Big Business & Small Struggles: Germany Returns To Full Strength

01 ALTERNATIVE BRIGHT Frederic Hafner 4
Atmosphere at Southside Festival, one of several reasons why FKP Scorpio is looking back on an extraordinary festival season. (Picture by Frederic Hafner)

There’s a picture emerging when speaking with Germany’s live entertainment professionals: the top-end of the market is in excellent shape. In fact, tickets for A-list artists performing in the country’s biggest buildings have never sold quicker.

Festivals, in general, seem to be struggling a bit, but several exceptions confirm the rule. The only worry that remains are with the small to medium shows, who’ve lost out in a saturated touring calendar, forcing fans to choose between more events than they could possibly visit – even if they wanted to.

Europe-wide price increases are another reason why consumers are currently thinking twice about what to spend their hard-earned money on, and, in many instances, they’re choosing stadiums. Nils Hoch, deputy CEO at Munich’s Olympic Park, which includes the Olympic Stadium, confirmed, “we’ve actually had our best year in history. All open-air shows this year sold out.” At press time, that amounted to 715,000 tickets at 11 concerts at the Olympic Stadium. “Most of those were generated by Rammstein, who performed four nights at our building this year, and completely sold out within hours,” Hoch said.

Superbloom 2023
Peter Fox performing during Superbloom Festival in Munich’s OIympic Stadium, Sept. 2. (Picture by Philipp Kratzer)

Other highlights from Pollstar Boxoffice include two P!NK shows, July 5-6, selling 57,477 tickets ($6,280,224 gross), and 53,958 tickets ($5,896,999), respectively; as well as Harry Styles, who sold 120,877 tickets across two shows, May 17-18, grossing $12,496,890. The only way to top those numbers would be to use an in-the-round stage setup, like Ed Sheeran did last year, Sept. 10-12, and like Metallica will next year, May 24-26, 2024, which brings up the maximum concert capacity at the Olympic Stadium to 75,000. Also in the books for next year, despite the stadium undergoing major refurbishment from October, are two nights with Taylor Swift, as well as three Coldplay dates.

These mini-residencies at stadiums may be the most novel thing about international touring post-COVID. Said Hoch, “Most are choosing to play twice or three times, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. But they’re selling out, and it makes sense for artists and their teams from a production and cost standpoint.” It apparently also makes sense for the fans.

Going to a stadium to see a concert has become “a thing,” Coldplay’s agent Josh Javor at WME told Pollstar, “people like the idea of going to a show and going home that night. [They] are more likely to see a stadium show than they are to go to a festival where they have to drive for hours, and maybe stay somewhere overnight. They’re willing to spend the money on the stadium instead, have a big day out, and sleep in their own bed. [Plus,] when you’re a certain age of audience, you don’t want to stand up in a field all day, you want to be able to sit down, and have your space as well. You also see a lot of families at these concerts, whether it’s Taylor Swift, Coldplay, or Harry Styles. If you’re going out with the kids, you want to know what you’re going to get.”

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In the case of Munich’s Olympic Stadium, “music is certainly our most important business, at least in economic terms. We don’t have a home team, which means we can offer dates all summer,” Hoch explained.

The economics shift, of course, if there is a sports tenant involved, as is the case at Dresden’s Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, home to the tradition-rich SG Dynamo Dresden e.V. soccer club. As the stadium’s event manager Simone Wendt told Pollstar, soccer sells by far the most tickets. “Since 2015, our business segment ‘concerts and major events’ has become increasingly more important during the periods when soccer takes a break. Our business model is based on a mix of different event formats, with soccer being the clear number one. In principle, it is divided into three major areas: sports, shows and concerts, as well as business events.”

03 Freiwild Rudolf Harbig Stadium Patrick Schneiderwind
German band Frei.Wild is pictured celebrating its 20th anniversary as a band at Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion in Dresden. (Photo by Patrick Schneiderwind)

And while ticket sales in soccer are determined by the success of the team, Wendt said, “the bottom line is that ticket sales are back to pre-Corona levels. In the first half of 2023, over 280,000 tickets were sold in the sports segment alone. In July, we hosted the ‘Monster Jam’ motorsports event for the first time, a double-show and around 40,000 tickets sold.”

Both Wendt and Hoch said it felt like the number of live shows and concerts had reached pre-pandemic levels. The same was true for ticket sales, said Andreas Kroll, CEO of in.Stuttgart, which runs the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle (8,500 seated, 15,500 maximum capacity), as well as Porsche Arena (6,500-cap for concerts), although he emphasized there were early signs of a decline.

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Helene Fischer Award Übergabe Schleyerhalle Stuttgart
For selling out Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle five times, May 2-7, Helene Fischer received a sold-out award from in.Stuttgart CEO Andreas Kroll (left) and Stuttgart’s mayor Dr. Frank Nopper. (Picture courtesy in.Stuttgart)

Not everything that went on sale was a surefire success as it had been in the lead-up to the pandemic, and the overall sales situation had become “very difficult to assess,” Kroll said, explaining how customer behavior has changed: “Customers buy more thoughtfully and less spontaneously. Sales start really late, and pick up shortly before the event.”

For in.Stuttgart, a subsidiary of the city of Stuttgart, the entertainment sector — concerts and comedy — generate the bulk of ticket sales, and if the major acts increasingly favor the stadiums, it will be felt by the arenas. According to Kroll, it “affects us already. In the past, you could book a superstar into the arena for several days. That was great for us. Not only because of the money, but also for [our] image.”

There are still major touring artists out there who could sell out stadiums but choose to do arenas, like Hans Zimmer, who sold out 8,927 available tickets at Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in April ($968,359 gross); Andreas Gabalier (11,588 tickets, $600,157 gross); or Herbert Grönemeyer (12,703 tickets, $885,371 gross).

Helene Fischer, who could sell out any stadium in Europe, performed five nights in Stuttgart in May, selling 55,000 tickets in total. The shows were part of 71 arena dates across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which sold almost 800,000 tickets (including one stadium in the Netherlands), according to Andre Lieberberg, president and managing director of Live Nation GSA.

And why not do both — stadiums and arenas — as Depeche Mode has done? It’s demonstrated “their singular popularity with sales over 750,000 in GSA, extended by the instantly sold-out indoor run next spring.” This year’s Depeche Mode stadium highlights from Pollstar’s Boxoffice include two nights at Düsseldorf ’s Merkur Spiel-Arena (86,208 tickets, $8,801,973 gross). Next year, the band will visit the country’s most popular arenas, including Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, Hamburg’s Barclays Arena, Munich’s Olympiahalle, and Cologne’s Lanxess Arena.

It proves, that “the German-speaking markets have shown incredible strength with record results on all levels but especially stadiums and arenas,” Lieberberg said, adding that stadium performances by Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Metallica, The Weeknd, Bruce Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay attracted close to 2.5 million fans.

Depeche Mode concert in Berlin
Live Nation sold more than 750,000 tickets with Depeche Mode across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Here’s the crowd at the band’s Berlin performance at the capital’s Olympic Stadium, July 7. (Photo by Christoph Soeder / picture alliance / Getty Images)

Live Nation also promotes Superbloom Music Festival, which took place at Munich’s Olympic Park, Sept. 2-3, as well as Lollapalooza Berlin, Sept. 9-10, both outselling last year’s editions, according to Lieberberg, who was looking forward to the coming months, when “sold-out arena tours by artists such as blink-182, 50 Cent, Madonna, Sting, K-pop sensation Twice, Playboi Carti, as well as Germany’s most popular female rap artist Shirin David, will bring an exceptional 2023 to an end. This unparalleled response echoes the rapidly growing public desire in all demographic groups for major events and productions. The outlook for 2024 is extremely positive, with sold-out stadium tours by Coldplay and Metallica and a variety of on-sales for stadiums, arenas, and a dozen festivals across the GSA region in the making.”

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Speaking of festivals, not all of them have been doing great this year, and there are different reasons for that. Some had trouble selling their usual amount of tickets, because the sheer amount of tours — and especially the many stadium shows — have been tapping the festival’s audience. Since virtually all events had to raise their ticket price at least a bit, some fans simply haven’t been able to afford a ticket this year. There’s a new generation of festivalgoers, who are showing less interest in camping, and prefer to opt for an easy experience followed by a good night’s sleep in a nice bed.

Last but not least, the high costs on all fronts have made it difficult to end up in the black even if an event sells out. Supply chain costs are simply a bigger factor if you’re setting up a temporary city in a field, compared to an indoor or stadium concert, where a lot of the infrastructure is already in place.

As Folkert Koopmans, CEO of FKP Scorpio, said in a recent interview with Germany’s Kreiszeitung, 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.

01 Marteria Highfield Christian Hedel
German rapstar (and former Pollstar cover artist) Marteria performing at Highfield Festival, a co-promotion of FKP Scorpio and Semmel Concerts. (Picture by Christian Hedel)

Speaking to Pollstar, FKP Scorpio’s other CEO, Stephan Thanscheidt, who heads up the company’s festival booking, summed it up as follows: “We reflect upon an extraordinary festival season in Germany, characterized by seamless operations. The majority of the time, we were blessed with splendid weather, we saw mind-blowing shows, and well-orchestrated productions. Our ticket sales flourished, and the feedback by our audience was very positive. Thus, in hindsight, we feel that things are more or less back to normal. The acquisition of personnel and production materials has become less arduous. Also, we notice that people are more willing to go out and enjoy concerts and festivals.

“Nevertheless, the financial aspect presents a conundrum. The costs associated with our productions have double or tripled, obviously we cannot and will not compensate for this by tripling the ticket prices. Economically, it is still a challenge to work with diminishing profit margins on one hand, and global predicaments like energy crises and inflation on the other. While we are alert for these problems, it is noteworthy that our festival pre-sales achieved unprecedented records. Furthermore, we are more than ready for significant upcoming tours, including an engagement with Taylor Swift and many outstanding artists and projects, which we will announce in the next months.”

The fact that FKP Scorpio, after a record year 2022, that posed so many post-pandemic challenges, could operate in a seamless, almost back-to-normal manner this year, goes to show the strength of its network across Germany, and, indeed, Europe. Smaller businesses that aren’t part of a bigger group, like in.Stuttgart for example, are noticing a lack of specialized staff in all areas, according to Kroll, be it service providers or organizers. Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion’s Wendt confirmed, “The shortage of personnel capacities in almost all areas, security, catering, etc., presents us with major challenges.”

FKP Scorpio is part of the Eventim Live network of promoters, and according to CTS Eventim CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, all of “the summer festivals staged by the Eventim Live promoter network were very well attended this year. Rising prices are definitely a challenge, but we’re tackling them with a number of measures, including active cost management.”

He confirmed “the big stars in particular are pulling in the crowds again. It’s a bit harder for the small and medium-sized acts, though, partly because there’s just so much choice out there.” He emphasized, however, that his company’s robust growth “isn’t just down to individual blockbuster tours – it’s also driven by the sheer number and variety of successful tours, shows and festivals that are on our books. Recent highlights have included Herbert Grönemeyer, Hans Zimmer and P!nk. And as ever, the Eventim Live pipeline is packed with superb upcoming acts, shows and tours.”

05 Kaisermania 2022 Frank Embacher 7
Roland Kaiser is a true phenomenon, and one of the most successful Schlager artists to ever take a stage. Here he’s seen celebrating the 20th anniversary of his Kaisermania concert series in Dresden, promoted by Semmel Concerts. (Photo by Frank Embacher)

One thing is clear, at least for the time being: the safest bets are stadiums. Dieter Semmelmann, CEO of Semmel Concerts, also part of Eventim Live, said, “I basically see an increase in open-air events – of any size. We will also be going to some stadiums with Roland Kaiser next year. The live experience in a stadium is simply something very special, and there are also not so many open-air venues that have high seating capacities.”

Semmelmann addressed the two obvious ways to offset rising costs: asking artists to take a lower fee or raising prices. “If you want to continue to hold events at a high level of quality, there is hardly any leeway here. An increase in ticket prices is also only feasible within a certain framework, at least for us,” Semmelmann said.

Hoch said there’s probably still some room to increase ticket prices but there’s a limit. “At some point,” he said, “people will say, ‘I cannot or don’t want to afford this anymore.’ There’s especially room to increase prices with the superstars, who fill the stadiums, where people are still willing to bear the costs, but there’s a limit, too.”

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