Europe’s Festival Season 2022 Discussed At ESNS

Visitors at Hurricane 2019, one of Germany's biggest festivals.
Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa
– Visitors at Hurricane 2019, one of Germany’s biggest festivals.
Stephan Thanscheidt, co-CEO of promoting company FKP Scorpio, spoke at ESNS about the upcoming live season.

ESNS, usually a fixed date for Europe’s live professionals to meet in Gronginen, Holland, in person, kicked off as a digital edition, Jan. 19. 

One of the first panels addressed the continent’s and the UK’s upcoming festival season. Speakers included Codruta Vulcu (Artmania, Romania), Christof Huber (Yourope, Gadget, Switzerland), Stephan Thanscheidt (FKP Scorpio, Germany), Paul Reed (AIF, UK) and moderator Greg Parmley (ILMC, UK). These are highlights from the hour-long discussion.
Putting on festivals in 2022 is more costly than ever, and there are several reasons for that. Professionals, who used to work in every link of the industry’s value chain, have left. “Prices went up drastically in all parts of production, including materials and staff,” Thanscheidt explained. On top of that, you had new costs arising from the implementation of hygiene measures, plus the fact that some sponsors were holding out to wait and see how the upcoming season developed
Raising ticket prices to offset some of those costs isn’t an option: Most of Europe’s festivals haven’t been taking place for two years in a row. Most fans have been holding on to their tickets since 2019. The prices for those tickets had been calculated based on completely different parameters, including in many cases a different lineup. 
Seaside Festival in Spiez, Switzerland.
Rob Lewis
– Seaside Festival in Spiez, Switzerland.
One of the few European festivals that took place in 2021.

Promoters, who want to keep putting on shows, are forced to fall back on their own reserves and, where available, recovery funds from government. “We’re a solid company, luckily. We’re financing this with the money we made in the years before the pandemic [and] some help from the government, for which we’re thankful. We keep going because we want to do what we love. We want to present culture and all the products we have to the people again,” Thanscheidt explained.

The postponed shows, the backlog of artists wanting to tour, the need to make up for lost business – all of these factors have led to an unprecedented number of shows going on sale, competing for slots, venues and audiences. Vulcu already experienced this effect last summer: “You had every single Romanian band play every single city and venue. Bands who normally would have sold 1,000 to 2,000 tickets only sold 300 to 400, because it was literally an inflation of acts. Last year, almost every ticket-selling event in Romania lost money. It’s one of the biggest challenges in the market, and from what I hear from my colleagues, it’s the same in all of Europe,” she explained. 
Reed concurred, “There’s going to be more activity than ever from major companies and independents. It all puts a lot of pressure on inventory and infrastructure, particularly on the smaller organizations that don’t really have leverage. The supply chain is in disarray [due to] loss of companies and skills, and I don’t think it’ll self-correct in one year. No one wants to hear about inflation, but the UK is experiencing the highest inflation [in the last] three decades, which has massive knock-on effects. Costs have risen across the board. Add issues around Brexit to the mix, and you’re potentially facing a bit of a perfect storm.” 
He confirmed what other panelists pointed out as well, namely that “audience confidence isn’t quite there yet in some instances,” referring to slower-than-usual ticket sales in some demographics. 
Huber said it was the promoters’ job to inspire confidence again, not just in the audience, but in artists and sponsors, too. He recommended working with the sports sector, which had a far better lobby than culture, as evidenced by the many sports stadiums in Europe remaining open for spectators while music venues had to shut. 
It’s not just about venues remaining open but borders as well. A lot of festival bills depend on artists coming through on their European treks, which remain a logistical challenge due to varying travel and capacity regulations from country to country. “Practically 90% of our brands play a Metal Days in Slovenia,” Vulcu explained, “so if Slovenia doesn’t open up, if there are interruptions in the touring chain, it will be a problem for us.” 
Focusing on local talent has been one way of mitigating that during the past months, but Europe’s major events rely on a healthy mix of domestic and international talent, newcomers and headliners, and as Thanscheidt pointed out, “people really want to see international acts again.”