‘We Promoters Are Not To Be Underestimated:’ Semmel Concerts’ Way Back To Live (European Live Savers Issue)

Dieter Semmelmann
– Dieter Semmelmann
Founder and CEO of Semmel Concerts, part of Eventim Live
Semmel Concerts is in a good position. Over the past couple of years, during which the team has worked hard and very successfully, the company generated sufficient revenues to allow it to survive for several more months during this crisis.
That doesn’t mean that everything’s fine and dandy. Since COVID hit, Semmel Concerts had to cancel some 1,500 events. Founder and CEO Dieter Semmelmann was hoping that the political decision makers would set a reopening date by November 2020. However, as things are developing across Europe, he’s now hoping for a return to normalcy by spring or summer 2021.
Semmel Concerts hasn’t been standing idly by during these past months, promoting a series of concerts at Berlin’s Waldbühne dubbed “Back To Live” Sept. 3 through Oct. 2 to keep spirits high. Semmelmann had one of his artists, Roland Kaiser, speak at a protest held by the German events sector in October. In combination with the lobby work of Germany’s promoters association BDKV, it has helped raise awareness for the plight of a sector that was the first to shut down, and will be the last to reopen. 
The Waldbühne concerts almost made you forget that there even was a crisis. “We looked at each other and were like, ‘Hard to believe that it’s only 5,000 people.’ If you spread out 5,000 people across a 20,000-capacity location systematically and evenly, it almost looks like a full venue, especially in an amphitheater style venue like Waldbühne,” Semmelmann recalled, adding that “it was strange: Everybody patted us on the back, we only received positive feedback, we loved the shows ourselves. It was only when we woke up in the days after, that we realized how absurd this whole situation is. 
Looks almost normal:
Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images
– Looks almost normal:
Roland Kaiser kicks off “Back To Live” in front of a a sold-out but distanced Waldbühne crowd.

We’re promoting events that look and feel right, but it’s a zero-sum game, only possible thanks to concessions and compromises made by our partners, suppliers and artists. It’s still kind of a perverse situation, because everyone loved it, including the artists, but it’s not really what we need for our business.” What this business needs, especially the bigger companies like Semmel Concerts, is sufficient yield from shows to pay for their large organizational structure. 

Semmelmann hopes the Waldbühne concerts won’t lead decision makers to think that promoters, crew, suppliers, artists, vendors and everyone else involved in making a show happen are able to viably do so under the current circumstances, because “they can’t, not economically anyways.”
It took some convincing of Semmel Concerts’ suppliers and artists, in particular, explaining that fees and production had to be reduced significantly. “Established artists tend to increase production size over time. But they and their crews accepted the extraordinary circumstances. And I didn’t miss the hassle, to be honest, and the audience didn’t seem to either,” Semmelmann recalled.
The first concert with Roland Kaiser, the “Gentleman of Schlager,” reminded him of why he loves this business so much: “It was a special feeling – when the artists went on stage and the audience jumped to its feet and cheered. That’s what we love doing, it’s our lifeblood. It really felt like a restart, and the audience went nuts.” Roland Kaiser performed two concerts, selling a total of 7,856 tickets and grossing $364,023. German rock icon Peter Maffay closed the “Back To Live” concert series on Oct. 2, selling 3,203 tickets for a gross of $176,652, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports.
Not one infection was traced back to the Waldbühne concerts, and according to Semmelmann, “politicians have started acknowledging that they don’t regard events promoted by professionals as the real problem, but rather private gatherings.” He is hoping that the number of infections will have decreased by spring, and that a vaccine will become available soon. Quick tests may also bring some sense of safety. 
“All of this may help to improve the overall situation, which will allow us to successively increase capacities, so that, come summer, we’ll be able to hold proper events – seated, with numbered tickets and mandatory masks. We’re hoping to be operating at full capacity by autumn 2021.” He continued,  “We promoters are not to be underestimated. We can adapt to many things very quickly “When the threat of terrorism could be felt everywhere, some one-and-a-half years ago, we managed it pretty well, creating safe entry points for our audience. Keeping the hygiene concepts wasn’t a problem. So, in terms of organization, it didn’t present us with an insurmountable challenge. But it’s not economically viable, of course, because all of this costs more money.” Semmelmann won’t hide the fact that attempts like “Back To Live” are “cries for help, symbolic in nature, to demonstrate that we still exist. But our business construct is built in such a way that we need to promote at full capacities.”