Rockin’ Summer: Oz Enjoys Solid Touring Season—Can It Last?

Published in Billboard Magazine
Australia’s live scene has enjoyed a long, hot summer like no other. Most promoters say the live business Down Under has never been healthier, and new statistics published by the Australasian Performing Right Assn. (APRA) and trade group Live Performance Australia seem to back it up.

But quietly, impresarios are wondering just how long the good times will last. Some festivals have fallen by the wayside, and some promoters admit that the super-heated concert business will cool down. But not just yet.

“Last summer was awesome,” says promoter Paul Dainty of Dainty Consolidated Entertainment. “A lot of people came into it wondering if the market could sustain all those tours. It was one of the busiest summers ever.”

The promoter presented acts like Bon Jovi, Michael Bublé, Miley Cyrus and Enrique Iglesias, all of whom did “storming business,” Dainty says. “Basically everything we did was sold out. It was a phenomenal summer.” Dainty has another phenomenon on his hands with Eminem, whose three open-air shows—Dec. 1 at the 60,000-seat Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and Dec. 2 and Dec. 4 at the 50,000-seat Sydney Football Stadium—sold out in about 30 minutes.
Ticket pricing is a hot topic at the moment. “We’re now seeing tightening in the market, definitely in relation to tours that have very high premium-ticket prices,” Dainty says. “If you see a $300 ticket, it’s getting much tougher to get those away. If your second price is $150-$170, people are targeting those.”

Australians are relatively flush at the moment. But they’re discerning as to how and where they spend their cash, veteran promoter Gary Van Egmond says. The economy is in good shape, the local dollar is flying high against its U.S. counterpart, and the word “recession” isn’t mentioned—or felt—in these parts.

According to a recent Credit Suisse report, Australians are the world’s wealthiest people on a median basis and second in the world behind only Switzerland on an average basis. Australia’s relative financial comfort means more money to spend on entertainment. And how.
A new study of live music’s economic impact found that the business generated $1.2 billion Australian ($1.2 billion), a figure that includes ticket sales and revenue from food and drink.

The study, conducted by accounting firm Ernst & Young and commissioned by the APRA and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, found that Australia’s live music sector generated total profits and wages of $652 million Australian ($670 million) and supported close to 15,000 full-time jobs. Live Performance Australia’s separate “Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey” found live entertainment ticketing revenue in 2010 grew 22.6% to $1.3 billion Australian ($1.4 billion).

Concerts and festivals are big business in Australia. “Per capita, it’s easily the biggest live market in the world,” says veteran promoter Michael Chugg, who in 2011 presented Bob Dylan, Keith Urban and Dolly Parton, among others.

International tours will slow, but “it won’t happen this summer,” says Chugg, who anticipates a cooling-off in the festivals space. “There will be a settling-down of what’s been going on. We’re seeing that already.” Chugg’s company, Michael Chugg Entertainment, called off the Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Great Southern Blues Festival, citing “unsatisfactory” ticket sales, while the promoters of Soundwave Revolution (which blamed the loss of a key headliner), Funk N Grooves (poor ticket sales) and Rewind (again, ticket sales) all felt a chill. Canberra’s long-running Stonefest reconfigured its live rock music component because attendance was tumbling.

In the past 10 years, the festivals circuit on these shores has literally exploded. Some players refer to it as the “festivals frenzy,” where, it seems, every major city has a choice of more than a dozen fests during the summer.

“There’s certainly a lot of [festivals],” says Paul Piticco, co-promoter of Splendour in the Grass, which was headlined by Coldplay, Jane’s Addiction and Kanye West. “If you look at the summer festival schedule now, there’s a lot of new festivals. From the time Parklife starts right through to Bluesfest, you’ve got Future Music, Big Day Out, Laneway, the new Harvest festival, Homebake, Good Vibrations . . . It’s a dance from the time it gets warm to when it gets cold again. It’s quite packed.” Splendour—one of Australia’s most popular multiple-day fests—reportedly sold 30,000 tickets, roughly 2,000 short of a sellout. But it still made money, Piticco says.

Peter Noble, director of the iconic Bluesfest, says, “Discretionary spending is tighter this year than last year. The economy tells you, ‘You cannot maintain the level of festivals in Australia, and the supply of talent doesn’t exist.’ Economics then pushes up the price of talent and makes it unviable. The big events will remain established. The midlevel ones will do it tough. And it is going to get a whole lot tougher before things improve.”