Although incidences are high, people are attracted to other people. In large halls and arenas, always following the joie de vivre. Equipped with a massive pacemaker, the event industry is enjoying its comeback.
Doctors, Tote Hosen, Udo Lindenberg and also international acts from Lady Gaga to Coldplay and Kiss inspire the masses this summer. Uwe Frommhold, head of the Anschutz Group for the halls in Hamburg and Berlin, and organizer Dieter Semmelmann talk to WELT about their hopes and needs.
WORLD: We are in the middle of the summer of the first festivals since 2019. Is everything back to how it used to be?
Dieter Semmelmann: It feels like it used to be. People crave entertainment, fun and entertainment. Unfortunately, there is a lack of attention in politics, and some forecast crisis scenarios are really not very helpful. If you leave that out, it’s pretty much the same as it used to be. People remember that tickets are still hanging on their fridge, and we’re happily able to play a lot of them now.
Uwe Frommhold: Starting in autumn, we’re facing an event-intensive time in the arenas. If nothing comes up, 2023 will be a record year with around 20 percent more events in our arenas than usual in a good year.
WORLD: Two years of pandemic, you must have learned a lot: about fairer barriers, about better ventilation, about protective masks. These measures cost a lot of money – what did they bring?
Frommhold: Nothing at first, because we weren’t allowed to open for a long time. We have developed hygiene systems, carried out ventilation measurements and highly scientific studies with well-known institutes. None of that was of any use to us. We now have a lot of experience that is in the drawer. Of course, we also made the results available to the authorities. The problem was that there was no opening clause at all. The permitting authority said: We believe all this, but the regulation does not give a special permit.
Semmelmann: Looking back, you can only look at it with biting irony. We tried to supplement the regulations with our ideas. Unfortunately, many of our well-intentioned activities were pointless.
WORLD: Like your idea of using the Berlin Waldbühne, which normally holds more than 20,000 spectators, for a few concerts with 4500 spectators in autumn 2020?
Semmelmann: We didn’t want to give up, but of course they were acts of desperation.
Frommhold: I never thought that I would look forward to a Roland Kaiser concert so much. But seriously: in Hamburg and Berlin the philharmonic halls were full. Because absolute visitor limits were set, which made this possible, regardless of capacity. Nobody was interested in the fact that our larger halls also have larger ventilation systems, with the result that just as many spectators were allowed into our arenas as, for example, into the Elbphilharmonie – that’s not logical.
WORLD: Has the pandemic also done anything good?
Semmelmann: We felt like a tsunami rolled over us. Everyone tried to grab a branch. Everyone wanted to save themselves. The bad thing was: no one had ever expected something like this. On the positive side, colleagues who otherwise always saw each other as competitors marched hand in hand.
Frommhold: I can confirm that. We have moved very closely together in the industry, even across the competition. We gave each other courage and used the political connections of individuals together. Unfortunately, despite short-time work benefits, we lost many employees.
WORLD: So do you now have personnel problems?
Semmelmann: We find an industry that is struggling hard. Staff is the biggest issue coupled with quarantine rules making hosting extremely difficult.
Frommhold: Many are out of the industry, that’s for sure. As far as delivery, catering, security service is concerned, it will all take a while before we have the personnel balanced. All of this happens under completely different circumstances, because the whole world has changed in the meantime. We have rushed out of the Corona uncertainty into a terrible war that is raging just 1000 kilometers away from us. The impact is huge – from inflation to energy shortages. There are hardly any trucks or drivers and even fewer people who can build something. Each new employee we hire costs about 20 percent more than it would have cost before the pandemic.
Semmelmann: It feels like we’re still in crisis mode. The people who suffered the most then are the most desired now. Unfortunately, many are gone permanently because they switched jobs.
Frommhold: To explain: You felt unimportant to the point of being dispensable, which is why fear was rampant in the industry. That only tipped over when there were state subsidies. What remained is a certain paralysis.
WORLD: The package of state aid for the entertainment industry was quite unique in Europe. Voucher scheme, special fund, restart culture. Or is there something to complain about?
Semmelmann: I would like to defend those responsible at this point. The pandemic has put us in a situation that no one could have foreseen. Everyone was somehow overwhelmed. We have even learned that there are experts with completely different opinions. The fact is: the political authorities have given us very good support, especially in an international comparison.
Frommhold: Our English and American colleagues just flapped their ears. Short-time work, especially with rising rates, was something completely new for them. No country was as willing to pay as Germany. However, our goal is not to rely on the next funding for the next wave.
WORLD: Does a show ever have to be canceled due to a lack of staff?
Frommhold: Certainly. A concert in Hamburg was canceled by the organizer three weeks in advance due to unforeseen production problems. The hall was sold out, you don’t cancel something like that if you don’t have to. I suspect they didn’t have enough truck drivers to take turns to time the tour route.
Semmelmann: A festival in Bavaria was canceled because there were no law enforcement officers.
WORLD: Again and again you meet folders who do not speak German at all.
Semmelmann: Counter-question: Is the same staff still at the start in your regular restaurant? Due to the scarcity, of course we also use personnel who do not have the perfect quality. It may also be that not everyone speaks German, but then at least English.
Frommhold: Our industry can perceive and react to changes incredibly quickly.
WORLD: You mentioned the rising energy costs. So are tickets going to be more expensive?
Frommhold: So far we have been stuck with the additional costs. Most of the events playing now were booked in 2019. Just take Elton John. Tickets were sold in autumn 2019, the show will take place in May 2023. Three and a half years later. You can hardly calculate solid prices like this.
Semmelmann: The prices will rise, the only question is how high you can go in an already very high-priced segment without not completely cutting off the already rather restrained demand.
Frommhold: Nobody cares if our costs are higher now than when the contract was signed. The only one who could participate would be the artist himself.
Semmelmann: So far, nobody has come forward.
WORLD: Mr. Semmelmann, in the WELT interview two years ago, you said that the prices were at a sporting level and should therefore not be touched.
Semmelmann: I still think so. But it also cannot be the case that we can no longer implement certain things because the financing is not right.
Frommhold: The agencies have to tell their big artists that some things are no longer possible. If you want to travel around the world in 100 days, then there are no longer ten million, but only seven million.
Semmelmann: I know of artists who wanted to come this year, but postponed it for logistical or financial reasons. The industry will change, it is already there. I don’t rule out price increases for big international acts, because otherwise these shows are simply no longer feasible.
WORLD: You just spoke of a cautious demand. Why is that in your opinion?
Semmelmann: People choose carefully, many only buy one ticket instead of two, for artists who haven’t been there for a long time and where they absolutely want to go.
Frommhold: And they wait longer to buy. Top acts in the world are still sold out, for other shows the following applies: If it’s in October or November, I’d rather wait until September to buy tickets. That doesn’t make it any easier for everyone.
Semmelmann: Artists who draw 2,000 to 6,000 people are having the hardest time right now.
Frommhold: My English colleagues have already reacted. Normally, the most expensive tickets are gone first, only then do they move up to the upper tier. Now it’s completely reversed. So in England they changed the prices. For example, it used to be 60 euros more expensive at the front and 30 euros at the top, but now they take 50 euros at the front and 35 euros at the top. The threshold for the best ticket is getting smaller.
WORLD: With what feelings do you go into autumn 2022?
Semmelmann: We’ve learned a lot, we’re much more experienced than we were two years ago. Should a new corona scenario come our way in autumn, we will face it. We feel that we can react to any situation that we are familiar with.
Frommhold: But politicians have to listen to us and believe us. Any regulations should apply to all federal states. A little more logic would be cool.
WORLD: What do you want most?
Frommhold: That people remember that they still have three tickets hanging on the fridge and actually come. And they should have the courage to buy something new on top of that. I would like to see more sensitivity and uniform action from politicians. Because every restriction robs people of their trust.
Semmelmann: I hope that the market participants act sensibly together and see the difficult situation as an opportunity to rejuvenate the industry. We have the best job in the world and we have to face the challenges, even if it will be painful at first.
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