AEG Europe chief operating officer John Langford – who oversees the company’s many arenas across the region including London’s The O2 arena, Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg and Paris’s AccorHotels Arena – considers the collective work needed across the industry as it follows the roadmap back to full-capacity events.
A renewed sense of optimism is pulsating across the live music landscape in the UK. As I write this, Reading and Leeds music festivals have all but sold out – a clear indication that there is pent up demand from an eager population desperate to escape the boredom of lockdown. Live music is the perfect antidote to seemingly endless months of social isolation – a welcome cocktail at the end of a long day!
Boris Johnson’s sixty-eight-page roadmap to recovery is a beacon of hope, the first real, tangible wink across the bar to the event sector. But as we reflect on the first taste of freedom, let’s not forget that this is not the beginning of the end, but just the end of the beginning. There are a number of challenging obstacles that we need to scale before we can fling open the doors and let the kids in. If ever there was a time for the sector to come together it’s now. In particular, we need to wrap our arms around the proposed Events Research Programme and work closely with both science and government to build a re-opening plan that leads to sustainable, irreversible recovery of live events.
Assuming that we meet all the criteria to safely open on 21 June, arenas won’t be seeing a flood of events over the summer. The long lead times required to plan and schedule arena touring has already shifted most of our activity deeper into the year and beyond. Inbound international content and anything touring beyond our domestic borders is unlikely to firm up until there is a much clearer roadmap across Europe, and let’s not forget that until the home nations are aligned, domestic routings are also going to be a challenge.
“There are a number of challenging obstacles that we need to scale before we can fling open the doors and let the kids in. If ever there was a time for the sector to come together it’s now.”
The ramp up in arena activity will be cautious and slower than outdoor or grass roots music venues but when we’re back firing on all cylinders arenas are going to be crammed with content. The medium to long term outlook across our arena portfolio in Europe is hugely encouraging. Diaries are busier than they’ve ever been. We’re already taking bookings deep into 2024 – and the view across the next two years shows precious few open dates available.
Getting back to business won’t be business as usual. There will be the obvious changes – contactless transactions, enhanced cleaning, air purification and health messaging. During the ramp-up we can expect social distancing, masks, Covid-testing and status certifications. But what lasting, long-term impacts will we see on society and our business? For certain, I believe that the pandemic has made us more aware of our fragility and mortality, and it has reminded us of the importance of social cohesion and community. I hope that these shifts will drive us to embrace diversity, inclusion and the climate agenda. The live entertainment sector does not have a worthy report card in these areas and that needs to change. We can no longer just talk about these important topics, we need to act with leadership and conviction.