Last week, AccorHotels Arena in the French capital of Paris hosted its first big crowd since the country went on lockdown in March.
On two nights, June 18-19, the team around general manager Nicolas Dupeux welcomed 1,000 and 2,000 guests, respectively. They had managed to get their hands on free tickets for a TV production that was recorded at the arena as part of the annual Fête de la Musique celebrations.
French TV network France Télévisions had planned to record concerts with more than 30 artists, originally in an outdoor setting as part of Fête de la Musique.
When it became clear that those plans would be thwarted by the Covid-19 restrictions, the company entered into talks with Accor Arena about doing an indoor version in line with government restrictions.
Accor Arena – Almost looks normal
The only reason the event was viable was the fact that it was a TV production that didn’t rely on ticket sales.
The lineup included Patrick Bruel, Catherine Ringer, Christine and the Queens, Crystal Murray, and many more, mostly French artists, seeing that there is no movement of international talent on the European continent right now.
“First it was imagined as a TV show with more than 30 artists over three days. Due to the measures we had to take to protect artists and their teams, we couldn’t present them all on the same day,” Dupeux told Pollstar.
Of the three nights, two were open to the public. “We anticipated this for the past three weeks. Given the sanitary context in Paris, we were confident that we would be able to host these shows,” he said.
“We had been preparing based on this assumption since the beginning of June, working out how to implement the regulations, sanitary measures and social distancing. We received the green light five days ahead of time, at which point we just had to push the button to execute it.”
On the first night, June 18, Accor Arena welcomed 1,000 people, a number that doubled on Friday. The arena didn’t max out the governmentally approved number of up to 5,000 people in indoor rooms.
“As we were the first ones to reopen since the beginning of the crisis, we preferred to be responsible,” Dupeux explained.
To ensure the physical distancing, people were only allowed to come in groups of two. Inside the arena, there was at least one empty set in-between the paired guests. Wearing a mask was mandatory inside the building, hand sanitisers were placed at strategic locations.
Courtesy of Accor Arena – Staff at the arena wore extra protection
Face masks, face shields and gloves.
Said Dupeux, “We thought a lot about entry into and exit from the arena, so there would never be too many people grouped outside. We extended the queue line by a lot, making it run all around the arena. All staff, from security to food and beverage, wore masks, plus glasses, plus gloves, when they touched something that could have been touched by a customer after.”
He said the measures didn’t tamper with the vibe on the night too much: “Everybody was very understanding of what we asked of them. People have become used to it anyways, it’s not outrageous anymore to ask people to wear a mask when they go out.
“What was very exciting was the feeling inside the venue. It was a mixture of passion, exhalation, emotion. People were crying, they were clapping and dancing. They want to live the emotion of music concerts. It was very impressive to see people laughing behind the mask, they were happy to feel the passion of music again. It was a specific atmosphere, because we had these measures, but people just wanted to have a good time,” said Dupeux.
He added, that you could really see a difference in the way artists performed on the first day of the TV recording vs days two and three, when an actual audience was in the venue. “They live for live, to create a communion with the fan. They were happy to be there, to be a part of the recovery of that which we are most passionate about,” Dupeux explained.
Accor Arena can hold just above 20,000 visitors. Dupeux has no illusions about the financial viability of hosting anything below 75% to 80% of capacity. Had it not been a TV production, including TV money, Accor Arena wouldn’t have opened its doors for a tenth of its full capacity.
Accor Arena – Nicolas Dupeux
General manager of Accor Arena.
“This event was different, the business didn’t come from ticketing. It’s a different business model. What was interesting is that having this business model in this period was a signal. Our wish was to organize something and show that we could continue living our passion. For sure, if it was a ticketed concert, we couldn’t have done it with 2,000 people, that would be impossible,” he explained.
“We need to send a signal to the market. Now that the situation is getting better and better, we can do something. Let’s make the most of these extraordinary circumstances. We need initiatives, opportunities to restart the business, we need people taking action.
“We know the recovery will be slow, so the sooner we start the better. In some ways, we’re accelerating the recovery,” said Dupeux.
The 5,000-capacity limit on events remains in place until Aug. 31. Accor Arena is closed during the summer months anyways, seeing that its usually festival season that can be used to do maintenance works.
So, Sept. 1 will hopefully mark the beginning of a gradual return to normalcy. “We are not only a music venue, but a sports venue as well. We’re doing 80% of music, and 20% of sports. It’s easier to recover with sports events. Every spectator needs to have a seat, there’s nobody standing, it’s easier to manage. What is more, for indoor sports events, we usually don’t operate on full capacity, so it’s easier to maintain distance,” Dupeux explained, and he added: “The first two weeks of September will therefore be focused on sports. From mid-September we’ll start with concerts by French artists.”