When we reached out to Nils Hoch, deputy CEO at Munich’s Olympic Park, his team was just gearing up for the second edition of Superbloom Festival, which takes over the historic grounds for a weekend of music, art, and family entertainment each September. The park, which was originally created to host the 1972 Olympic games, has aged very well over half a century, culminating in its most successful business year so far in 2023. To make sure it is well-suited to host music, sports, exhibitions, and more for the next 50 years as well, it has been undergoing extensive renovations, the bulk of which will take place in the coming years.
Hoch talked about the refurbishment plans, the unprecedented demand for blockbuster stadium shows, and more.
Pollstar: How would you sum up the health of the German live entertainment market in general, and Munich in particular, at this point in time?
Nils Hoch: Basically, live entertainment is doing very well again, at least in certain areas, and particularly shows by top-tier artists. Aside from that there’s a wide range [of shows], especially the mid-sized arena shows, which are struggling quite a bit.
What you can really feel are the various price increases we’re all dealing with at the end of the day, particularly as far as the service sector is concerned, from security to hospitality to everyone involved in a show – that’s definitely noticeable.
That being said, our main source of income here in Munich is our Olympic Stadium, and we’ve actually had our best year in history. All open-air shows this year sold out, and we’re hosting a big festival in our Park this coming weekend.
Are smaller and medium-sized shows struggling because ticket buyers are also faced with price increases and need to think twice as hard what to spend their money on?
That’s certainly one of the main reasons. Another one is the over-saturated market: everyone’s on tour, or about to go on tour, and consumers can be picky about what they’d like to see. But in the higher-priced segments, everything is selling well.
If you look at Harry Styles, or, next year, Taylor Swift – the sheer amount of VIP tickets they’re putting up for sale is unheard of, but they sell out. People are consciously choosing what to go see, and the superstars simply work.
I’m assuming the price increases you’re facing are down to the fact that suppliers pass their increased costs on to you?
Absolutely, energy, and supply chain costs. But, talking about us specifically, we’re also participating in the price increases, because our rent is a percentage of the ticket sales. And ticket prices, in general, are increasing. But, if some shows attract less visitors, we’re also losing out at the end of the day.
Do you promote your own events, too?
A few. In terms of music, there’s one event, our Sommernachtstraum [Midsummer Night’s Dream], with popular artists, at least in Germany, and a giant fireworks display, where we handle the ticketing ourselves. That also went well this year, we sold just over 30,000 tickets, almost sold out.
We also promote a big action sports festival called MASH, where entry is free of charge. It was very successful, too, in terms of visitors, but this event doesn’t set economic benchmarks, of course. Everything else, 98% to 99%, is business from third-party promoters.
Is there room to increase ticket prices?
There probably is still some room, but there’s a limit. At some point, 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.
How important are different event genres to your business?
Music is certainly our most important business, at least in economic terms. We earn our money through music, and the biggest segment are the open-airs.
We have a classic open-air stadium, no home team, which means we can offer dates all summer. Our maximum capacity is 75,000, and that works very well. Even in our [arena] Olympiahalle, music is [the biggest factor].
But we are also a sports park, so, sports is a very important element. Last year, we hosted the European Championships, our biggest sports event since the Olympics in 1972. That went really successful, I think we’ve earned ourselves a lot of international recognition. And it was really fun, too. Sport projects are important for us, we regularly hold marathons, and will host the preliminaries of the Handball Euros next year. The potential for hosting another Olympics in Munich is also a big topic right now. So, while it’s an important market segment for us, there’s simply not much money to be made, when compared to music.
We do host family shows, occasionally, but I think that genre has gotten more difficult [to promote]. Tourism is another huge segment for us. We host tours of the site, in particular the Olympic Tower. B2b events – trade fairs, product launches, exhibitions – complete the market segments that make up our business.
Interesting, I thought family shows, particularly in stadiums, were the next big thing.
Not in our experience. Our advantage is, that competition is manageable. They tried a few concerts at the Munich fair grounds, but we remain fairly unique in the south of Germany.
But we’re also 50 years old, and it’s about time to upgrade and refurbish our most important event venues. This means that, over the next two years, we’ll only be able to accept a limited amount of events at the stadium. We’re pretty much fully booked over the next two years, and in 2026, we’ll actually have to close for the entire year, so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t host a family show there right now. We’ll be back in 2027 with a completely overhauled operating technology.
Which buildings are going to be refurbished?
The arena [Olympiahalle] is done, we’ve managed to refurbish it while it was operating. Work on the Olympic Stadium will begin in October, also initially while the stadium is in operation. We will be limited in events until the 20-month complete closure in fall 2025, as we will have to close the doors for two weeks between each show. The plan is that the Olympic Stadium will then be back in operation in May 2027. That certainly hurts. We’re currently on the look-out for new open-air spaces in Munich, and I may have news to share in that regards towards the end of the year.
And, of course, the Olympic Tower, which attracts between 500,000 and 600,000 people annually. It’s a true Munich landmark, which will have to close for two years, starting next summer. The Olympic Park is a historic site, after all.
What are the most important points that are going to be overhauled at the stadium?
All the floodlights will be renewed, the operating technology will be refurbished, the fire prevention, and other safety aspects will be overhauled, the entire ground substrate needs to be renewed. So, it’s not about building new VIP loges, which we can’t do anyways, because we are a listed building under landmark status.
What’s does “the most successful year in terms of ticket sales” mean in concrete numbers?
The most up-to-date number is 715,000 tickets at 11 open air concerts at the Olympic Stadium. . Most of those were generated by Rammstein, who performed four nights at our building this year, completely sold out within hours.
What’s the maximum capacity of the stadium for these shows?
With an in-the-round stage, like Ed Sheeran is currently using, or Metallica will be using next year, it’s 75,000.
All of these artists are playing residencies in stadiums, that’s new isn’t it?
Certainly. 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. Taylor Swift will perform two nights next year, Coldplay three. That obviously helps us massively. Both sold out in no time, and we’re talking 200,000 to 300,000 tickets in those examples alone.
You’re hosting Superbloom for the second time this year. How’s Olympiapark coming along as a festival site?
We’re not a classic festival site, there are just a few limitations. We operate our own catering, for example, and a few other things where we’re not entirely free to choose.
But it works well, bringing a young audience to the site. It’s sustainability oriented, which aligns with us, and is also selling quite well, which isn’t the case for all festivals this year.
We’re a public park, and closing it for private events brings all sorts of municipal issues. And an event of the size of Superbloom requires us to shut the entire park.
Do you observe a change in customer behavior compared to, say, pre-COVID? Are VIP tickets in greater demand?
They’re buying tickets much later, except for the top-sellers. With 95% of shows, people are buying tickets on very short notice, particularly outdoors. But I’m not sure it’s a post-COVID effect.
VIP offers are actually declining, at least in our case when looking at events at Olympiahalle. But there’s a great variety in terms of what is being offered as VIP package, from full-service packages including food, beverages, and parking space right in front of the building to being able to witness the soundcheck, which isn’t the classic VIP package as I know it. And these offers, that allow fans to be closer to the artists, have increased.
Any other upcoming events you’d like to highlight?
Aside from the above, we’ll also be hosting public viewings, a fan zone, and fan festival, for next year’s soccer Euros June through July. A definitive highlight!