The UK festival sector is facing up to an “incredibly challenging” summer, with a mixed picture emerging across the board.
A report in the Guardian earlier this week said that despite flagships such as Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds selling out, many smaller festivals were struggling due to a multitude of factors.
Newcastle’s This Is Tomorrow, Brainchild Festival in East Sussex, Summerfest in Blackburn, Lancashire’s Leighton Live and Fife’s Breakout have all cancelled their 2022 editions as the business recalibrates following the Covid shutdown.
“Festivals are facing some very difficult trading conditions”
“We’re very pleased to be operational this summer after two years of complete or partial shutdown, but festivals are facing some very difficult trading conditions,” Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO Paul Reed tells IQ.
“The key points are increases of 30% or more in infrastructure costs; supply chain pressures – which we’re starting to see play out now we’re in the season – and audiences dealing with a cost of living crisis, so that’s being reflected in some sales patterns. It’s incredibly challenging out there.”
He continues: “I think everyone saw this as a big bounce back year, so promoters engaged in more activity, which puts more pressure on the supply chain. But from an audience consumer point of view, they have more choice than ever and there is a trend across the live industry towards last minute sales. Obviously, there’ll be exceptions with shows that are particularly hot and sell out, but from what I can tell that they’re few and far between at the moment so it’s incredibly nerve racking for a festival promoter.
“Something else we’re seeing is an audience trend towards attending shows internationally, and all of these things affect the domestic market.”
“There seems to be a narrative emerging that some of the larger festivals have sold out and the smaller ones are struggling, but I don’t think it’s as binary as that”
More positive news has emerged outside the UK – at least for the major players – with Austria’s Nova Rock becoming the latest festival to report a record sell-out. Germany’s Rock am Ring recently announced that a record 90,000 weekend tickets had sold for its 2022 edition, while twin festival Rock im Park shifted more than 70,000 tickets. Belgium’s Rock Werchter and Brazil’s Rock in Rio, meanwhile, sold out in record time.
However, contrary to reports, Reed stresses the issues experienced in the UK at least are not limited to events of a particular size.
“There seems to be a narrative emerging that some of the larger festivals have sold out and the smaller ones are struggling, but I don’t think it’s as binary as that,” he says. “Some small-to-medium-sized festivals have sold out. I know there has been a small trickle of cancellations, but I’m not expecting mass cancellations this season.
“The sector has proved to be remarkably resilient in the face of existential challenges, so it’s not all doom and gloom.”
“We’ve talked a lot about the problems, but not much about what can be done to alleviate them”
Reed suggests the government could also do more to help get the industry back on its feet.
“We’ve talked a lot about the problems, but not much about what can be done to alleviate them,” he says. “Festivals are often thought of as fun parties, which of course they are, but they’re also an economic powerhouse, generating £1.76 billion in GBA and supporting 85,000 jobs.
“There are interventions from government that would be helpful: for example, a cultural VAT rate – preferably of 5% – on tickets, which would bring us in line with many other countries across Europe. Also, encouraging incentivising people to get back out there to events – Spain approved a plan for 18-year-olds to receive €400 to spend on the arts and France and Italy have similar plans from what I understand as well.
“Obviously, the sector is very pleased be back delivering festivals for audiences, but I think people are looking towards next year as the kind of reset year where many of these issues will hopefully be resolved.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.