As 2023 draws to a close, Access gauges the thoughts of event producers, promoters, venue operators and industry association heads as to how 2023 shaped up and what next year is likely to bring.

A-list acts such as Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay have seen highly priced tickets for their stadium shows sell like hot cakes, and major event promoters and venue operators are enjoying remarkable demand for VIP hospitality packages. Meanwhile operators of huge sports event such as the British Grand Prix are attracting record attendances by embellishing their offerings with live entertainment.

There has been no shortage of highlights this year not least Liverpool’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest, the UCI Cycling World Championships in Scotland, and Burna Boy becoming the first African artist to headline a UK stadium.

The appetite for live events has remained strong, and in the first week of July more than 1 million people attended live music shows in London alone, but among the mid-range festival operators and grassroots venues the outlook is not so bright. According to the Music Venue Trust, more than 100 grassroots venues have closed in the last 12 months. Meanwhile, many small to mid-size festivals struggled this year.

Following the postponement of Bluedot Festival after it was battered by winds and rain this year, Superstruct cancelled the 2024 edition of NASS festival due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the “significant increase” in operational costs.

Venue view

John Drury

At OVO Arena Wembley, its VP & GM John Drury says the north London venue has enjoyed its first “normal” year since reopening after the lockdowns and fans have returned in record numbers. Key contributors to that success have been three show runs by Ricky Gervais and Singaporean singer JJ Lin. Eight nights of boxing certainly helped business, as did shows by first time headliners including Critical Role, Maisie Peters, Melanie Martinez and Greta Van Fleet.

“The industry’s market for premium packages is probably undervalued at the moment.”

Drury says that at a time when costs have risen and margins shrunk, the industry could and should do more to meet a growing demand for VIP packages: “The industry’s market for premium packages is probably undervalued at the moment and doesn’t always reflect the growing demand for enhanced experiences. More concentration on a number of premium options can greatly elevate the guest experience, while also keeping the income within the live sector.”

At the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, the team at the OVO Hydro have been celebrating the venue’s 10th birthday, and in February the arena hosted its one thousandth show.

Debbie McWilliams

Despite the rise in utility, labour and supply chain costs, SEC director of live entertainment Debbie McWilliams says the demand from fans for live experiences has been robust and the past year has been one of the venue’s strongest to date, with it welcoming more than 1.2 million people through the doors.

In line with Drury’s experience in London, McWilliams says offering value-added event packages has become an increasingly important revenue stream: “Since the return of live, we’ve noticed an increased demand for elevated fan experiences, and this is a huge opportunity for the industry. We’ve also noticed a shift from the desire for intimate suites to shared social experiences. To meet the demand, we’ve recently revamped our Hydro members offering with our new-look dining and drinks space with a second opening this month.”


For Ryder Cup operations director Paul Dunstan, 2023 was the successful culmination of eight years of hard work by him and his European Tour team in the build-up to the 44th Ryder Cup. The event took place at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club near Rome from 29 September – 1 October. Team Europe took the trophy, but the event also benefitted many major event suppliers including GL Events and Arena Group.

Paul Dunstan

Like all event operators, Dunstan says the impact of soaring inflation has meant paying more for products and services this year: “It seems to have had a huge domino effect regardless of which way we look at it – we’re asking to pay less for more, and on the other side businesses are asking for more to deliver less, which will be passed on to subcontractors, transport companies and so on. In parallel to this we’re speaking with our sponsors who are challenging us to deliver bigger and better, so it’s been a bit of a juggling act.”

There has been a widespread move across the industry to enhance the event experience for attendees by including additional facilities and forms of entertainment. In many cases that means combining live entertainment with elite sporting endeavour, which has given rise to the term ‘sportainment’.

Dunstan believes that it remains vitally important to focus on the core offering and not get carried away with peripheral activity: “I’d be really interested to see how the post-Covid growth in events plays out. Everyone seems to be busier than ever which is great, with more events on a bigger scale, and larger live attendances. The challenge is how the industry can maintain this momentum and continue the growth. I would fall on the side of caution and suggest that we don’t lose the reason people attend a live event, and generally the core reason is the sport, music, performance itself rather than all the side entertainment. The extras are absolutely brilliant but can sometimes distract from delivering a brilliant core product.”

Production agency LS Events works across live music, sports and major ceremonies. Its key summer music events include AEG Presents’ BST Hyde Park and All Points East; with its team at the latter show this year impressively reacting to football fever to rapidly mobilise the delivery of a 10,000-capacity fan experience that provided a free screening of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final.

Laura Armstrong, senior projects manager at LS Events, says among the other highlights of 2023 was delivering FIA Formula E events around the world. “It was our realisation of the Formula E Fan Village that would become a moment to remember, setting precedent for the Formula E Fan experience across the global race schedule,” she says.

Laura Armstrong

Among LS Event’s business wins this year was being appointed by the Greater London Authority as its event management agency to produce, programme and manage the UEFA Champions League 2024 Fan Meeting points, aspects of the Champions Festival and other key host city activity.

Armstrong says that key to the company’s ability to cope with the challenging economic climate, not least the impact of staffing costs inflation, was the implementation of a detailed procurement review and development of a systematic approach to evaluating contract proposals to mitigate the impact on client budgets: “When analysing data, we worked at a forensic level of detail to understand which areas were tracking an increase against inflation and which could be leveraged for budget efficiencies. We simply wouldn’t have been able to carry out such a detailed investigation without the support and engagement of contractors who were prepared to be transparent and flexible.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Armstrong says the industry will doubtless feel a pinch on supply chain resources due to it being an Olympics year: “Especially when you factor in the impact of Euro 2024 which is taking place in Germany around the same time. It’s so important to leverage strong supplier relationships during these times to get a handle on the risks posed to your event infrastructure. We are working further ahead than ever before, in collaboration with suppliers who are keen to adopt a proactive approach to mitigating stress points in the calendar.”

Among the highlights of 2023 for production agency Engine No 4 was simultaneously working on Lost Village festival in Lincoln, and Noel Gallagher and Primal Scream shows in Manchester’s Wythenshawe Park during the August bank holiday weekend. Director Jim Gee says that while it was heartening to see the post-pandemic return of experienced freelancers to the industry this year, and improvements to the supply chain, the company felt the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on all sides.

“Slow ticket sales, combined with an assumption of a reduced spend per head on site by those who could afford tickets, puts huge pressure on event organisers trying to align budgets,” he says. “At the other side of the scale, suppliers and freelancers are also facing increased operating and living costs. Many of them only just scraped through losing two seasons of work due to Covid and are still paying back the loans. Constant increases in energy, fuel, materials, insurance and wage costs continue to compound the issues for all of them.

“Promoters are struggling to increase the costs of tickets; suppliers are struggling to control the increasing costs of delivering their services. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there are a lot of shows out there that have got uncertain futures. We need the next generation of promoters and creatives to have confidence in the wider future of the industry so we can all continue to create these invaluable experiences.”

United approach

Across the festival sector, and wider live music industry, initiatives have been launched to encourage ticket sales and try to persuade the Government to invest in the future of an industry that, in the live music segment alone, generated more than £5.2 billion last year and employs over 228,000 people. Among the headline asks from live music industry associations is a reduction in VAT on ticket sales to 5%.

Clare Goodchild

Clare Goodchild, a director at live event production agency Organise Chaos, says that among the highlights of 2023 were winning Site Manger and Employer of the Year at the AAA Awards. Operationally, key moments were being awarded the Brockwell Live contract and delivering a site move for We Out Here festival.

“The longer these challenges continue then the more damaging they will be to our events,” she says. “I can’t see many of these levelling out in 2024.The industry is still united and pushing forward through organisations like LIVE, AIF, and AFO, and we need to continue to be active and vocal to ensure we don’t lose any more shows.”

Gee agrees that a 5% VAT rate on ticket sales is much needed: “It feels like a sensible measure that will help push things back in the right direction. Nobody is asking for handouts, we just need Government to understand the importance of the live music industry, recognise its financial potential, and engage in some targeted support that will ultimately be cost neutral.”

At the AIF, which passed 100 members for the first time this year, its CEO John Rostron says the most visible impact of the cost-of-living crisis in 2023 was the move by many people to buy their festival tickets on payment plans: “Previously payment plans were around 4% of our overall sales. This year they have been closer to 20%.”

Aside from financial concerns, the AIF is working across the live sector and with the Home Office to address fears around the implementation of anti-terrorism legislation Martyn’s Law. “If left unchecked it could put unmanageable asks on festivals,” he says.

Among the highlights of the year for Rostron was the launch of AIF’s inaugural First Festival Campaign, designed to enable eligible 18-year-olds to buy a ticket for their chosen festival for just £18. He is also buoyed by the work of independent festivals in the face of the climate crisis: “It is extraordinary, this year has been a landmark year for drilling into the detail on power usage as well as seeing the rise in battery technology. It’s a tipping point I think. Festivals are incredibly low-carbon holidays; they adapt and rebuild sites each year that are more accessible than ever.”

On The Mount At Wasing

The highlights of 2023 for Ollie Rosenblatt, CEO of Sony Music-backed promoter Senbla, include launching On The Mount at Wasing; a 6,000-capacity concert series that saw headliners Gabriels, Jack Johnson, Primal Scream, Ben Howard and Sigur Ros perform in a tree-lined amphitheatre.

He says that people need more convincing than ever to spend their money, and that while ticket prices for the big shows are escalating there is considerable price sensitivity elsewhere in the market and it’s vitally important to be aware of the ceiling for certain events.

The promoter expects the cost-of-living challenges to continue next year, and says he is also concerned about the volume of content, and the volatile global backdrop having cost implications on productions: “A reduced VAT rate would be a welcome addition to offset various cost increases. A greater involvement by organisations that can influence putting on the breaks of other organisations adding to our show cost basis is something I think needs greater focus, otherwise promoters continue to get squeezed from all sides.”