Having extended the American Express presents BST Hyde Park show series to seven 65,000-capacity and two 50,000 capacity concerts this year, AEG Presents CEO of European Festivals Jim King tells Access about his plans to build on what is proving to be a landmark event for the promoter.
Speaking amid the maze of fencing, temporary structures and huge vehicles behind the new, larger, Great Oak stage created by Star Live, Jim King is bristling with enthusiasm. Across the industry there has been much talk of supply chain challenges and concerns around the cost of living crisis but as King prepares for a sold-out show by Elton John, he has every reason to be ebullient.
This year you have extended BST Hyde Park from six to nine shows. Is that a long-term plan?
That increase is in place for the next three years and we hope to extend that. It gives us the ability to be more adventurous with the artists that we want to book, but also with the production as well, because obviously we have got more shows in which we can amortise the cost of what we’re doing. So that’s helped us grow the site and grow the production.
We have the new contract with Royal Parks, so we are going to be here until 2027 and hopefully beyond that. That allows us to invest in the show. There’s some core elements, which we know the fans love about BST Hyde Park, we’ve uplifted the creative elements of those and we’ve got some new ones as well.
Among the big production improvements is the Great Oak stage, built by Star Live. How much bigger is it and what does that mean for the event going forward?
It is substantially bigger than it’s ever been before with more screens and then there is a new Great Oak tree too, which they have done a fantastic job on. The increased stage size allows us to incorporate more stadium level-touring productions. Artists can drop their stadium productions straight into the stage without any issues. That opens BST Hyde Park up to a wider range of touring artists in the future because they can reinstate a production they are touring with in other markets into BST Hyde Park without compromise. That’s tremendously exciting for us.
Hyde Park is a beautiful setting for a concert series. What are the challenges of setting up such a huge show in central London?
We have to factor in the road closure for the egress at Park Lane. We’ve worked very closely with the Royal Parks and Westminster Council to ensure that we have an event that adds value to the park, and to those people who want to come here whether they want to buy tickets to a show or to come during the midweek Open House experience – the free to access events that we have. I think we’ve got that balance right.
You have partnered with Hard Rock on The Rainbow Stage at the north end of the site, are there any other changes?
Previously, we would have the Summer Stage, which now has become the Birdcage Stage, which is a new production, a completely new creative installation. There has been an uplift in many of the creative areas, the left bank side of the site has a different look and feel to it and there’s a number of different buildings where we have the food and beverage outlets to transform the environment into something a little bit different from what you would normally see at most music venues.
With more than a million people attending shows up and down the UK this weekend, including Glastonbury and numerous stadium concerts, have you faced any major supply chain challenges with BST?
There have been concerns. The supply chain situation is well documented. We had a lot of good people leave the industry and lost a great deal of experience. If you look at the whole labour market, the entry point at the casual labour end, for jobs like security and stewarding and bar staff; we’re fortunate there that it replenishes itself each year as more young people come of age seeking jobs. We’re fortunate that there’s still a great desire among young people to work in the live music industry. What we have to do now is obviously replace the experience that we’ve lost and get those new entrants to our industry up to speed as quickly as possible. The situation will naturally improve as time goes on because as they work on more shows, they get more experience, and then they can pass that experience on. So it’ll take a while.
We were fortunate we were able to open last year with All Points East [cap. 40,000] and we’re already seeing the benefits of that among the people who work for us, six months or a year is a long time in a job to get more comfortable doing what you’re doing. It’s that confidence that experience brings.
The wider issue is a lot of good suppliers having left the industry, but a lot of good ones remain. The cost of resourcing is prohibitive at the moment; fabricating, manufacturing new parts, especially if you’re looking to do a new stage, a grandstand, new creative elements. We still have some elements that we will be adding next year because the supply chain just was not able to provide it for us in time. That’s fine, the most important thing is that we run the event well, and fans have a great time, not that I get every bell and every whistle that I want to put into the show.
“We’ve asked these guys to deliver an even more ambitious format in a difficult supply chain environment, after having two or three years off.”
The operational side of this for the artists and for the fans, and managing that connection, is still our primary goal. How we then overlay the creative elements to what we’re trying to achieve needs to work in unison with that, not at the expense of it. So, there’s been challenges with that, we’ve fortunate that LS Events coordinated the suppliers, extremely well this year. This is a hugely ambitious event to deliver. It was ambitious in 2019, after having done that format for seven years, and now we’ve then asked these guys to deliver an even more ambitious format in a difficult supply chain environment, after having two or three years off. So for them to pull this off the way they have, I couldn’t be more thankful of the work that they brought into it. That extends to all of the suppliers as well, who love working on this show. It is a very prestigious venue and environment and we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to work here and we don’t take that lightly. You can see that the suppliers value being here, and enjoy it. Everybody wants to bring their A game, and I think they all do.
How have ticket sales gone so far?
That’s the great thing, this year will be the best year we’ve ever had at BST Hyde Park and that is after all the very successful years we had before Covid. So, this is the biggest lineup we’ve ever had across all the shows, the highest number of tickets we’ve ever sold, the biggest growth we’ve ever had. Sales show that people are wanting that premium experience, they’re buying all of the hospitality packages. We have the highest number of sponsors engaged with us this year, which is fantastic as well, because that shows there’s a real desire from the wider economy and other sectors to be part of the live music sector. It just shows that there is a real demand, not just from within our industry, from artists to perform, and fans to buy tickets, but also from others outside the industry to be part of what we do. We’ve seen record numbers of sponsors. We take all those metrics as a really good indicator that in spite of the challenges we’re delivering to a very high level and people want to be a part of it.
“If we do our jobs well, if the artists do their jobs well, if we work cohesively to deliver an amazing experience for fans, then I feel optimistic about the future.”
How confident are you the live events market will withstand the wider economic pressures?
It was the same in 2019, there will always be some shows that do tremendously well and others less so but I think that will certainly be accentuated somewhat in 2022 and potentially even into 2023.
The market needs to and will show its resilient to the challenges the economy is facing at the moment but we have to provide value to fans and a reason for them to want to come. And, once they’re here, we have got to give them a good time. There’s no excuse for us not doing that because they won’t come back. If we do our jobs well, if the artists do their jobs well, if we work cohesively to deliver an amazing experience for fans, then I feel optimistic about the future. But I say that with some caution, we have to deliver against our promises and if we don’t, we’ll suffer from it. If we do, I think what we will come through strongly.