Fans could be back at concerts this summer.
Those new projections from music-business leaders are a relief for fans like Jorge Ramos, who has been using Google Docs to track the 20 concerts and four festivals—most postponed or canceled—he bought tickets for before and during the pandemic. The 24-year-old has faithfully held on to tickets for shows that were pushed to an unknown future date (like the Rolling Stones), or back a year (My Chemical Romance, Kiss).
The concert business is counting on avid fans like Mr. Ramos to spark a hoped-for restart this summer and fall after a long, painful pause. Industry executives, who are quick to note their business was among the first to shut down because of Covid-19 and likely among the last to come back, are cautiously plotting a gradual return to live shows as infections appear to subside and vaccination rates rise.
Live Nation Entertainment Inc.’s
earnings conference call Thursday, Chief Executive
told investors the world’s largest concert promoter thinks it can begin staging outdoor amphitheater shows by midsummer.
chief executive of rival AEG Presents, said he believes full-capacity club and theater shows will be possible this fall. Live Nation, whose fourth-quarter revenue dropped 92% from the previous year, saw shares rise 2% this week through Tuesday to push its 30-day climb to nearly 30%.
The comments reflect growing optimism about the availability of vaccines across the U.S. On Tuesday, President Biden said he expects the country to have enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May. Meanwhile, there are moves by states such as Texas to reopen fully, dropping mask mandates and limits on gathering sizes.
Global revenue from concerts, on a tear before the pandemic, rose to $26.1 billion in 2019 before falling to $6.5 billion in 2020.
‘A couple months ago I wasn’t sure if it was even remotely possible. Now I feel like, wow, that could happen.’
“A couple months ago I wasn’t sure if it was even remotely possible,” music manager
said of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre show that Lake Street Dive is slated to play at the end of September in Colorado. “Now I feel like, wow, that could happen.” The alternative pop group’s team is exploring whether it can use that show to kick off a fall tour at outdoor venues.
partner at Denver-based artist management company 7S Management, said one of his acts spent months considering whether to scrap their 2021 dates. “This week we said, ‘Maybe we should hold on,’ ” he said. “We have more confidence that this will happen.”
senior agent on United Talent Agency’s Nashville music-leadership team, said he is optimistic that outdoor tours can happen this summer.
“As vaccine rollout and testing capacity increases, and it becomes more socially acceptable to do these things, we’ll start to see fall tours indoors as well,” said Mr. Hasson, whose roster includes Dashboard Confessional, Dayglow, Ruston Kelly and Jamey Johnson.
“Within the next month we’re going to see more and more things announced for summer and fall,” he added.
Live Nation said the outdoor amphitheater season could go later into the fall than usual. “We expect people will be willing to put on their puffers to enjoy some shows and make up for lost time,” Live Nation President
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Artist teams, wary after postponing and rescheduling shows, say they won’t announce dates until they are certain they can go forward. Managers, agents and promoters say venues are booked and tour routing between them has been worked out, but the industry is waiting for clearance from authorities before making plans public.
“Pretty much every band we work with has a plan for this year,” said Mr. Tetzeli, whose firm manages 30 artists, including Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The wait-and-see approach likely means shorter windows for ticket sales, more like six to 12 weeks ahead of shows rather than five to six months, agents and promoters said. Fan demand for live events appears strong, with 83% opting to hold on to their tickets for rescheduled shows instead of taking refunds, according to Live Nation.
Last week, U.K. authorities said large music events there can resume beginning June 21. Live Nation said it sold 100,000 tickets for its August Reading and Leeds festivals in 72 hours; it sold out 70,000 tickets to its Creamfields festival in 48 hours.
The industry has experimented with limited-capacity shows, creating socially distant pods for fans to watch from, as well as drive-in concerts during the pandemic. While creative, those were largely stopgap measures. Playing to partially filled venues doesn’t make financial sense long term.
“We don’t see that as a viable model to ramp back up,” Live Nation’s Mr. Rapino said of the partial-capacity shows. “We think we’re close enough, though, where we are with Covid and what all the governors in the states we’re talking to, that there will be a clear outline to a 75% to 100% outdoor green light in 2021.”
While socially distant shows might phase out, executives expect live-streaming to remain a component of concerts going forward.
“If you have a sold-out tour, artists will figure out how to capture that with streaming,” said UTA’s Mr. Hasson.
In addition to deeper cleaning protocols and ubiquitous hand-sanitizing stations, concertgoers can expect lots of touchless technology. Digital ticketing, contactless entry, and purchases of food, beverages and merchandise using mobile phones will be the new norms.
One challenge for the concert industry, said
an analyst for LightShed Partners, is that restrictions and guidelines are likely to vary by location. Managers, agents and promoters say tours will likely route through more open markets like Texas and the southern U.S. before arriving in more restrictive coastal markets. They also have contingencies in place for breaking off or moving legs of tours.
Whether certain tickets will require proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test or a mask might also vary by market, promoter and venue.
“Will I wear masks? Sure, I do it every day. However, I don’t really see why bands like Pearl Jam would tour while there are still mandates,” said Mr. Ramos, who lives in Austin and expects to see smaller, local acts back in concert before arena shows. “I really don’t see the live-music industry coming back until we all can go back to being extremely close to each other in the pit.”
Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com
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