Taking Stock Of The First Fully Open Festival Season In UK & Europe

Continuation Wacken Open Air
The audience at Wacken Open Air 2023. Not every holder of a ticket got on site this year, due to severe weather – which will be one of the topics at this year’s IFF. (Photo by Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

2022 went down in history as the year of the great return of live. In Europe, however, the entire year was still marred by post-COVID effects, as well as a war in East Europe, which kicked off right at the start of the year. A lot of uncertainties and unanswered questions remained. 2023, despite the war still waging, and price hikes in all areas relevant to event production, has at least brought some answers and planning security. It’s still hard to make a profit, though. In a recent interview with Germany’s Kreiszeitung, Folkert Koopmans, CEO of FKP Scorpio, one of the biggest promoters in Europe, said, exploding costs were a problem for the entire festival world. “I believe that ultimately only 20% of them will make money. This problem was already apparent in 2016/17, but after Corona it became especially bad,” he said.

And even if you do manage to make a profit, it’s become harder than ever. Exit Festival in Serbia, for instance, had its best year in term of revenues and sponsorships, and its second-best in terms of ticket sales, but not in terms of profit, according to EXIT festival group founder Dusan Kovacevic, who said increasing prices were “the biggest issue.” Several promoters in Europe have been telling Pollstar that they’ve been hit with price increases from suppliers and partners of up to 100%. This isn’t the rule, but increases of 20% to 50%, and more, certainly are.

01 Exit
EXIT festival, like all festivals in Europe, has had to cope with heavy price increases across the supply chain.

Another anomaly this year, which also creates challenges for festivals, are the many stadium tours that include mini residencies at some of these venues, which hasn’t been part of common tour routing in the past. These often spectacular shows come at a (ticket) price, and there’s some worry among promoters that they might cannibalize the small- to mid-size shows, and festivals, as people only have so much disposable income to spend on music. This is also the reason hardly any festival promoters Pollstar spoke to in recent months saw much room to increase ticket prices. Finally, the festival season 2023 also experienced what Charmenko CEO Nick Hobbs called “insane weather.” The most prominent case this year is Wacken Open Air in Germany, which had to declare an arrival ban as campsites had been washed out so badly, new arrivals wouldn’t have had a space to pitch their tents.

Both the price of live entertainment, and weather will be high on the agenda of this year’s International Festival Forum (IFF), which is gearing up for its 9th edition, Sept. 26-28, in London. Organizer Greg Parmley told Pollstar, “Last year’s IFF was a unique edition given that some festivals still weren’t able to take place because of lingering COVID restrictions in their market. One of the reasons we’re looking forward to this year so much is that comes straight after the first fully open festival season, even if topics like bad weather will have replaced conversations about a global pandemic. Alongside weather, he continued, “Other topics include booking and the difficult task of finding the right headliners, especially given the competition from large indoor and stadium shows over the summer, and the expectations and behavior of audiences, which is clearly different post-COVID.”

See: Unprecedented Industry Support For IFF London

Greg Parmley, head of the International Live Music Conference ILMC, and IFF organizer.

The latter point, in particular, will be interesting to explore, as several European promoters have been telling Pollstar that the new generation of festivalgoers expect a lot more comfort at events than previous generations, and that these comforts should come at the GA ticket price. There’s also less interest in camping than there was pre-pandemic, which Parmley confirmed from his own conversations with business leaders: people want an easy experience, followed by a good night’s sleep in a nice bed. This focus on luxury also means that VIP offerings have never been so varied and in demand.

As Pollstar previously reported, IFF moves into a new venue this year, Ben Lovett’s Omeara. This allows Parmley and his team to increase the number of invited delegates, who will still have more space to meet and do business than the old location in Camden. Plus, Omeara is a fully fledged music venue, which will take IFF’s showcase element to the next level. Parmley said, with 38 performances in total, mostly organized by IFF’s partner agencies and countries, there’ll be “more showcases than we’ve ever done before.” The UK’s Music Venue Trust will curate closing night. “But,” as Parmley concluded, “the majority of what IFF is about sits outside of the main schedule: it’s the private meetings that take place; the pop up agency offices that spring up for two days; and all the conversations about booking for next year’s season. And with the new campus location, we think that main focus of IFF will be better than ever.”

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