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Australia

Features
July 11, 2019

Despite its relatively small population spread over, in some cases, thousands of miles, and handful  of major cities, the market is remarkably strong and growing, with numerous shows at stadium level, touring festivals and some very competitive promoters.  Christopher Barrett reports

It is not be the easiest or cheapest country to reach from Europe or the United States, and once there it can be necessary to travel thousands of miles between cities and across multiple time zones. 

However, for those who make the effort and have an audience there, it’s is a country with a strong economy and a population with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for live music. 

The most recent Ticket Attendance and Revenue report, published in October last year by industry body Live Performance Australia (LPA), paints a picture of a market in remarkable shape. 

Contemporary music ticket sales revenue in 2017 was up 87.7 per cent year-on-year to A$826.1 million (US$568), according to the LPA, with attendance up 49.6 per cent over the same time frame, to 8.5m. 

It was the sector’s first year of growth in revenue since 2013 and the highest revenue and attendance recorded for contemporary music since LPA began producing the report back in 2004.

Australia is a hugely competitive market with a lot to play for and one that has seen significant consolidation this year among some of its foremost promoters. 

In March, Frontier Touring founder Michael Gudinski and Chugg Entertainment boss Michael Chugg reunited to form a joint venture some 40 years after they co-founded Frontier Touring (see Audience issue 230). They had split in 1999.

Just a month later the market saw further consolidation when AEG purchased a 50 per cent stake in Frontier Touring. The AEG-Frontier venture cements a relationship that goes back 12 years, during which time Frontier promoted AEG tours in Australia and New Zealand. 

Included in the deal is leading venue operator AEG Ogden, which owns and operates Qudos Bank Arena (cap. 21,389) in Sydney, Brisbane Entertainment Centre (14,500), Perth Arena (15,000), Newcastle Entertainment Centre (7,500) and the 9,000-capacity ICC Sydney Theatre.

The combination of Frontier, Chugg, AEG Presents and globally ambitious promoter AEG Presents is a significant rival to Live Nation Australia.

AEG Presents chief operating officer and CEO/chairman Jay Marciano, based in Los Angeles, says that following the Frontier acquisition the company plans to develop a touring network of mid-sized venues across Australia (see Audience issue 231).

“There are not enough small clubs and theatres in Australia for international artistes to be able to have the 10 or more shows that make it affordable to make the journey there,” he says.

AEG Ogden group director Tim Worton says the Frontier and AEG Presents deal will be good for the market. 

“We expect there will be the potential for even more AEG product to come to Australia as a result of the joint venture, so that is a positive,” he says. 

Worton also expects AEG Ogden to benefit from the merging of multinational venue management companies AEG Facilities and SMG to form ASM Global.

“SMG does not have any venues in our market, but we will benefit from the resources of this expanded network of venues,” he says. 

Worton describes the local market as being “extremely buoyant” with AEG’s venues enjoying very strong ticket sales for shows by acts including Phil Collins, Keith Urban, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink and Hugh Jackman. 

However, he points out that there are difficulties, not least the fact the Australian dollar has fallen in value to its lowest level in around a decade.

“Promoters face the challenge of rising artiste fees and show production costs in addition to a weaker Australian dollar and that puts pressure on ticket prices, it can push them to a level that endangers the ticket sales needed to make the tours stack up,” he says. 

Record returns

Live Nation Entertainment entered the Australian market when it acquired Michael Coppel Presents (MCP) in 2012, which at the time was the country’s second largest promoter. Coppel is chairman of Live Nation Australia (LNA). 

Coppel says this is shaping up to be a record year for LNA in terms of the number of concerts and tickets sold. 

In the spring LNA promoted Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first headline shows in Australia for 12 years, selling-out 12 arenas and open-air venues ranging in capacity from 12,000 to 35,000. Around 176,657 tickets were sold at prices ranging from A$101 to A$165 (US$70-115).

Among its other major tours is Metallica, who will play eight stadium shows to a combined audience of more than 300,000, with ticket prices from A$127 to A$250 (US$88-174). 

U2 will also play eight stadium shows and a combined audience of 380,000.

“The market is two-paced; major headliners are doing great business but lesser names can struggle due to the high volume of competing tours and high ticket prices,” says Coppel. 

At Live Nation Entertainment-owned Ticketmaster Australia a major focus this year has been moving away from paperless tickets to a mobile-only service. 

The Forum Melbourne (2,000) became the first venue in Australia to fully adopt the technology and Ticketmaster has introduced paperless ticketing for all general admission tickets for U2 shows. 

“Fans want an easier and more secure ticketing system which fits seamlessly into their lives,” says Ticketmaster Australia & NZ MD Maria O’Connor,. “Not only will digital tickets simplify the entire ticketing process, it will also increase security, decrease fraud and unlock unprecedented value from customer relationships.”

The company recently partnered with the new North Queensland Stadium (25,000) as its official ticketing agent. Opening in 2020, Elton John will perform there in February.

“Live entertainment across Australia and New Zealand has never been stronger,” says O’Connor. “We’re seeing new venues being built around the country and further expansion into regional areas to cope with demand and further enhance the live experience.” 

Michaels reunited 

Michael Gudinski founded the Mushroom Group in 1972 and seven years later launched Frontier Touring as part of the group. Among the many acts it has worked with are Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift. Forthcoming shows include The Chemical Brothers and Shawn Mendes.

Frontier Touring’s joint venture with Chugg Entertainment means the two operations now co-promote all Chugg tours, while Frontier has also joined Chugg and Potts Entertainment as a partner in country music festival CMC Rocks (24,000). 

Gudinski says it is great to be working with Chugg again and points out it is very much a partnership not an acquisition. 

“It is not the band getting back together, Chugg is not part of Frontier, but Frontier is right behind him,” he says.

The veteran promoter says the deal with AEG does not mean the end of Frontier as an independent company. 

“We are adding staff, going strong, and hopefully AEG will deliver more tours. We are thinking of the future,” he says.

Michael Chugg founded Chugg Entertainment in 2000, touring acts such as Coldplay, Radiohead, The Who and Florence + The Machine. 

Chugg promotes around 600 shows per year and its key tours this year include Australian and New Zealand shows with Elton John, with 460,000 tickets sold for 31 shows, with prices ranging from A$139 to A$339 (US$97-237). 

The company is finding efficient ways to market shows via digital platforms but Chugg points out that traditional media remains vitally important. For its biggest tours the company uses radio, TV and outdoor advertising and has been known to produce special TV and radio programming.

“When we sell-out we continue to promote the tours as it makes people aware of the act and their success,” he says. “Nothing frustrates our team more than seeing social media posts like ‘Oh dear, I’m a huge fan of … but I didn’t know they were here in Oz’.”

Chugg says ticket sales for his company’s shows are generally strong but he doesn’t like other promoters reducing prices for shows that aren’t selling well.

“We feel it must be really frustrating for fans when they pay full price and end up next to someone who paid as little as 25 per cent of the real ticket price,” he says. 

Consolidating power  

Another veteran Australian concert promoter is Paul Dainty, who began organising shows in the early 1970s, working with David Bowie, U2, Michael Jackson and Miley Cyrus along the way. 

TEG Dainty was formed in 2016 when TEG, which owns the country’s largest ticket agency Ticketek, acquired Dainty Group International, which had been owned and operated independently by Dainty. In an average year the company promotes around 200 concerts.

He says the Australian market is very strong and his company had an “amazing” start to the year with Phil Collins’s
Not Dead Yet: Live! tour. 

“We sold-out 11 shows in stadiums and arenas across Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “On one night we had Phil at AAMI Park [30,000] in Melbourne and Slash at Margaret Court Arena [7,500] literally across the road at the same time.”

Another company highlight was Eminem’s The Rapture 2019 tour in February, with five sold-out shows across Australia and New Zealand collectively attracting 304,016 fans. 

“We set new concert attendance records at the MCG Melbourne, with 80,708,” says Dainty. 

TEG Dainty recently announced a 10-show stadium tour by Queen + Adam Lambert and is also working on 28-date arena tour by Hugh Jackman.

Noble ventures 

Founder and director of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest (25,000) Peter Noble is one of the last remaining truly independent established promoters.

Ticket prices for the annual five-day Bluesfest, held in April, ranged from A$160 to A$700 (US$112-490). Headliners included Jack Johnson, Tash Sultana, David Grey and Iggy Pop. 

Gray and Iggy Pop were among those to venture further afield during April with shows in Sydney and Melbourne, under the BluesFest Touring banner, but Noble also works on tours throughout the year. 

“Iggy Pop was the biggest tour so far this, with 9,199 tickets sold and prices starting at A$89 [$62),” says Noble. 

With more than 40-years experience in the industry, Noble says now is a great time to be in the business despite the stiff competition. 

“It is a healthy business and a very exciting time, we are out there touring artistes at all levels from small clubs through to arenas,” he says. “We don’t want to end-up with two monopolies running the industry.”

Independent strengths 

Also based in Byron Bay, One World Entertainment (OWE) promotes across the region and runs touring festival Under The Southern Stars. 

Headlined by Hoodoo Gurus, it completed a six-city run in January, playing to around 5,000 people per night. OWE also recently promoted a tour by Boyzone and is working on tours by Kris Kristofferson and The Strangers. 

“The live market is as strong as it’s ever been for the right act placed in the right venue,” says OWE CEO Andrew McManus. “It all comes down to awareness of your product and the local market.”

Top of the list of his concerns, however, is the “user pays” scheme introduced by New South Wales police that enables it to add extra security to festivals at the cost of the event organiser.

McManus says, “It is crippling. Police can determine how many cops they insist on having at an event while charging anything north of A$124.00 [US$87] per hour for them, and this is on top of the security guards we are obligated to have,” he says. “Something has to give otherwise more and more festivals and outdoor concerts will be unable to proceed.”

James Brown, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson and The Stranglers are among artistes to have been promoted by Lennard Promotions over the past three decades. Among the artistes the company is promoting are Billy Ocean, 10cc and Suzi Quatro. 

“Due to a glut of international and local tours the market is saturated and discretionary spending is tight,” says Lennard Promotions founder Aldo Lennard. “The challenge is to ascertain the right ticket prices as fans can only attend a certain number of concerts per year, and as ticket prices rise due to escalating costs and Australian dollar devaluation, the task will continue to be difficult.”

With his competitors collaborating more strongly than ever, Lennard says he is also open to joint ventures. 

Paying the right price

The Van Egmond Group (VEG) has worked with acts such as Michael Jackson, AC/DC and Prince since it launched more than 40 years ago. 

MD Garry Van Egmond says the company is making a buoyant market, but he would also like to see less ticket discounting. 

On the back of widespread consolidation among his competitors, Egmond thinks it’s positive development. 

“We have seen a lot of strong partnerships take place with the independents in Australia, both with international players and local players, and we want to be part of it.”

Like Chugg and Egmond, Destroy All Lines (DAL) general manager of touring Chris O’Brien is concerned at the prevalence of discounted tickets. 

“It affects people’s buying patterns,” he says. “We have found a good percentage of them are waiting until the back end to see if they can get a cheaper ticket. We have spent a huge amount of energy training our ticket buyers that this will never happen with our tours.”

Despite the challenges, O’Brien says the company’s first quarter was the strongest to date. In an average year it works on 40 tours, but this year it is on target to promote 60. 

Aside tours by rock, metal and alternative acts such as Combichrist and The Damned, DAL organises the Good Things festival, which takes place in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane with a daily capacity of 25,000. 

Headliners this year include The Offspring, All Time Low and Bullet For My Valentine. 

O’Brien says it is frustrating that some artists do not prioritise Australia in their touring plans. 

“A lot of artistes leave Australia late in their plans,” he says. “They get to a certain level in the US or Europe and then expect the same from their first visit to Australia. 

“Trying to convince people that their artistes can have a long-term future in Australia can be a challenge.”

Building the future

After more than nine years as CEO of the 2,896-capacity Palais Theatre in Melbourne, Neil Croker launched concert consultancy The Prestige Presents (TPP) in early 2017. 

He says he has found it tough to find available venues and consumer confidence could be better. 

“The market is always strong for the right product but it is generally patchy with consumer confidence low for most of this year, largely due to declining property values and the election period,” he says. 

Among TPP’s recent projects was a nine-show tour of Fast Love – A Tribute To George Michael, which sold-out many of the venues, with capacities up to 2,000 and an average ticket price of A$69 (US$47).

“Following our first successful presentation of Fast Love, we have developed a co-promoting relationship with the show’s producers Entertainers UK that will see us tour more of their shows,” says Croker. 

Melbourne and Olympic Parks (M&OP) manages public spaces, parks and sporting facilities, as well as the Rod Laver Arena (16,000), Hisense Arena (10,000), Margaret Court Arena (7,500) and AAMI Park (30,050).  

When the Rod Lever Arena opened on the banks of the Yarra River in 1988 it was the first in Australia to have a retractable roof. Thirty years later the venue is conming to the end of a four-year, multi-million-dollar, redevelopment programme. 

Arts Centre Melbourne (ACM) is a complex of theatres and concert halls in the central Melbourne suburb of Southbank that is to benefit from a A$200m (US$137) local government funded overhaul. 

Among its facilities is the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and a 12,500-capacity amphitheatre. ACM also houses the Hamer Hall (2,464) and State Theatre (2,0850).

The majority of concerts at ACM take place at the Bowl, which has this year hosted acts including Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Kylie Minogue and Tash Sultana.

“The [redevelopment] project will transform the area around the Arts Centre, creating new and renewed open public space, including an elevated pedestrian park and outdoor performance and event spaces,” says ACM director presenter services Glen Hirst.

There is no doubt the market remains positive and dynamic, with intense competition between promoters at the top end, but what seems to be an increase in last-minute ticket discounting suggests some pricing might need readjusting.

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