EAA 30th anniversary article

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96 An ILMC Publication FEBRUARY 2021 | £25 | €25




Feature_EAA 30th Anniversary

The AccorHotels Arena in Paris hosted the League of Legends world championship finals in November 2019



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OPERATION RESTART As the European Arenas Association marks its 30th anniversary, its members find themselves in the deepest crisis in their history. Gordon Masson talks to some of Europe’s biggest venues to find out how they plan to get back up and running, and the EAA’s central role in that operation…




Feature_EAA 30th Anniversary hen the European Arenas Association (EAA) celebrated its 20th birthday back in 2011, the live entertainment industry was in the infancy of a record-breaking run, as live music, in particular, grew in popularity, and venues throughout the continent enjoyed the challenges of ever bigger visiting productions, attracting more and more eager fans. A year ago, many of the EAA’s 36 member venues were predicting 2020 would deliver yet another record year, but the Covid-19 pandemic soon obliterated such optimism and ten months



on from the beginning of lockdown measures, there is still no clear indication about when Europe’s arenas will be able to resume operations. As a result, the EAA finds itself as the central hub for discussions about strategies for getting back to business, with members in constant contact to help plan how they can safely welcome artists and audiences back into their buildings while also protecting their staff and production crews. “Our EAA conversations over the past year have highlighted that although we are all in a different situation, country by country and city by city, we’re all actually in the same situation when it comes to the use of the venues,” reports current EAA president John Langford. “But having conversations facilitated by EAA membership between venue managers in Germany,

France and the UK, for instance, alerts you to how people are responding differently and gives us the opportunity to learn from others.” One topic that arena bosses all agree on is that any solutions for reopening need to be universal to facilitate artist plans for international touring, meaning that the discussions that the EAA is hosting will be crucial to the recovery of major live events on this side of the Atlantic. “Communication with our colleagues across Europe is as important right now as it has ever been,” states Mantas Vedrickas, events manager at the Žalgirio Arena in Kaunas, Lithuania. “The EAA helps us communicate easily, and the sharing of experiences helps us all deal with the situation that we are placed in. It allows the exchange of ideas, and helps find the best ways to

EAA 30th Anniversary_Feature implement solutions.” That sentiment is echoed by arena management across Europe, who are carefully making preparations to get back to business as soon as authorities give them the green light.

Preparations Behind Closed Doors

Many of EAA’s member venues last hosted concerts in March 2020, meaning that they are but a handful of weeks away from having an entire year without shows. That situation also means that thousands of people have been made redundant, further complicating the task of arena bosses when it comes to opening their venues for audiences. However, some venues have been more fortunate than others. Vedrickas notes that the Žalgirio Arena has remained open for local basket-

Muse are just one of hundreds of acts to have graced the stage at the O2 Arena in Prague

“Our EAA conversations over the past year have highlighted that although we are all in a different situation, country by country and city by city, we’re all actually in the same situation” John Langford | EAA

ball team, Žalgiris Kaunas, albeit without fans at games. “Throughout this entire situation, we have been in constant dialogue with event organisers [and] whenever hosting events will be allowed, we will be all ready to restart,” he pledges. Representing both the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin and the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Uwe Frommhold VP & COO of AEG Germany tells IQ, “Due to the generous furlough programme of the German government, we have been able to keep our staff on board throughout these tough times for our business. So we will be able to ramp up our workforce fairly quickly, once the situation calls for it. Furthermore, we were able to stage several non-concert events – fairs and sports – with reduced capacity, where our hygiene and social distancing protocols were put in practice. So we feel well prepared to gradually bring people back when the pandemic eases.” In Portugal, Jorge Vinha da Silva, CEO at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, says that outside of the complete lockdown restrictions, the venue had permission to run events at 50% capacity, respecting regulations such as social distancing, reserved seats, hand sanitisers, thermal cameras, a renovated air-conditioning system, and a complete contingency plan approved by health and safety authorities. Silva notes, “Of course, there were no international acts, but it was possible to have smaller events with local artists. We also used the venue for TV productions without audiences, and for the corporate side of the business, [we created] virtual or hybrid events.” Across the border in Spain, the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid has been put to similar use. “We did some film and TV shooting during the pandemic while we were not in lockdown or confined, as they need a big space now for the actors, separate dressing rooms, and different and isolated space for extras and bystanders,” says CEO Juan Carbonel. “In the meantime – with zero income – we invested and did improvements in the facilities as we upgraded air systems and natural air venting, together with [audience signage], new protocols for security and extra cleaning, etc.” Carbonel says the venue has also created new protocols regarding access strategies to protect arena workers and visiting crews. Detailing the plans for a return to hosting

events at the Arēna Riga in Latvia, chairman Girts Krastins says, “Our approach will be based on local health regulations, but as the summer and first months of autumn were relatively relaxed we were able to host some events with spectators and test some procedures.” Among those tested protocols were designated entrances, sales of socially distanced tickets, disinfection procedures for visitors and staff, clean zones for sports teams, shielded concessions, and safe food packaging.” Like Vedrickas in neighbouring Lithuania, Krastins has been able to hone some systems thanks to a sports team that calls Arēna Riga home. “Our ice hockey team is still playing at our venue, without spectators, and that allows us to routine our procedures and keep [our] employees.” And highlighting the importance of local trade bodies, as well as the EAA, on a bigger scale, Krastins adds, “Together with our local venue association we have been in touch with health authorities regarding possible solutions for crowd management under Covid-19 and that is one of the reasons why we were able to operate in summer and autumn.” That foresight in testing and training is a common theme among EAA members. At Münich’s Olympiapark, general manager Marion Schöne says, “During the first lockdown, we developed and implemented hygiene concepts for all our venues, and leisure and tourism facilities. We also trained employees as hygiene advisors in an in-house training course. From mid-May, we received permission to reopen under certain conditions. We were also able to hold daily concerts in the Olympic Stadium for six weeks in the summer, but only for a maximum of 400 people.” In Prague, Robert Schaffer, CEO at the O2 arena, reveals that the venue has been used several times, including for online concerts, but otherwise arena staff have taken the time to carry out maintenance programmes. But he remains cautious about the doors reopening. “We hope that from the second [half of the year] we can start to return to normal,” he says. “Specifically, from September, we can start hosting concerts, especially by domestic artists.” International artists will likely not return until 2022, he predicts. “Protecting the health of all involved is a top priority for us and we will certainly comply with all effective regulations, whether on capacity, time-segregated entrances to all sectors, temperMagazine


Feature_EAA 30th Anniversary ature measurement, staff testing and, of course, regular disinfection,” continues Schaffer. At the SEC in Glasgow, which includes the SSE Hydro Arena on its campus, director of live entertainment Debbie McWilliams notes that because it hosted a temporary hospital during the pandemic, staff have benefitted from National Health Service advice when planning for the venue’s return to action. “We are fortunate to have the input of NHS Scotland as they have implemented best practice in managing hygiene and cleaning of the NHS Louisa Jordan [hospital],” she says. And McWilliams acknowledges that instilling confidence among fans will be a major part of the rebuilding process. “Customer communi-

“From autumn, and at the latest in the fourth quarter, business must be running again to some extent, otherwise we see black for the future” Marion Schöne | Olympiapark

cation is pivotal in informing and encouraging responsible fan behaviour,” she says. “In partnership with Ticketmaster we have enhanced our ticket purchase process to include allocated entry arrival times, potential for carpark advanced bookings, a switch to fully mobile ticket delivery to support reduced contact entry, and we are transitioning all F&B and merchandising to cashless. Our comms plan is being developed to take cognisance of individual audience profiles and their needs.” Meanwhile, in Paris, AccorHotels Arena director general Nicolas Dupeux applauds his team’s flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing situation. “Since last March, we have been able to organise a number of events,” he says. “The first one, in June, was part of the annual Fête de la Musique celebrations, broadcast on French television. In record time, we had to prepare to welcome more than 30 artists, and then reorganise in less than three days to welcome 3,000 people, taking into account all the sanitary measures.” That ability to rapidly reorganise staff and systems to host major events is one of the arena sector’s unique skills. And facilitated by the communication networks that have developed through EAA membership, arena management across the continent are currently updating plans, often daily, for Covid-safe systems that will help relaunch their businesses and welcome fans back into their buildings.




The European Arenas Association began life in 1991, thanks to two brand new buildings – Stockholm’s Globe and the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona. Globe CEO Stefan Holmgren was visited by his Palau Sant Jordi equivalent, Jordi Vallverdú, and their discussions led them to contact a number of existing venues to find out if there was any appetite for a specialist trade body. Oslo’s Spektrum, which was also brand new, became a founding member, while London’s historic Wembley Arena made up the fourth pillar of the association at the inaugural meeting held in June 1991 at the Globe in Sweden. As word quickly spread around the venues community, the Rotterdam Ahoy became the next EAA member and invites were extended to arenas in other territories and participation began to spread far and wide. In IQ’s 20th birthday issue, Holmgren said the exchange of information allowed arena CEOs to keep tabs on events outside their markets, allowing them to identify any potential problems with incoming shows. “You could talk to these cities about what their income and costs were, what sort of publicity they received,” said Holmgren. “You had a good understanding as to whether it was possible in Stockholm or Amsterdam or wherever.” Initially, EAA membership was something of a closed shop, with only one arena per country permitted to join. Thankfully, as the arenas business has flourished throughout Europe, those restrictions were dropped to the extent that the likes of Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom today all have multiple members contributing to the network. EAA first occupied an office in Wembley, then Barcelona, before moving to The Netherlands where it was overseen for many years by The Ahoy’s Wim Schipper. Biannual meetings were hosted by different venues and, prior to the pandemic, typically involved two nights and three days of meetings, also allowing information exchanges below CEO level for the likes of technical directors, marketing directors, press officers and production chiefs. The association reorganised in 1988 and instituted board elections every two years, formalising what was previously a looser association. In 2006, another changing of the guard, led by new president Jos van der Vegt, CEO of the Ahoy, became the catalyst for exponential growth, taking membership from around a dozen venues to 30 in just five years. “We were proactive – we looked at the map of Europe, figured out which countries we didn’t have, then we phoned them,” said Van der Vegt, at the time. Now the Ahoy’s non-executive president and major shareholder, Van der Vegt contends that the EAA helped to change the face of the continent’s tour circuit. “When I took over at the Ahoy from Wim Schippers, I was very enthusiastic about the EAA,” he says. “Most of the arena managers simply ran the venues and someone else promoted the shows, so we were all very open and honest and would talk about things like catering and dealing with the arena owners, who for the most part were the local councils. “We would have guest speakers present to the EAA board and that was always interesting. For instance, I remember the boss of Cirque du Soleil, who then used their own tents to host shows, predicting that the shows would one day


EAA 30th Anniversary_Feature tour arenas – which, of course, they did, very successfully.” Van der Vegt highlights the levels of trust that the EAA has instilled among venue hierarchy. “Whenever we had a special issue in the Ahoy, I could call a colleague in Barcelona or London and ask them if they recognised the problem, and if so, could they advise me on how they handled it. That’s a fantastic tool to have in our business.” He adds, “Of course, now, the EAA is more important than ever because of Covid, and the conversations that are going on behind the scenes will be critical in making sure the arenas business returns in a healthy and successful way.”

association. “Accepting a new member unfortunately requires a full EAA meeting, so that has had to remain on hold, for the time being.”


When IQ marked the EAA’s 20th anniversary back in 2011, the organisation found itself at something of a crossroads in terms of whether it was going to review its membership structure to allow other venues to participate. Fast forward a decade and similar debates are ongoing, as EAA members comprehend that post-Covid, the more buildings the association represents, the more political potency it might have when lobbying policy makers. The quiet formation of the Arenas Resilience Alliance (ARA) has already opened doors that were previously inaccessible to the EAA, with venues management working hard behind the scenes to foster fledgling relationships with European politicians and regulators. “It was actually two-and-a-half years ago that our subcommittee initiated conversations with the cultural departments of the European Commission,” reveals Olivier Toth. “As part of the EAA, our remit is all about sharing knowledge about best practice at arenas, but one of the subcommittee’s original goals was to find out how member arenas could participate in EU projects and how the EAA and the EU could give added value to each other.” Those discussions with European Commission departments proved helpful to both sides, and Toth and his Northern Ireland-based colleague, Robert Fitzpatrick, began to develop relationships in Brussels, which have proved invaluable over the past year when Covid disrupted business activities. Fitzpatrick believes the subcommittee’s growth into the Arena Resilience Alliance shows a real statement of intent on behalf of the venues sector. “This is the first time that industry professionals have banded together to have conversations with policy makers in Brussels, but it’s from a rudimentary base – we’ve basically had two arenas lobbying, but we’ve already achieved decent results by winning the ears of MEPs and European Commissioners,” reports Fitzpatrick. His SSE Arena Belfast colleague, Adrian Doyle, notes, “The ARA is designed to be nimble and agile. We’ve managed to get to the heart of power in Brussels and get our foot in the door. Our job now is to ensure we have a place at the table when it comes to cultural policy making, and to try to represent our industry in a consistent manner.” Toth adds, “We want to disconnect lobbying from the pure ‘money ask’ and I think we are already achieving that with the initial ARA work in Europe. Like everyone else in the EAA and the wider live entertainment industry, we are passionate about what we do and I believe that can serve us well as we step up our lobbying initiatives in the future.” For his part, EAA president Langford recognises that the ARA’s remit will be crucially important to its parent body in the future, and the more cities, countries and venues that it can represent, the better chance its lobbying can become an effective exercise. “The growth of the EAA is important and we will hopefully look at what the composition of membership looks like going forward. That long-term strategy will definitely be high on the agenda when we’re able to kickstart operations, post-Covid,” Langford adds.



Presiding over the EAA during this most challenging period, Langford tells IQ that when he accepted the role, he had three clear goals that he wanted to accomplish during his two-year tenure: the European agenda, sustainability, and technology and innovation. “To be honest, we have not been great, historically, at engaging with the political establishment, so I wanted to tap into what the EU agenda was, as regards culture, and we started that conversation through a subcommittee more than a year ago,” explains Langford. “Our subcommittee was working on lobbying initiatives prior to the pandemic, but because of Covid it became obvious very quickly that the live community was not well-organised when it came to talking to politicians and policy makers. Robert Fitzpatrick from the SSE Arena Belfast and Olivier Toth from Rockhal in Luxembourg have led on that initiative and have done some great work so far, which, during the pandemic, has morphed into the Arena Resilience Alliance.” Indeed, Langford believes one positive aspect of the pandemic has been the way in which colleagues and peers have started to think more strategically about the longterm health of the live entertainment sector. “It’s heartening to see how – admittedly out of necessity – the live sector has developed a number of trade bodies, such as LIVE in the UK, and there are now similar organisations all over Europe and around the world. That gives us a foundation for conversations with politicians, and it’s important we develop and nurture those relationships,” Langford observes. As for his wishes to improve on sustainability and technological innovation, he acknowledges that such goals will have to wait until the pandemic restrictions end. However, he hopes that, long-term, the EAA will adopt certain environmental sustainability standards that all venues would have to subscribe to in order to be EAA members. “Covid has set this back by at least a year,” states Langford, “but I would like to see the EAA develop a charter for sustainability that existing members would sign up for, and new venues would have to meet in order to be considered as potential EAA members.” Despite being unable to organise its biannual in-person EAA meetings during 2020, the association instead has hosted numerous catch-up Zoom calls to help members navigate the ever-changing Covid pandemic restrictions. And in an effort to relieve some of the pressure, Langford reveals, “We cancelled all membership fees for 2020 and 2021,” while he also tells IQ that there are a number of potential new arenas eagerly awaiting the chance to join the





Feature_EAA 30th Anniversary The Olympiahalle in Münich has been able to make use of the outdoor areas in the Olympiapark to host events



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The Recovery

While there is still no set date that will allow arenas to reopen for business, the EAA’s members are working tirelessly to ensure they remain up to speed with government guidance, as well as best practice procedures advocated by the association. AccorHotels Arena boss Dupeux sums up the role EAA will have in the venues sector recovery. “Being part of the EAA gives us a great space to exchange with other venues that face the same challenges – managing venues and re-welcoming our fans – and this has proven extremely useful, especially in the current context. Membership also gives us access to industry benchmarks on recovery stimulus and actions. Being that our venue is so large and specific, EAA is the only space available to do this on a European level.” Highlighting just how eager he is to kickstart the recovery, Dupeux discloses, “We have been working since the first lockdown on our reopening protocols to ensure the strictest respect for health and safety: social distancing, reinforced cleaning and disinfection procedures, establish-

corona [rapid testing], as well as further studies that show that events can be held safely.” In Scotland, McWilliams is equally realistic about the path to doors opening. “Assessing the year ahead, we expect promoter focus to be on the summer and the crucial return of festivals. We expect arena business to return in September following a successful festival programme,” she reports. Noting that forecasts are reliant on the success of the UK’s vaccine programmes, McWilliams explains, “Following this timeline, we are working with Scottish government on a road map back to full capacity, which will include some test events at reduced capacities, building to full capacity.” Arēna Riga’s Krastins is similarly pragmatic about the coming year. “Our plan for this year is mainly sports,” he states. “We will probably host the World Championship in ice hockey (with or without spectators) in May till June, then some international competitions in ‘bubble’ format, and then the regular ice hockey season starts in August. And if shows resume in September or October, we will be ready. In general, I feel that 2021 will be better than 2020, but definitely nowhere close to 2019.” In Germany, AEG’s Frommhold is also counting on a revival in the second half of the year. “We are clearly looking at late Q3 and Q4 for larger crowds to be allowed back into the venues,” he comments. “Currently, a lot of shows and concerts are moving out of 2021 into 22. “In Berlin and Hamburg we are in ongoing conversations with local and regional promoters

“In general, I feel that 2021 will be better than 2020, but definitely nowhere close to 2019” Girts Krastins | Arēna Riga

ing one-way circulation paths, implementing mandatory face-covering rules and deploying hand-sanitiser stations. Our protocol was successfully tested last June. “On the digital side of things, we have sped the deployment of our touchless solutions (click&collect and cashless payment) to be ready for reopening. We are also ready to gradually reopen with design offers for production with smaller gauges, all with a ready-to-use setup to limit costs.” Addressing her expectations for the coming year, Marion Schöne at Olympiapark in Münich, comments, “In our economic plan for 2021, we have assumed that we will not have any operations in the first quarter; from the second quarter, we hope to be able to reopen our tourism facilities but with limited capacities, and in the summer, the first open-air concerts and festivals must be possible again, albeit with conditions.” But she warns, “From autumn, and at the latest in the fourth quarter, business must be running again to some extent, otherwise we see black for the future. “We are represented in various nationwide working groups and are trying to convince politicians to develop a roadmap for the restart, together with the event industry. Our great hopes are the vaccinations, certified and inexpensive

about shows with limited capacity, whenever this is allowed, to bridge the gap to the start of regular touring. We are hoping for May for such shows to take place, but that is hard to predict. Obviously, a sustained business case and social distancing are mutually exclusive, but those events would send a positive message and get people working,” observes Frommhold Altice Arena chief Jorge Vinha da Silva is more optimistic that science can help reduce the impact of Covid-19 and allow mass gatherings to become commonplace again. “I hope by mid-year we can start recovering, especially in the third and fourth quarter when I hope our venues progressively return to full capacity with the evolution of the vaccination process or by mass [use] rapid testing. “I believe events will return first in a regional setting, as one of the most important factors is to rebuild consumer confidence and none of us can really evaluate the effect of an inevitable economic crisis. On the other hand, after the pandemic, everyone will be willing to share collective experiences such as concerts and festivals and this will be positive for the industry.” Advocating “Clear, consistent, positive messaging on all customer touchpoints,” McWilliams agrees with Silva’s summary and concludes that ticket pricing could be a key factor to the success of the industry’s relaunch. “Fan research confirms there is pent-up demand for live events, however, we need to be aware of the impact on consumer disposable income levels,” she warns. “In a post-Covid world, there may be lots of choice but attendance could be stifled by a change in purchase practice, with consumers displaying self-protection and a need for security in their spending habits. If ticket prices were lower for a period of time this may help mitigate risk.”