Foolproof Or Fool’s Gold: 2023 Will Be Europe’s Real Endurance Test

Fans at Lady Gaga’s “The Chromatica Ball Summer Stadium Tour” are pictured at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London July 29, 2022. The major acts are selling tickets faster than ever. Photo by Samir Hussein / Getty Images Live Nation

This business is foolproof to an extent. The only way to stop it is to shut it down, as the past three years have shown, especially in Europe. People have been wanting to get back out there, as evidenced in many places by strong ticket sales. Lotta Nibell, CEO of Got Event, which runs nine venues in Sweden, including Ullevi stadium, said “The longing for live experiences is clear as ticket sales continue to be very strong even as the overall living prices are up.” She suggested that “People seem to prioritize events, so maybe the summer vacation or [home] renovations will be postponed instead.”

Rainer Appel, executive vice president at CTS Eventim, which operates the Waldbühne in Berlin, said, “Since the start of the 2022 Open Air season, we have been operating at full capacity and are excited to present exceptional artists to an enthusiastic audience. And with more than 450,000 people attending our shows, 2022 has been the most successful Waldbühne season so far.”

At the turn of the year, it was mostly the blockbuster shows that sold out like they used to.
Pollstar spoke to Europe’s best and brightest in November for the 2022 Impact International honors, and FKP Scorpio founder and CEO Folkert Koopmans said, “the demand for culture is still somewhat dampened after the pandemic, especially noticeable for smaller and middle-sized concerts.” He added, “with energy prices skyrocketing at an unprecedented rate, all products and services are getting more expensive,” while the soaring inflation was “resulting in less demand.” Yet, thanks to its roster of a-list acts, many of them finally able to tour Europe again in 2022, the past year was one of
the busiest in FKP’s history.

Solo Agency founder and Isle of Wight Festival owner John Giddings told Pollstar, “You can’t book stadiums for love nor money next summer. There’s a whole new wave of gigs coming, and it’s just getting bigger and better. Entertainment will never die. There’s something about live music, especially in the open air. It’s an emotional experience. It’s like a drug; you can’t give it up.”

Cindy Castillo from Madrid’s Mad Cool festival said the “disproportionate increases in production costs,” were exacerbated by “artists booking fees getting higher while the average income of attendees is not increasing.” It’s no wonder WME’s David Bradley said “next year is going to be rough for a lot of people. The key issue we’re all contending with is inflating costs.

“Our industry is almost always focused on growth. The reality is, a lot of artists will now need to be conservative, or possibly a little more creative, with their tour planning. If there was a time to take big risks, 2023 probably isn’t it.”

CAA’s Paul Wilson observed, “major structural changes both in the live event business and culture in general – everyone can feel the change, but no one really knows where this is going. A lot of our work now is trial and error, changing things up and being flexible and proactive. It is not a time to have too many fixed ideas or simple answers.” Only one thing is for certain in Wilson’s eyes: “People are starved of live experiences, so let’s make the most of it.”

Chen Castaño of Live Nation Spain’s Planet Events said, two types of ticket buyers made life hard for promoters right now: those she described as conservatives, who were saving the money they’d usually spend on tickets until the situation resolved itself, and those who’d love nothing more than to go out but couldn’t afford to. “We are facing a complicated situation,” she summed it up. AEG Presents’ Simon Jones predicted that “people will go to less shows in an average year, but spend more on a show/experience, and that includes at the bar and on the merch stand.”

Amidst all of this, this business cannot lose sight of one of its core functions: finding and developing tomorrow’s headliners. The grassroots sector, traditionally in charge of this function, has been affected the worst by the lockdowns. It requires help. Aside from government, it could come from the ticket buyers themselves. Tickets for the vast amount of unsigned and mind-blowingly talented artists out there are still comparatively cheap, a fact that should be marketed to music lovers, who are struggling to find affordable entertainment in today’s economic climate.

Only one thing seems certain: the next big stadium act will come from across the Atlantic. The strong performance of UK and European artists and businesses on this week’s Magna Charta (see charts here) suggests so, as do the top-grossing tours of all time: Elton John on the top spot, runner-up Ed Sheeran, who are both British, and U2 from Ireland is third.