at press time, it was announced Ultra Music Festival in Miami would be called off for 2020

Worldwide, the number of infections is at some 93,000 and the death toll has topped 3,200, according to the World Health Organization. At press time in the U.S. there were 158 reported cases (.00004% of population) and 11 deaths, according to Worldometer.

The outbreak has spread to more than 60 countries on every continent except Antarctica, with most cases in China. The WHO has stopped short of calling the contagion a pandemic – defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people” – while allowing that it may become one. 

Virtually all concerts in South Korea in the coming month have been canceled – as the country has had the largest outbreak of COVID-19 disease outside of China with more than 5,000 infections and 31 deaths as of March 3. The axed shows include BTS at Seoul Olympic Stadium in April. 

In Japan, some domestic acts are going ahead with shows despite growing numbers of coronavirus infections, but others are canceling. Foreign acts that have canceled or postponed dates there include Harper, Mika, Mac DeMarco, Temples, Lacuna Coil, The National, Ludovico Einaudi and Tom Walker.

Oceania’s also being affected, as Auckland Arts Festival’s Place des Agnes performance in New Zealand was canceled due to logistical disruptions.

At ILMC CAA’s Emma Banks explained Southeast Asia is the epicenter of the outbreak and is already one of the most expensive places to tour, so more cancellations will likely come to the region. A discussion of coronavirus at the conference saw Phil Rodriguez of Move Concerts urging his fellow live professionals not to “commit suicide” by spreading hysteria that would only fuel more cancellations. He urged SXSW to not “blow it out of proportion” by canceling the event. 

SXSW, which runs March 13-22, announced March 2 it is not scaling back or canceling the event, but is meeting with local, state and federal agencies including the Austin Public Health Department “on a daily basis.” 

While the event is going ahead as scheduled, numerous attendees have pulled out, including a keynote speaker in Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Twitter pulled out of SXSW entirely, as at press time had Facebook, Apple and Netflix.

The cancellation of Ultra would mark the first large festival to be called off in the U.S. over coronavirus concerns. The event annually draws 165,000 to Miami, many from overseas. 

Event cancellation isn’t the only kind of heat companies are feeling, either. Markets worldwide have seen major disruption as the virus continued to spread. The U.S. stock market had its worst day in two years Feb. 24, closing with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than 1,000 points lower on the day and the S&P 500 down 5.8%  from a record high less than a week prior. The market has since been up and down. 

During Live Nation’s Feb. 27 earnings call, President and CEO Michael Rapino downplayed the potential impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the company’s performance going forward, citing broad geographical diversification, scheduling flexibility and continuing high demand.

“When you have a month, two months, anytime you cancel in advance, there’s actually no cost incurred yet; the artist isn’t at the show, the people aren’t in the venue, you haven’t paid the cost,” he said, explaining that “the show is not going away, it’s just moving to a different quarter.”

“The artist will tour whether they have to jump off this quarter and go in the fall, or 2021. We won’t net lose the business,” he said.

International businesses are not as confident, as German promoters association BDVK said the country’s promoters are “fearing for their existence,” after the cancellation of several prominent trade fairs. On the trade show front, one source told Pollstar that well over 400 events had been canceled worldwide.

A CTS Eventim rep told Pollstar: “Naturally, we are closely monitoring and analyzing the situation with regard to the further spread of COVID 19. At present, we can only identify isolated effects on our business, such as in (northern) Italy and Switzerland, where events are currently having to be postponed.”

While U.S.-specific industry prospects aren’t clear, they should come into sharper focus in the coming days, according to Mike Downing, Chief Security Officer with Prevent Advisors (owned by Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company).

Reports that new cases of COVID-19 in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, are being outpaced by recoveries is a positive sign, but cases in the U.S. of unknown origin are occurring.

AP Photo / Ted S. Warren
– Sounders
Sounders fans make use of a hand-sanitizing station at CenturyLink Field prior to an MLS soccer match March 1 in Seattle. The CDC recommends frequent hand washing or the use of hand sanitizer for COVID-19 prevention.

Downing said there is “no clear rationale” for closing or canceling events in the U.S. at this time, but at some point older, more frail people, and others whose immune systems are compromised may want to avoid large public gatherings.

“I think there’s a lot of hysteria that’s not really driven by pure facts,” Downing said. “The real fear is coming from the uncertain factors surrounding the virus. The facts so far are that 98+ percent of people just get better.”

In order to maintain the confidence of event promoters and organizers, artists and their representatives, venues must develop and adopt action plans, said Cliff Wallace, president of Atlanta-based CW Venue Advisory Services LLC and managing director of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 1995 to 2012. Wallace developed and initiated such a plan for the HKCEC and others when SARS broke out 17 years ago.

“We found in 2003 during SARS, and it will happen here, that as the risks grow, organizers will want to cancel events simply if a venue doesn’t have a plan, independent of the health risk factor” he said. “Venue people must understand that a standard of exercising reasonable care applies to outbreaks of things like coronavirus also.” Wallace’s recommendations include reviewing advisories by all authorities; anticipating the crisis, including worst-case scenarios; staying abreast of media reports; developing a media plan; and developing and adopting written procedures. The guidelines include medical precautions and what to do in the case of employees, customers, guests and others with symptoms or confirmed infections.

The media plan is especially important, he said, explaining that a general statement should be updated daily, media questions should be anticipated and official sources should be used for advice and guidelines “to justify actions and lack of actions.”
“Focus on the positive (and) use the press to get your message across,” Wallace advised.

Downing believes future years will bring more outbreaks and even pandemics because of increased globalization and travel to and from countries that don’t have the same standards, especially in containing the spread of viruses or controlling food safety, as in most of North America.

“It’s something we should be preparing for anyway,” he said. “Everyone needs to focus on this and make it a priority and not just believe the government will take care of it.”