Fest Team is looking back on a successful 2023. The company has brought some of the biggest names in the game to Bulgaria in recent years, including Lenny Kravitz, Sting, Tom Jones, and Eros Ramazotti, and organizes some of the country’s most beloved events, like Hills of Rock, ARTE Feastival, and SPICE Music Festival.
Recently, Fest Team has been diversifying its portfolio big time, adding family shows like “Hot Wheels Monster Trucks”, some smaller artists in the Latin, funk, and jazz field, as well as some classical acts. “All of the events we had planned for the year happened, the biggest of them were completely sold out, for which we are extremely happy and satisfied,” Fest Team founder and CEO Stefan Elenkov told Pollstar.
And while he observed, that “some smaller events didn’t perform as well, the setbacks were “negligibly small against the background of the big events.”
The toughest part of the year still lay ahead of his team, he explained, referring to a number of events taking place outside Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia, at the coast in the east of the county. Their remote location, and the costs involved to get to them, meant that people thought twice about purchasing a ticket, Elenkov explained.
“Also,” he continued, “the calendar is overflowing with events at this time because everyone is still trying to catch up on events post-COVID, which is somewhat flooding the market. People can’t afford to go to all these events even if they wanted to, and so they start choosing. So, while my feelings at this point are mixed, the results so far, at least for Fest Team, are extremely good and I hope we can finish the year successfully.”
Another reason music fans are extra cautious when it comes to spending is the high inflation rate currently observable across Europe. And when it comes to making a decision, the blockbuster events win over the smaller-scale production and newcomer shows.
“I can give a specific example,” said Elenkov, “Tom Jones’ [June 19] concert was a complete sell-out, while for a band like Fun Loving Criminals, that used to be very popular in the country, it was a bit challenging to attract enough people to cover the costs.”
What is more, some of the ticket prices charged, particularly for international stadium shows, are inflationary themselves. “We’re all seeing the amount of stadiums that are sold in one city these days. We’re all observing, even now, that concert tickets are actually starting to affect inflation in countries as well, because tickets are becoming incredibly expensive, and it’s starting to shake people’s household budgets. This is probably going to peak at some point and the situation will have to cool down a bit because it can’t keep growing ad infinitum. I think, that at some point the situation will normalize to the point where prices will become a little more bearable, and on the other hand, the artists will become a little more moderate in their requests and demands, and some reasonable balance will be sought, so that both the concerts are attended, and the audience has more access to certain artists. You don’t want to have to spend two months’ salary to go to a festival or even a single concert.”
Fest Team, which became a partner of Live Nation in 2019, made the most of the forced downtime during COVID by “restructuring the entire business and building a structure, dare I say, at the highest professional level in the country,” Elenkov continued, attributing this feat “largely to the quality management of the people who work on our projects. I, therefore, believe that the managers I work with care deeply for people, for their staff. They know when to take a break and when to push a little more so that we can manage to do the next concert.”
He said the key to keeping people well and motivated during the past years of adversity had been two-fold: “first of all, keep using their professional insights and opinion, and secondly, appeal to everyone’s personal responsibility and self-care – and I think that both are present in Bulgaria and in our teams.”
Promoting concerts and events during the past three years has been a herculean task, particularly in markets like Bulgaria, where the live infrastructure has been even more sensitive to the lockdowns and loss of labor than some more established touring destinations in its vicinity. Making a show production look as good as elsewhere in Europe has always taken that bit of extra effort and collaboration, Elenkov explained but added that the market was quickly catching up.
Already, there are top-end facilities available to bands. Pantera, for instance, kicked off the European of their current tour in Bulgaria, with all the rehearsals and prep taking place in Sofia. “We witnessed so many pleased and happy faces – from the band to crew to the team, and the audience,” Elenkov said.
What will attract even more bands and tours to the country will be its entry into the Schengen area, the European territory that forgoes most forms of border controls amongst member states. Bulgaria, like Romania by the way, is said to become a Schengen country in the near future, which would “improve things even more,” according to Elenkov, who said, “I imagine it would be much easier to plan the standard group tours, which can be done extremely easily from a logistical point of view, starting from Hungary, passing through Romania and Bulgaria, and reaching Greece. Things will become much easier and reasonable for the artists, reducing waiting times at borders and facilitating access to these markets.”
And Elenkov concluded, “Bulgaria specifically still has huge potential for development. We are working on several infrastructure projects that will really improve the state of concert venues in Bulgaria, and we will try to get as close as possible to the Western European markets so that artists can feel good when they work with us on our territory. Our audience is still developing, it has by no means reached its saturation level, and there is an enormous amount of opportunity for it to grow, for more events to happen, and therefore, for us to build on what we have achieved so far. Our team specifically, will work on doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the business in the next five years. So, I am highly optimistic on the future.”