By: Eric Fuller
Truth hurts. This is not going to be pretty.
I know half the people involved in live events are praying for summer. “If only we could get to June and start the shows, then maybe we’ll survive.” “I’ll just buy tickets for the big fall shows. Those shows are going for sure and I can make money flipping them later this year.” Nope. As Tony Soprano said: Fuggedaboutit.
I’ll walk you through my reasoning in a minute but here’s what you have to know, believe and begin to process: We’ll be lucky to restart live events in the fall. I believe, at best, we’ll have sporadic attempts to hold small concerts and limited admission sporting events in the summer. My best prediction is this: by Fall of this year at least one major sports league will have filed for bankruptcy protection, half of the resale ticket markets worldwide will have failed, rational pricing will return across the board and almost everyone in the business of buying tickets for resale will be wounded or dead except for the smallest players who have no overhead or the biggest who actually have deep pockets rather than large credit card limits. Still want to be in tickets? Laissez les bon temps rouler.
Here’s why: Social Distancing and flattening the curve of Coronavirus spread. Please read the links I’m including with this article to better understand. The simplest version is this. Flattening the curve is a pretty metaphor for extending the time it takes to get everyone infected, then cured. Think of the old days with Chicken Pox. When the first kid in the neighborhood got Chicken Pox, all the moms brought their kids over too so they could all get it, then get past it together rather than having the disease ping-pong slowly around.
Today, in an effort to avoid overwhelming the global health system we are shutting down entire economies and asking people to shelter in place so the Coronavirus spreads slowly. That way there are hospital beds which open up as the first patients clear and the next wave can get treatment, a bed and a ventilator as needed. This is the best way to minimize morbidity, but also the slowest way to work through the spread of the virus.
Remember, you may have the virus for up to 14 days without showing symptoms. So, if our goal is to circulate this virus globally, slow enough to have capacity to treat those who are deeply impacted, that’s going to take months instead of weeks. And, recognizing that one person in China managed to start a pandemic which circled the globe in less than 90 days, it makes no sense to think that we’ll return to any form of normal before everyone has had the chance to get the Coronavirus, or get clear of it which is at least 14 more days after the last wave of people get infected. My take is that if the government is willing to close the economy, spend more than a trillion dollars in financial aid to keep it closed, all to work us past the risk of mass infection overwhelming our medical infrastructure, they’re not going to reopen early just because MLB wants to hit the field or the NFL is ready for some football.
So, there goes the summer. Now, as to live events, how soon is too soon? That’s a question which will require some forms of both government and insurance clearance. I know for sure that if anyone who goes to the first series of live events pops up positive for Coronavirus there’ll be a plaintiff lawyers feast on the carcass of the promoter and venue owner.
This isn’t yet sinking in. Earlier this week Elton John sent around the following email announcing the postponement of shows scheduled between March 26th through May 2nd, 2020:
Show dates March 26 through May 2, 2020 to be rescheduled to 2021.
After serious consideration, it is with deep regret that Elton John will postpone a portion of upcoming North American dates on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour from March 26 through May 2, 2020. The May 22 thru July 8 performances remain as scheduled. This tough decision has been made with the safety and well-being of his fans put to the fore, at a time when health services are under increased pressure and with the concern that these gatherings risk accelerating the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Ticketholders of the postponed performances will receive new event information shortly and all original tickets will be honoured at the rescheduled performances.
Elton looks forward to continuing to perform for his dedicated fans around the world and thanks you for your support.
Elton’s shows aren’t going to restart in May for so many reasons including this: Elton John himself is of an age which places him in a high risk category were he to contract the Coronavirus. No insurance company is going to bind coverage for a tour by him which is going out that soon.
Similarly, just this week Lady Gaga opened up the general sales of her stadium tour. Now, she’s young(ish) and fit. But, two things: first her ticket prices were insanely high. In this new world, with the stock market crashing and unemployment headed rapidly beyond 20% the idea of spending huge money for any concert is questionable. But, a stadium show? That’s really live radio for most of the people who are there to say they were there or to enjoy the collective energy of a crowd. For the rest of this year at least, there’s going to be real hesitance to plunge into a crowd. Music is heading toward AirPods. It’s the dawning of the in-ear era.
And, as the ethos shifts from the cost is no object “you shoulda been there” world to a more chastened understanding that cash is not trash and savings carry you through crisis, it’s going to be some time before we return to $3,000 Jojo Siwa tickets to keep your pre-teens social status on high.
Then there’s this, in a post-crash economy what’s the appetite at all for live? Over the past few months there has been no-one riding a faster bullet to the top than Billie Eilish. She deserves it. I saw both her shows at Coachella last year. She was phenomenal. But, fame is fickle. How much buzz melts away when your first area tour is postponed a year? At that point does anyone feel compelled to hear Bad Guy live or does it become Old Town Road 2021? And, furthermore, at what point do we decide that The Rolling Stones or a reunited Genesis are merely a jukebox musical cover band of what they once were? What’s that worth to a population that just went from insanely wealthy to getting checks from the government in just four weeks?
Live isn’t dead, it’s on hiatus. What is dead are the following: Obscene ticket prices, waiting rooms to buy tickets, dynamic pricing, flipping tickets to earn mileage points, stadium shows, 35% fees on resale tickets and artists with one good song traveling by Gulfstream. Balance is returning to the ticket world, prices are going to come down and the consumer experience is going to improve because the customers will demand that. We can always learn from the airlines. Just weeks ago they priced on whim, upcharged for everything and made it near unaffordable to reserve seats together. Now, flights are so empty they fly with only eight people on board, all of whom are given a courtesy upgrade to first class because the airline is so hopeful these people will fly with them again.
Resale isn’t dead either. It’s just shifting from a massive industry harvesting tickets for arbitrage to a more targeted service of holding seats for people who don’t yet know they’ll want to see an event being pre-sold for a future date. Resale is going to become more attentive to the needs of the fans because, right now, the resale markets have seen a power shift. In order to function they need both demand from fans and supply from speculators. In a post Coronavirus world, I’d expect less consumer interest in season tickets to sporting events and more in last minute one off ticketing. The ticket business is consolidating. On which side of the consolidation line are you?
I’ve had the good fortune to interact with many of you either directly, at conferences, during group chats or through stories such as this one. I want you all to know that I believe in you, and I believe in this business. As my part of trying to help rebuild, I’ll be answering reasonable questions all month. That’s my way of contributing to solving this crisis. Just email, my address is below.
I’ll do my best to either answer you directly, or if I see certain questions repeat frequently I’ll post another article which goes over them all. I will not identify publicly the source of any question.
Let me know what you think.
This post was originally published at Medium. It is republished here with the author’s permission.
About the Author
Eric Fuller is a consultant advising leading companies in the live event space. If you are an investor, artist, promoter, team, producer, venue operator, primary or secondary market of ticketed events or have comments on this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me: [email protected]