For the international contemporary live music industry


Market Focus
May 1, 2019

Despite its economy being in recession and a lack of venues and touring activity in the south, Italy boasts a robust concert business that is making the most of its many geographical and historical locations, a steady demand to see international artistes … and a reduction in sales tax on tickets.   Christopher Barrett reports 

The country’s live music market has grown significantly in the past few years and benefitted from a series of recent legislative moves that have made it harder for ticket touts, increased the popular music industry’s status and reduced the rate of sales tax (generally known as VAT). 

Italy’s economy is the eurozone’s third largest but, according to the Eurostat agency, it contracted in the fourth quarter of 2018, meaning the country tipped into a recession, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte saying he expects the decline to continue throughout 2019. 

Despite the economic challenges, the live music business is proving remarkably resistant.

The number of concerts in Italy was up 29 per cent from 3,134 in 2013 to 4,042 in 2018, attendance rose 32 per cent during the same period and ticketing revenue increased from €214.1 million to €280.7m ($240m to $315m), according to promoters association Assomusica.

Representing 120 event organisers, Assomusica’s members are responsible for around 80 per cent of the country’s concert business, and last November the Senate of the Republic passed Act 4652, which saw the Government recognise live music as being a “fundamental component of the country’s cultural, artistic, social and economic heritage”. 

The act enshrines Government support for popular music and saw it pledge to implement plans to renovate and upgrade music venues across Italy. The president of Assomusica, Vincenzo Spera, welcomes the move.

“It is hard to impress on politicians the importance of the popular music industry because for many of them the only real culture is theatre and opera,” he says. “That is beginning to change and they say they want to invest more money in our sector 

“We will have to be patient and hope it materialises.”

Further legislation was introduced last year enabling communications authority AGCOM (Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni,) to tackle nefarious secondary ticketing operators and shut down offending websites. 

An additional measure could see the introduction in July of personalised tickets for all shows with a capacity of 5,000 or more. That decision has been the subject of heated debate.

Spera is among the many who objects to the proposal, with many of Assomusica’s members having raised concerns that the move could lead to an increase in queues at venues and raised ticket prices.

“It will make it difficult to pass tickets to family or friends,” he says. “It is not the way to tackle secondary ticketing in Italy. We already have personalised tickets for football but most of the tickets for matches are still sold on the secondary market,” he says.  

Assomusica has been more welcoming of the 2018 budget announcement that saw the VAT payable on ticket revenue and production equipment, reduced to 10 per cent. The standard VAT rate in Italy is 22 per cent. 

Live Nation Italy (LNI) is the dominant promoter of international acts, helped in part by artistes who signed worldwide deals with its parent company Live Nation Entertainment. 

Among acts LNI is working with this year are Muse, Imagine Dragons, Metallica and Florence + The Machine. 

It is also promoting Firenze Rocks in Florence’s Viasarno Arena (60,000), which takes place over four days in June, and will this year feature the Ed Sheeran, Smashing Pumpkins, Eddie Vedder and The Cure.

“We have a lot of artistes touring and the shows are selling very well,” says LNI MD Roberto De Luca. 

Like Spera, De Luca is adamant that personalised tickets will create a major headache for both promoters and the public. 

“It is a bad thing for the industry, the new government does not understand the impact the introduction of personalised tickets will have,” he says. “It will create a lot of extra cost around extra security because we are going to have long queues at the gates, which will have to be opened earlier and that will also create knock-on issues with the soundcheck and so on. It will also create problems for ticketing systems.”

LNI manages the Pala Alpitour (15,600), a venue situated in the Santa Rita district of Turin that offers the biggest arena concert capacity in Italy. 

“Apart from the Mediolanum Forum [12,700] in Milan and Unipol Arena [11,500] in Bologna, many of the venues we are using were built for sport not concerts,” he says. “International artistes are not venturing south of Bologna because there is a lack of appropriate venues, in terms of capacity and facilities. 

“There is a clear need for new concert venues in towns across the south of Italy.”

Independent spirit 

Milan-based Barley Arts Promotion is arguably the leading independent promoter working nationwide. Founded by Claudio Trotta in 1979 (see feature in issue 229), the company is promoting shows by artistes such as Kiss, Phil Collins, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Elbow, Eels, Flaming Lips and James Morrison. 

Trotta says that in order to make sure his 40-year-old company is well prepared for the future, he recently made head of booking Marco Ercolani, production co-ordinator Andrea de Matteo and administrator Simona Andronaco partners in the business. 

In a market increasingly dominated by major international corporations, Trotta says that artiste loyalty is key to the success of his business. The promoter gives  Bruce Springsteen as an example, who he first worked with in October 1999 and has since prompted 32 of his shows. 

“We are in a world where most of the business is dominated by big companies driven by money, not individuals with a history in the business who are passionate about providing a future for new artistes,” he says. “I do the job in the best way possible, with a lot of patience, humanity and respect for the artistes and the audience, we do not treat music fans like statistics and music like content.” 

Trotta says that among the company’s concert highlights this year is Phil Collins’s only Italian show, at Milan’s Mediolanum Forum, and an open-air concert by Kiss at the city’s Ippodromo del Galoppo di San Siro (20,000).

A passionate opponent of secondary ticketing operations such as Viagogo, Trotta says the new personalised ticketing measure is a step in the right direction.

“The new law is important and should be properly respected,” he says. 

Major moves 

Pan-Europe ticketing and promoting giant CTS Eventim, which owns  leading Italian ticket operation TicketOne, acquired a 60 per cent stake in concert and festival promoter D’Alessandro e Galli (Di and Gi) last year.

CTS already has majority stakes in promoters Vertigo and Friends and Partners. 

Since Di and Gi was founded 32 years ago by Mimmo D’Alessandro and Adolfo Galli, the company has promoted shows with David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Adele and Jennifer Lopez.

“We’re having a very good season with sold-out shows with artistes including Shawn Mendes, Tears for Fears, Lenny Kravitz and Michael Bublè,” says Adolfo. “We are working on seven sold-out shows by Italian composer Ennio Morricone at the historic Baths of Caracalla [20,000] in Rome, seven shows with Mark Knopfler, and the Farewell Tour of Elton John, which will see him perform two shows at the Roman Arena [15,000] in Verona and at the Lucca Summer Festival.”

The festival is a series of shows that take place in July at the Piazza Napoleone (14,000) inside Lucca’s city walls. Among artistes to play the event will be Elton John, Ennio Morricone, Mark Knopfler, Sting, New Order, Take That, Scorpions, Toto and Macklemore.

Galli says, “We founded Lucca Summer Festival in 1998 because we strongly believed that the combination of a beautiful setting in Tuscany and the best of international music could result in an appealing proposition to a visiting foreign audience as well as Italians.

“The idea paid off for us, but we have seen a lot of other festivals rise and fall. It’s very hard to succeed with a festival in our country unless you have a strong concept linked to tourism.”  

Festival focus  

Founded in 2005, Rome-based The Base has worked locally on concerts by artistes such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, David Gilmour, Muse, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan and Depeche Mode.  

In 2009 it founded the multi-venue Rock In Rome festival, which will this year involve shows at venues including Ippodromo delle Capannelle (38,000), Teatro Romano di Ostia Antica (3,000) and Auditorium Parco della Musica (5,000). It will run from late June and throughout July with a line-up including Kraftwerk, Thirty Seconds To Mars and Skunk Anansie. 

Base co-founder Maximiliano Bucci says there is not the same level of demand for greenfield weekend festivals in Italy as in other European countries, but the market for that kind of event is growing and he is looking to invest in it in the near future. 

With domestic artistes regularly making up around 80 per of the Top 20 album chart, Bucci, feels international acts fees are pitched too high.

“Artiste fees are often not reasonable, most of the international acts have a relatively small fanbase in Italy, and their fees are overstated,” says Bucci. “For example, Roger Waters’ last tour here sold less tickets than shows by Italian artiste Coez, that’s a clear reflection of the Italian music market.”

In the summer of 2016 Andrea Pieroni left LNI to set up his own company,  Vertigo, based in Milan. He has since worked with international acts in Italy such as Iron Maiden, Slash, Kings of Leon and Five Finger Death Punch along with hit homegrown acts including Caparezza.

Pieroni says the company also recently signed exclusivity deals with two outdoor venues; Bologna Parco Nord (32,500) and Palazzina Di Caccia di Stupinigi (20,000) in Turin. 

Another recent development was the launch last year of the Rock The Castle (30,000) festival at Villafranca Castle in Verona. Headlining the three-day event this year is Slash, Slayer and Dream Theater.

“Of course we have to be very careful with ticket prices but in general we are enjoying a good period,” he says.  

Vertigo is the worldwide tour promoter of Eros Ramazzotti. “We are playing 92 shows all over the world and selling-out arenas in every country,” says Pieroni.

Summer benefits 

Attilio Perissinotti, co-founder of Bologna-based promoter BPM Concerti, says the company is enjoying a busy year working with local artistes such as Bowland, Frah Quintale and Modena City Ramblers as well as international acts including Jethro Tull, Joe Jackson, America and Viagra Boys.

His partner and co-founder Cecca Alessandro says the company does well with shows in venues of varying sized across the north and centre of Italy but further south it becomes more challenging. 

“It’s still very hard to find the perfect venue in the south of Italy,” he says. “During the summer we do well in the south, but mainly in open-air locations.”

BPM is also involved in festivals, booking the acts for major weekend festivals Home Venice at the Parco San Guilianoand and Core Festival at Zona Dogana in Treviso. 

“The word festival is often used here for gigs spread throughout a period of time, sometimes days, even months,” he says.

The unstable Italian economy is affecting business, he says, but it remains a country where people’s love of music and willingness to spend on live music experiences continues unabated. 

“Although ticket sales can be slow at times, we still manage to sell-out shows,” says Perissinotti.

Focus on the experience  

Venue operator and promoter Zed Entertainment manages 10 venues including Zoppas Arena (7,000) in Conegliano, PalaGeorge (6,500) in Montichiari and Padua’s Stadio Euganeo (43,000), Kioene Arena (7,000) and Gran Teatro Geox (3,500).

Valeria Arzenton, one of the founders and owners of Zed Entertainment, says the company is heavily focused on making visits to its venues memorable for fans and artistes alike. 

“Backstage we make our venues feel like a little 5-star hotel with an exclusive gym for artistes and crew, very comfortable dressing rooms and private bistro, she says. 

“Customers are more conscious than ever about the value of the live experience, they are demanding personalised services and artistes want comfortable and secure places.”

Zed’s success has also helped to establish Live Nation Entertainment-owned Ticketmaster Italy (TMI) in the market. TMI launched in Milan in November 2017, with LNI ending its long-term partnership with the CTS-owned TicketOne. 

Its first partnership deal was then with Zed last October.

“The Zed Entertainment partnership has given us the opportunity to provide complete ticketing services and technology solutions for venues across Italy,” says TMI MD Daniel Bei. 

Going south   

Meanwhile, Zed’s Arzenton says the venue landscapes in the north and south of the country are very different. 

“Not all the artistes that perform in our part of Italy achieve the same results everywhere. Many of the other indoor venues were born as sports arenas and not designed for concerts.

“The venue network is working but concert productions need to be adapted to take into account local issues such as the different venue configurations and managements,” she says. 

Barley Arts’s Trotta says the concentration of international artiste touring activity in the north is a long-standing issue that is unlikely to change any time soon. 

“It goes back a long way and is partly a geographical issue,” he says. “If you are in Milan and want to go to Sicily it’s a 1,500 km journey. Besides the distances involved, going to the south of Italy is quite difficult for a international artiste tours, because there is a lot less money there and the interest in international live music is much lower.

“That is a cultural fact and it has been like that for the last 50 years,” Trotta explains. “It is changing slowly but I do not expect huge changes in the next 20 years, it will be a long process.”

Back on the economy, Di and Gi’s Galli says the market tends to prove resilient to economic uncertainly, “Italy is facing a bad economic crisis like many other European countries, but our industry does not proportionately seem to suffer in a negative way. 

“Perhaps that is because it is at times like this that people need the kind of uplifting experience that only a live concert can provide.”

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