WiZink Center’s Manuel Saucedo: ‘We Feel Obligated To Keep Live Music Alive’ (European Live Savers Issue)

Manuel Saucedo.
– Manuel Saucedo.
General Manager of WiZink Center and CEO of Impulsa Eventos e Instalaciones.

WiZink Center has constantly made Pollstar’s news section in these past months as one of the few companies from Europe continuously reporting box office figures during times when hardly anyone in this business sold tickets. 

The 17,450-seat building in Spain’s capital Madrid began hosting live events again as early as July 3, with local acts and a capacity of 1,700 to 2,000 people. The audience attended in groups of four people max, all seated. 
The first concert by Loquillo, for instance, sold 1,300 tickets and grossed $40,141. The highest grossing report since WiZink opened its doors to a live audience again was generated by a TV production called “Operacion Triunfo,” a Spanish singing contest, which sold 4,690 tickets across two days, July 25-26, grossing $246,187. 
The highest-grossing solo was performed by violinist Ara Malikian, who sold 1,762 tickets for his Sept. 6 performance, grossing $224,198. The concerts were also live streamed to a wider audience.
When COVID first hit, Spain was facing one of the severest lockdowns in Europe. It lasted over 100 days and meant that WiZink Center had to remain closed for almost four months before opening again with its Covid-proof live concept. 
But even five months later, the building’s general manager Manuel Saucedo has no certainty about the future and is unable to “properly book our calendar,” as he explained. He is aware that even if a tight security protocol may give him the go-ahead for a massively restricted event, “the environment is not the best to enjoy live music in, or leisure and entertainment in general.”
Saucedo, who believes this industry is currently “in the scientists’ hands,” is proud of having done “everything that was possible,” over these past months. “In the first step, we completely redefined our security protocol, the most important aspect for the fans. After that, we encouraged promoters and artists to row together with us to bring back live music. 
“It is really remarkable how the Spanish promoters have been responding to this, also the artists, and the big effort they all have made to come back on the road. We have all played our part in adapting to new fees and costs, new needs and services etc. That has been the only way possible for WiZink Center to be one of the first venues in the world to reopen after lockdown,” he explained.
Spanish rock singer Loquillo opened the first night of concerts at WiZink Center after lockdown.
WiZink Center
– Spanish rock singer Loquillo opened the first night of concerts at WiZink Center after lockdown.

In another pro-active move, the building recently improved its ventilation systems in order to bring the recirculation of used air down to zero and facilitate a complete exchange with fresh air from outside. This is supposed to guarantee that all of the 160,000 cubic meters of air inside WiZink Center are completely renewed every 12 minutes. 

Saucedo said, it was currently easier to stage and promote a concert than to sell tickets, which was understandable seeing that “uncertainty prevents fans from buying tickets to a show they don’t even know will take place. Also, society is sad, already tired of the situation, and in many cases experiencing financial difficulties. We are happy about the large amount of spectators that have been with us in the 12 concerts we have been able to hold in these last months, but the situation has to change radically before we can see the WiZink Center fully packed again.”
And fully packed it needs to be in order to turn a profit. Saucedo has no qualms admitting that he cannot run the building in an economically viable manner under current restrictions. “We sustained losses in all of the events, but, as we are one of the reference venues in the world, we feel obliged to make all kinds of efforts, also economic, to keep live music alive. And I believe we have met the expectations. WiZink Center, despite all the difficulties, remains as a reference in the industry. That´s something to be proud of,” he said.
It has been a challenge not to give up over the past half year, while trying to ensure the stability of a business that’s lost 80% of its income, according to Saucedo, who thinks the biggest challenge is yet to come: reopening an industry that has been massively hurt by the crisis. Audience confidence, their reduced spending ability, the availability of professionals who haven’t yet left the sector, the ongoing restrictions – all of it will make the recovery a long and difficult process.
One glance at Pollstar’s box office reports of the previous couple of years shows that WiZink Center was all set for its biggest year yet. “We had to make huge sacrifices to reduce costs and still keep booking events at our venue. The response from all the professional staff at WiZink Center was certainly moving,” said Saucedo, and he concluded with a heartfelt message to the wider live entertainment industry: “Now is the moment when all the actors in this industry must be generous, we have to help each other, we have to understand the huge difficulties others are experiencing, and we must rely on each other to reactivate our activity, instilling faith and trust in the fans.”