‘Cooperation & Competition Are Essential’: Q’s With Carme Lanuza, Director Palau Sant Jordi

Carme Lanuza
Carme Lanuza, director of the Palau Sant Jordi, as well as Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, and manager of the Parc del Fòrum event site.

Carme Lanuza is the director of the Palau Sant Jordi, as well as Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, the legacy of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. She also manages the Parc del Fòrum venues, which host international events such as the Primavera Sound festival. Lanuza’s and her team’s efforts to keep live alive during the lockdowns of the past two years earned her a spot on VenuesNow’s inaugural Impact International ranking.

Pollstar reached out to Lanuza to get a feel for the venue circuit in Spain, and what role buildings play now that pan-European touring is picking up pace again.

Pollstar: Ms. Lanuza, what makes Barcelona a reference in the European live music biz?
Carme Lanuza: The Barcelona brand is recognized internationally as one of Europe’s main destinations. Its range of cultural and tourist offers position it among the world’s 10 most-visited cities. The plus that Barcelona offers is the city itself, not just for its architectural beauty, tourist offers and highly acclaimed food and climate but also for its determination to stay active and never miss an opportunity to keep its hold as an “essential” setting and to project its image and values through culture and events.

What can you say about the city’s overall live infrastructure, the amount of promoters, agents, suppliers, and know-how present, as well as small to medium-sized venues for newcomer acts?
We are convinced that our city is very well-equipped with venues for live events, covering every audience capacity, from the most intimate to the largest, within a very small area. Without going further into the facilities that I run, we can bring together any number from 1,000 to 60,000 people. This enables us to see numerous artists grow without ever having to “leave home”, with spectacular growths in audiences, as in the case of Ed Sheeran, among others, who visited us for the first time with an audience of 4,000 (2014) and were able to pack the Palau Sant Jordi (18,411 spectators in 2017) and then our Stadium (55,000 spectators) a few years later (2019).

There is considerable musical savvy among people who have devoted themselves for decades to promoting and producing concerts, to learning and improving, to developing and sharing with us their commitments, initiatives and even readiness to take risks to keep Barcelona in this music epicenter in our region.

How does this show in ticket sales? Do you have comparisons to other markets in Spain, maybe even other metropolises in Europe?
The range of music events and activities in our city is enormous: large- and small-format national and international tours, as well as crowd-pulling international festivals (Sónar and Primavera Sound to name but a few). It is no small feat putting up sold-out posters on all the events that are held in Barcelona, but ticket sales in our venues are generally excellent.

Being members of the European Arenas Association, we are allowed access to quantitative data on attendee numbers and can confirm that we are in line with other European cities similar to Barcelona.

Palau Sant Jordi
Fans enjoying a concert at the Palau Sant Jordi.

What role does the Palau Sant Jordi play in that equation?
Barcelona’s strategic situation puts us in the circuit for most south-European tours and attracts audiences from the south of France, Italy and Portugal, as well as many other European cities that see an opportunity in Barcelona’s concerts for engaging in “music tourism” and enjoying an adventure in a city not to be missed out on. We are not the only ones in the region but we are currently the largest indoor venue in Spain in terms of audience-capacity.

You’ve been working a lot on improving the venue, can you specify?
These two years of pandemic have seen us continuing to improve our facilities, while keeping most of our planned investments of over €3 million. Notable among these improvements, are the new emergency exits that have enabled us to expand the Palau Sant Jordi’s audience capacity to 18,411, an improvement that positions us as the largest indoor venue in Spain, the remodeling of the press grandstand area, the replacement of the complex’s outside lighting with LED technology, the comprehensive renovation of public area toilets and other improvements relating to the building’s safety.

Can you break down the array of services you offer to promoters when they choose Palau Sant Jordi for a show?
I believe that, as with most venues, we offer all the venue’s basic services (safety and security, cleaning, accommodation, technical services in production and audience-capacity control, medical service, catering and merchandising, etc.). We also have an extensive range of VIP rooms, multi-purpose rooms and large gardens and open spaces on offer. We are working with local production to cover and always meet all the needs of tours, though also with the security forces to ensure the safety of audiences and their mobility to our venues. We are making every effort to offer an organization that is safe and cost effective.

How do you stick out from the competition, not just in Barcelona, but wider Spain and Europe?
Our goal since 1990 has been to ensure the success of events, making the impossible feasible, while ensuring the well-being of our public. Our clear aim is to be a benchmark and we are committed to the quality and professionalism of the team and to the response capacity and breadth of our facilities, which is why we set ourselves annual investment targets for realizing the proposed improvements that promoters suggest to us and for the venue’s end audiences and workers.

We believe that, as benchmark venues, we need to measure up, offer quality and safety, compete to improve, and learn from one another. We’re bound to look across at our neighbor and see the grass is greener on the other side, but each venue should know how to improve their weak points and make the most of their strengths to seek new options. We all know that we can’t have everything, but that doesn’t prevent us from fighting to have as much as possible. Competition allows us to improve, grow and stay alert. It needs to exist.

Especially now, after two difficult years, it seems maybe cooperation would be a better approach than competition?
We held our first concert not requiring social distancing in March 2021, for an audience of 5,000 in the Palau Sant Jordi. This “pilot” event was the result of collaboration between scientists, promoters, institutions, and other players involved. This would not have been possible without teamwork. That day was magical as it enabled us to show the world that the music industry was still alive and capable of doing everything to ensure the survival of live music. The image of the Palau Sant Jordi was splashed on the front pages of newspapers all over the world, but that concert was no miracle, but rather the result of the cooperation of lots of people committed to achieving a common goal.

We had already worked together before, in 2020, to minimize the impact of COVID on live music in Barcelona. The scale of our venues at a time when distancing was mandatory, enabled us to reach agreements for holding concerts in the middle of the pandemic and later, in 2021, to increase our audience capacities and continue holding concerts in accordance with the restrictions in force at the time. Once again, we joined forces for a common goods: to offer live music to audiences that was adapted to and respected the restrictions and inconveniences caused by the pandemic. This shows us that cooperation is essential for learning and growing.

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Carme Lanuza is looking forward to hosting international superstars at Palau Sant Jordi again.

What’s coming up on the schedule of Palau Sant Jordi that you’d like to highlight?
We cannot choose a single event, but it is exciting to be able to resume the international artist tours that we had to postpone. Our audiences deserve to continue to be offered the widest range of music possible from us. We’d be delighted to receive Alicia Keys, Dua Lipa, Elton John, Justin Bieber, Rosalía, The Cure etc. But we’d also like to thank our national artists who have supported us during these two special years and who will continue offering us their best live performances: Serrat, Dani Martín, C Tangana, Manolo García, etc. Fortunately, our Facilities’ ability to cater for various audience capacities enables us to play host to up-and-coming artists. We are thrilled to commit to the future of music.

Is Brexit posing difficulties for touring artists between UK and Spain?
As series of measures were envisaged in 2021 to facilitate the entry and stay in our country of professionals from the audiovisual sector. While the number of international tours has not yet returned to its previous level, we have not seen any changes so far.

Thanks very much for your time, Ms. Lanuza.

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