A Live Event Lover’s Guide to 2021: Socially Distanced Edition


December 30, 2020

Yes, this COVID-19 stuff sucks – more so for live events than arguably any other form of entertainment.

If you provide entertainment in a smaller or medium-sized indoor space like a bar, nightclub, theater or arena, the coronavirus ravaged most of 2020. Bars and nightclubs had to shut down. All concert tours had to postpone or cancel dates. Broadway and off-Broadway theaters shuttered. The NBA, NHL and other arena sports had to continue without fans or move to a bubble. Stadium sports like MLB, NFL and college football were only able to allow limited capacity by September and October then many have since clapped down to zero paying customers.

It has been brutal.

Sadly, there will be a big fall out. Even with federal help, which the #SaveOurStages movement helped secure, lots of our favorite independent venues may eventually shutter or get sold off. Spring college sports might still be in jeopardy of completing. Some programs like Syracuse Orange women’s basketball paused the season due to COVID-19. Pro sports like Major League Baseball will come back but when? And how many people could be able to go? Concerts will happen but promoters and artists will have to get creative.

As a ticket industry guy who keeps up on what promoters, event creators and industry leaders are doing, I wanted to share the reality of live entertainment in 2021 – and probably at least parts of 2022.

Go Small Or Don’t Go At All
Yo, real talk: stadium tours ain’t happening until 2023-2024 at the earliest. Let’s just end any hope of that. The United States is seeing a pike in cases and word that a coronavirus variant officially has made it to America makes it worse. There will be no chance a major artist would try a stadium tour. It won’t be worth the financial or health risk.  A superstar music artist can make money by either streaming online for $25-30 a pop or make a deal with a streaming or cable TV outlet to broadcast a live show. Expect by the spring of 2021 for there be on-sales for major tours, which would have dates for late 2021 and 2022. Before the pandemic, major tours would go on sale for dates happening six months to one year later so I think the same on-sale timing applies.

Indoor arena concerts will be tough because the capacity levels will likely be limited to 25 percent for much of next year. Unless artists lower their revenue expectations and maybe stream simultaneously with sponsorship revenue or online ticket sales to make the revenue work, there is no way to make any decent money.

What we will likely see indoors is that show in a 1,500-seat venue that can scale down to 500 folks. They can space those people out – ticket geek term right now is “social distance seating theory” – and have a temperature check at the door. If you don’t pass the test, then ticket buyer gets rejected from entering but the promoter provides a refund.

The Weather Outside Is… Profitable?
Since indoor shows will be really tough to make work financially – and venues will be in flux due to closings, uncertainty and fundraising crunches – staging events outdoors will be tried more and more.

The winning formula has been to stage an outdoor concert in the spring and summer with pods of a small group of four or six seats, which are socially distanced from each other. Staying within the capacity restraints, it seems selling about 2,500 or so seems to be the “sellout.”

But with the weather drawing colder in many states, heated tents or wearing a winter coat to brave the cold temperatures may have concert-goers look like Green Bay Packers season ticket holders.

Enjoy From The Comfort Of Your Car
Curing the outdoor seating issue is promoting drive-in or drive-thru shows. We have already seen especially a lot of country music artists and comedians do drive-in theater shows. Their concert is either live and distributed to drive-in movie screens throughout North America or the artists plays live on stage outside in a field or a parking lot while fans pay for a ticket to reserve a parking space and watch from their cars.

Family entertainment content creators like Jurassic Quest have created a drive-thru experience where families pay by the car and basically gaze at the sights like you would be looking at the sky scrapers while in New York City traffic.

Comedy shows might be the best shot at making a little money
Comedy venues and artists have been particularly creative during the pandemic. Comics have done their routine on a Zoom call while people watch sitting at home. They have told jokes to a scaled down crowd on a Nueva York apartment rooftop or in a patron’s backyard. They have done stand up in socially-distanced comedy clubs open in a limited basis. The funny ladies and gentlemen work it. Expect these shows to continue.

Enjoy the Show Virtually
As covid19 limits human interaction, technology and the Internet will further seek to fill in the entertainment gap. Expect more cross-promotional entertainment events like artists doing a show for Fortnite gamers or streaming on Twitch or Instagram or YouTube. I would think – or hope – these Verzuz battles turn into arena tours eventually. VR providers like Oculus will surely promote virtual music experiences for users.

Despite all that has happened in 2020, we all still want to cheer on our favorite athletes and teams, enjoy live music and take in a great show. It won’t be the same as it was before 2020, but live events are here to stay.

See you all in 2021.

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