Everyone Back In The Pool: Pollstar Live! Returns
– We Have Returned:
Pollstar Live!’s 2020 reception at the Los Angeles Beverly Hilton in February 2020, site of this week’s Pollstar Live! 2021.
We are extraordinarily grateful and gratified to this week host the 32nd edition of Pollstar Live!, the first in-person live industry conference since the pandemic began – and one of the first in-person events in any industry. While we can’t claim to have known California would reopen its economy on June 15, the exact day we moved Pollstar Live! to from February, if you ask us, we will feign ignorance.
Our timing, however, is wildly fortunate. Our industry, right now, is at a juncture of sorts, one that could perhaps best be described as an inflection point within an inflection point within an inflection point as this slumbering multi-billion-dollar industry fires back up after 15 months of dormancy. Springsteen’s back in a Broadway theater, Eagles and Deadmau5 announced dates, Electric Daisy released a massive artist lineup with 200-plus artists and Clive Davis is putting on an August concert in Central Park – and that was just Monday, June 7.
Consequently, this may be the exact best time possible for our industry to have a conference, to share the latest information, data and strategies, to formulate best practices and protocols and to make sure our fans continue to have the best experiences possible in a landscape quite different from the one we faced 15 months ago – when our industry was set to have its best year ever. Just putting on this year’s Pollstar Live!, though, was no small feat.
“In terms of evolving guidance and how we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s really been the scientific process and medical knowledge unfolding beautifully,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hawk, an MD, Nuclear Medicine Physician, Neuroradiologist and Stanford Hospital’s faculty member, when asked about best practices for Pollstar Live! Hawk is also a consultant for Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company, and our conference.
“The most important thing, though, is to make sure that our knowledge stays rooted in the truth of science and the truth of medicine, and that we get away from rumors and social media misinterpretations of what’s happening,” she said. “It’s really been about sharing knowledge across the global community and working together to evolve our best practices.” This well-informed doctor, and also a Pollstar Live! moderator, could be talking about our industry.
Witness the crucial and highly relevant panel topics for anyone even remotely involved in the live business and its re-emergence: “Day of Show: What Can We Expect,” “The Future of GA: What Are The Implications?,” “The State of the Market for Tour & Event Sponsorships in 2021 And Beyond,” “Hell Yes, I’m Still Going: Untangling the Most Massive Rescheduling Campaign in the History of Earth,” “Where Can We Go Now?: A Look at International Touring Post Covid,” “I Really Did Forget My Wallet: The Next Era in Cashless/Touchless” and “Changing Lanes: How to Turn Shutdown Fan Engagement Into Post-Pandemic Ticket Sales.” (See the conference’s full schedule online at pollstar.live.)
The breadth and creativity of these important industry discussions are matched only by the towering industry figures populating them, whose decades of combined experience and knowledge can best guide us forward, and includes Arthur Fogel, Jake Berry, Marsha Vlasic, Doc McGhee, Dre London, Howard Rose, Laurie Jacoby, Casey Wasserman, Ron Laffitte, Dayna Frank, Charlie Hernandez, Amy Corbin, Peter Shapiro, David Zedeck, Judi Marmel, Sebastian Maniscalco, Bruce Solar, Amy Latimer, Lance “KC” Jackson and Bill Reeves, Gerry Barad, David Kells, Geni Lincoln, Sara Bollwinkel, Eddie Orjuela, Ken Fermaglich, Nicole Barsalona, Jonathan Azu, Maureen Valker-Barlow, Russell Wallach, Marty Diamond, Michael Strickland, Noelle Scaggs, Maria Brunner and Oak View Group co-founder Tim Leiweke. It’s a veritable live industry “murderers’ row,” as the once-indomitable New York Yankees were called.
We have just come off 15 months of working at our dining room table offices trying to tune out the cacophony of fear, loathing and family, scrambling to make back-to-back-to-back Zoom calls and doing our best to keep those around us safe and sane while the bottom fell out of our industry and so much else. Thankfully, amidst it all, there was much in this industry to take solace in.
– Making Friends, Influencing People
Pollstar Live! attendees network on the convention floor in Los Angeles in February 2018.
First and foremost, it was supremely gratifying during this pandemic to see the premium value and passion the vast majority of people placed on the live experience. Ask anyone what they missed most and live – be it concerts, festivals, sports, theater or other live events our industry facilitates – ranked at or near the top. This unwavering support for our industry was the wind beneath our staging rigs that kept many of us going and helped propel our businesses while we awaited the checkered flag’s wave.
It’s this very sentiment that helped drive Live Nation’s stock (LYV) to all-time highs in 2021 with few shows and little revenue, but 83% of fans declining ticket refunds in order to see that show that they knew would return.
That same faith in live and its vast cultural and economic impact even united a deeply divided U.S. Congress. In December, the chambers passed the largest arts funding program in American history, totaling $15 billion to fund Shuttered Venues Operating Grants benefitting struggling independent venues. Congress passed an additional $1.125 billion for the program in March – although details are, unfortunately, still being hammered out (see page 23).
Within our amazing industry, during this pandemic, heroism was everywhere. Live businesses pivoted to manufacturing and distribution of PPE and collected and dispersed food for those in need, while execs forewent salaries to ensure others got paychecks and led fundraising efforts for an array of causes. Civic duty this year was a matter of course and our industry put its money, time and resources where its mouth was and into issues of paramount importance, including equity, diversity, inclusivity and sustainability. This while venues were transformed into food distribution centers, voting and vaccination sites and communal town squares.
Pollstar pivoted too. In addition to featuring so many of these trailblazers and innovators in our pages, we launched our livestreamed Digital Sessions to further inform and inspire. This included live roundtables, firesides and Q&A featuring such luminaries as Dave Grohl, Rob Light, Ali Harnell, Shep Gordon, Robert Gibbs, Jimmy Buffet, Mary Hilliard Harrington, Elle King, Carlos Vives and Dennis Arfa, among others. Here, too, we celebrated the anniversaries of our temples: the Grand Ole Opry, the Royal Albert Hall and the 9:30 Club; paid tribute to the late great Charlie Daniels; and featured roundtables that delved directly into timely issues including equity, diversity, inclusivity and sustainability
We also debuted Pollstar’s Livestream Chart, a weekly survey tabulating the Top 50 livestreams as this three-decade old technology this year finally scaled due to these unique market conditions. Chart-toppers included Melissa Etheridge, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’ Verzuz Battles, Norah Jones, Sofi Tukker, D-Nice and the Opry, all of whom appeared in our pages, as did the rush of livestreaming platforms including Mandolin, Veeps, NoCap, Driift, LiveXLive and others. While no one, even the platforms themselves, believe livestreaming can or will replace the sublime experience of live, the technology has improved and it will certainly further enhance an artist’s ability to connect with fans.
We also conducted our first State of the Industry Survey in which some 1,350 live industry professionals participated in the largest live industry study of its kind yielding a treasure trove of data. This included critical insights into the many challenges our industry faced, steps taken to mitigate loss and a road map for recovery. Implicit in this data was a mandate to not just come back, but to come back better with greater equity, diversity and inclusion, which is exactly what is happening now
It is incredibly fitting then, that Pollstar Live!, the live industry’s leading conference, would be “first in the pool,” so to speak. It’s an ethos in large measure derived from our parent company Oak View Group, which actively encourages positive disruption and asking forgiveness first (which rarely, if ever, is needed) and permission later while pushing the envelope of what is possible. This is exactly how this industry moves forward and why this boldly timed conference is more important than ever.