Although Auckland’s 12,200-capacity Spark Arena, formerly known as Vector Arena, has kept the country’s capital city on the radar of the global touring community for the past decade, it is only fairly recently that New Zealand is asserting itself as more than just an adjunct to Australia,
The arena has hosted multi-date shows from Queen and Adam Lambert, Roger Waters and Drake, with Celine Dion, P!nk, Katy Perry, Sam Smith and Kendrick Lamar due to visit this year.
Bruno Mars’ four shows at the arena in February set a new concert attendance record at the venue of 48,783, with P!nk set to eclipse this in September with six sell-out nights.
“This consistent flow of quality international artistes coupled with stability and growth in the economy has seen the live music market remain buoyant,” says Spark Arena general manager Brendan Hines, who notes there is particular demand for RnB and hip-hop, and comedy.
“Spark Arena has in many ways transformed the live entertainment experience in New Zealand,” Hines says. “Prior to opening, the country found it difficult to regularly attract major international tours due to a lack of a suitably large indoor venue.”
This year looks set to be the venue’s busiest on record and will pass the five million attendees mark since opening in March 2007. This is no small feat for a country with a total population of just 4.7 million.
Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) took a controlling stake in the Arena three years ago and shares ownership with previous majority owner Stuart Clumpas and Live Nation Australia head Michael Coppel.
LNE has further bolstered its New Zealand operations with the purchase of Rhythm & Vines (cap. 20,000) festival earlier this year, and a few weeks later announced Clumpas as chairman if Live Nation New Zealand.
The Scottish-born ex-pat, who co-founded DF Concerts and T in the Park (85,000) in the UK before emigrating, was one of a raft of appointments and promotions, including Rick Latham as head of operations, and Steve Wheadon as head of production. Mark Kneebone was named head of promotions.
“We’re a group of people who know the industry and are passionate about making it work,” says Clumpas.“It’s not all corporate and I’m very comfortable that Live Nation is prepared to come to the edge of the planet and invest in this up-and-coming country.”
Alongside that, the counbtry’s financial media reports a profit jump of 143 per cent to NZ$5.1 million (US$3.44m) last calendar year at LNE-owned Ticketmaster.
Clumpas moved to New Zealand over 16 years ago and has seen a lot of change in that time. “When I came over here in 2001 I found it odd that I was dealing with Australian promoters who hadn’t even been to New Zealand,” he says. “You wouldn’t get a London promoter booking Athens [in Greece] and its the same thing.”
He is quick to point out that, despite the country being logistically close to Australia, it has its own demographics and therefore its own musical tastes.
“Rihanna played one show in Brisbane [Australia], but three in Auckland,” he says. “Rag’n’Bone Man also outsold Australia. “There’s a big influence from the Pacific Islands which means acts with a touch of soul, blues, hip-hop or RnB go down well,” he says.
Clumpas hopes to use LNE’s presence to lobby for changes to the licensing laws and transport policies that have a detrimental impact on the live music industry.
“If you’re based in Australia you’re not interested in changing New Zealand’s rules,” says Clumpas. “I am. And any changes will have a trickle-down effect on smaller acts as well.”
Auckland Live manages venues including Auckland Town Hall (1,529), The Civic (700), and Bruce Mason Centre (1,119). Recent concerts include Lorde at the Bruce Mason Centre, Angus & Julia Stone at The Civic, and Marlon Williams at Auckland Town Hall.
Marlon Williams and Lorde were both sell-outs, demonstrating the power of homegrown talent. “Local artistes are playing bigger venues and competing on the same level as the international artistes,” says Auckland Live’s Glen Crighton.
“For international artistes, Auckland is now very much on the touring map. We have the production capabilities to deliver international standard shows, strong population growth, and investment and experience across the board.”
Crighton believes other major cities around the country are also delivering strong venues and audiences, making it a viable market as a whole.
“New Zealand gets more competitive every year but the main concern is the lack of venues to meet this growing demand at all levels, from small clubs through to stadiums,” says Crighton. “But the market is very strong with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.”
Auckland Stadiums is a division of Regional Facilities Auckland and is responsible for transforming the stadium landscape to deliver sustainable, world-class facilities.
It, operates Mt Smart Stadium (45,000), QBE Stadium (25,000) and Western Springs (50,000), with recent Mt Smart concerts including Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Sia, Our House, Adele, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran.
Western Springs has hosted shows by Guns N’ Roses and Auckland City Limits.
“Both Adele and Ed Sheeran broke a huge number of long-held records through their shows,” says Auckland Stadiums’ head of sales and marketing Jamie Greaves. “They brought in more than a quarter of a million Kiwis between them.”
Local acts are also selling well, with Six60 becoming the first New Zealand band to headline Western Springs.
“Live music events are one of Kiwis’ biggest passions during the summer months,” says Greaves. “Most had their first major concert experience in one of our venues and we’ve been lucky to host some of the world’s most iconic artistes.”
For Auckland Stadiums, the future is firmly focussed on customer experience, with investment ranging from enhanced catering facilities to developing entertainment areas.
“The need for acts to get on-the-road and reconnect with their fanbase has given the music industry here a huge boost,” says Greaves. “The world has become a smaller place too. In years gone by New Zealand might have been seen as a different planet, but fans and acts have easier access to our shores than ever before.”
“The market is saturated and [so] … you have to get the price point right, try new markets and keep it exciting for the punter”
Around 650 kilometres south of Auckland. Venues Wellington – part of Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) – manages TSB Arena and TSB Auditorium (6,000), The Michael Fowler Centre (2,209) and The Opera House (1,381).
Recent shows include Imagine Dragons, The Killers, Nick Cave and Twenty One Pilots at TSB Arena and Lorde and PJ Harvey at the Michael Fowler Centre.
“The industry is taking off at the moment,” says Venues Wellington head of performances Helen Glengarry. “Shows are selling out, with record-breaking tours like Ed Sheeran, Adele and P!nk performing multiple dates, in multiple cities. Ten years ago these acts would have done one date or missed New Zealand out altogether.”
Like many of her peers, Glengarry believes this growth is set to increase, but venue availability and geographic location are the main challenges to further market expansion.
The country’s second-largest indoor venue with a maximum capacity of 8,888, the Horncastle Arena in Christchurch has hosted shows by Simple Minds, The Pixies, Don Henley, Blondie & Cyndi Lauper and Midnight Oil.
“It is quite an intimate venue – there is not a bad seat in the house,” says senior account manager, entertainment, Turlough Carolan. “Unfortunately this can sometimes work against us, as more often than not the big arena tours are after 10,000+ capacity venues, which means they tend to park-up in Auckland.
“When we had One Direction and Ed Sheeran here, both acts commented on how great it was to have the audience so close – it made it that bit more special.”
Owned by Christchurch City Council and managed by Vbase, Horncastle Arena is able to configuirate as low as 1,500. “This mode has proven to be very popular while we wait for the Christchurch Town Hall [2,200] to come back online in March 2019,” says Carolan.
New Zealand may have a reliably enthusiastic population of concertgoers but its geographical location means that it is on shaky ground
The country is regularly beset by tectonic activity ranging from quiet tremors to city rattling earthquakes. In 2011 a devastating 6.3 magnitude quake killed 185 people. With that in mind, the Council carries out ongoing work to ensure the Arena’s structural safety, with the coming months seeing roof strengthening work carried out.
Forsyth Barr Stadium (40,000) is located in Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island. Owned by Dunedin Council, recent concerts have featured Roger Waters, Ed Sheeran, Stevie Nicks, The Pretenders and Robbie Williams.
“Ed Sheeran’s three sell-out concerts drew approximately 60 per cent of the more than 100,000 fans from outside of the city,” says Dunedin Venues CEO Terry Davies. “A conservative estimate of the economic impact for the city was NZ$34m [US$23m].”
Forsyth Barr Stadium is the world’s only fully-roofed natural turf stadium and is a true multi-purpose venue.
“The vibrancy in the city around a major concert is palpable and we have a couple of large irons in the fire, which we would be delighted with if they come to fruition,” he reveals.
“Agents now see New Zealand as a region that will support strong ticket sales”
After a decade juggling a career as a journalist and a bass player with New Zealand band Stellar, Kurt Shanks launched promoter Plus1 with a tour from Lloyd Cole, booked from Free Trade Agency in the UK.
Fifteen years later the company has grown organically, promoting seven more tours with Cole, as well as visits by Henry Rollins, Buzzcocks, The Proclaimers, Cat Power, Neneh Cherry, and the reformation of local band The Mockers.
A highlight for Shanks was two sold-out Violent Femmes nights at His Majesty’s Theatre (1,470) in Auckland.
“We’re attracting more international acts than ever before and the local scene is producing some amazing talent,” says Shanks. “At the arena level, the volume of touring acts seems very crowded. From where I’m standing there is a good scope for growth in the large theatre and club-sized shows amongst the various niches.
“As for the future we’ll continue to see more tours from international acts than ever before,” concludes Shanks. “Amongst promoters – new and established – there will be the usual mix of hard-earned successes and over-ambitious failures, particularly in festivals.”
Showcase Entertainment Group was founded by Layton Lillas, and also takes tours over to Australia.
“Bryan Adams avoided Auckland this year and went to a number of secondary markets,” says Lillas. “Whereas Foreigner are doing one exclusive New Zealand show in my hometown of Hamilton and leaving out all the main centres.”
Recent events include sell-out 10-date tours with Herman’s Hermits plus The Hollies, which played venues such as Palmerston North Regent (1,350), Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre (1,950), and Hastings Black Barn Vineyard (2,500).
Last year’s Dr Hook Walk Right in Tour was a similar success, selling-out Christchurch’s Isaac Theatre Royal (1,292), Tauranga Baypark Arena (2,897) and Auckland’s Aotea Centre (2,067) among others.
“Overall the market is in a good place,” Lillas says. “Everyone just has to continue to evolve, work niches, try new things and do what promoters do best; be entrepreneurial.”
However, h sees secondary ticketing as a cause for concern and is part of the New Zealand Promoters Association, who are working to tackle the issue.
“We’ve also seen venues locking themselves into exclusive ticketing agreements without any promoter consultation,” explains Lillas. “The squeeze is always on, with rising venue charges and touring costs whilst trying to keep the ticket price reasonable for the consumer.”
Lillas’ approach is to stay firm on what a ticket price should be for an artiste and work back from there, to avoid having to discount if tickets don’t sell.
“The market is saturated and a certain degree of ‘gig fatigue’ has set in,” says Lillas. “You have to get the price point right, try new markets and keep it exciting for the punter.”
Stewart and Tricia Macpherson formed Stetson Productions in 1973, with recent shows featuring Million Dollar Quartet, Justin Hayward, and Boyzlife.
“The market is flourishing,” says Stewart Macpherson. “Helped by the fact that touring is many artistes’ main revenue stream now.”
Stetson Group is selective about its shows, with a mix of live concerts and theatre production.
“Often, New Zealand dates are tied to an Australian tour and these tend to be swallowed-up by the big players,” he says. “Our focus is on choosing and presenting acts as a standalone operation and not as part of a wider series of events.”
A major project for Stetson is the award-winning original Phantom of the Opera by Ken Hill and produced by The Stetson Group, which returns to Tokyo, Japan, for the sixth time later this year.
“Shows are selling out, with record-breaking tours like Ed Sheeran, Adele and P!nk”
Michael Hanuman from Pool of Talent works with local and international artistes on tour and production management.
“Increased show revenue coupled with merchandise sales are helping continue local industry growth, creating jobs and opportunity alongside the visiting international artistes,” he says.
But it’s not without challenges, with Hanuman citing a fluctuating number of live venues, pay-to-play’ policies hampering new local talent, congested summer time frames and council noise restrictions, as areas for concern.
“Local government could do well to follow the recent changes in bylaws in the UK, around property development in urban areas where there are existing live venues,” he says.
It’s not all doom though, with Hanuman mentioning Play It Strange, a songwriting and live music initiative backed by the government helping to develop eclectic voices within the local music industry.
Established in 2003, Rhythm & Vines (20,000) is set for 29-31 December in Gisborne, a six-hour drive or one-hour flight from Auckland, Ten per cent of visitors are from outside the country.
Ticket prices range from NZ$285-385 (US$194-262 with camping, and premium VIP tickets avauilable
“The line-up comes out in August, but this year we’ve already sold over half of our tickets,” says Rhythm & Vines co-founder and director Hamish Pinkham. “People are buying into the unique New Year’s experience rather than just names on the poster.”
Headliners include Chance the Rapper, Schoolboy Q, Wiz Khalifa, NERD, Public Enemy, Goldlink, Denzel Curry. Traditional bass music is also popular with homegrown acts like Shapeshifter, State of Mind and Concord Dawn developing the scene.
LNE took a majority stake in n April, with the original shareholder retaining 49 per cent and still handling management and creative direction.“This will open the festival up to booking opportunities along with industry growth for our festival delivery team,” says Pinkham.
Kieran Spillane, Rhythm & Vines CEO and festival director, believes there is a strong demand from the public to experience live music.
“The local economy is in a reasonable state and that certainly helps with the amount of entertainment dollars available in the marketplace,” he says. “I think agents now see New Zealand as a region that will support strong ticket sales and the country is no longer passed over when acts toured Australia as previously used to happen.”
Amanda and Dean Calvert established Greenstone Entertainment in 2011 and runs The Summer Concert Tour, which takes place in Queenstown at the Gibbston Valley Winery (20,000), Taupo Amphitheatre (15,000) and Whitianga Waterways Arena (15,000).
Next year’s tour will see ticket prices raise from NZ$89 (US$61) to NZ$99 (US$68), with headliners including Roger Hodgson, Toni Childs, James Reyne and Mark Seymour. With an audience demographic of 45-65, the Calverts’ aim is to have at least one female performer each year. Past performers have included Alanis Morissette and Bonnie Tyler.
“We get around 48,000 people through the gates each tour and they’re a reliable audience,” says Dean Calvert. “They book early and they have a high disposable income. For them, it’s as much about the overall experience as the acts.”
Greenstone chooses locations where every element of the event can be run by the company, including ticketing, catering and security.
“It’s good to be able to run things in your own hands and not rely on the multinationals,” says Calvert. “Meanwhile, New Zealand’s live music industry will remain strong for the foreseeable future but I think smaller promoters will become fewer.”
One of the main challenges is the cost for artistes, with smaller outfits competing against the ever-growing presence of larger organisations.
“We have to go in there with strong financial bids,” says Calvert. “Because ultimately many artistes are driven by money. But we also have a good reputation overseas which really helps.”
Calvert believes that when the economy is thriving, the live industry is equally healthy. “We deal in US dollars so every time that fluctuates downward that can make a tour more expensive,” concludes Calvert.
Despite fluctuating dollars, tricky licensing laws, and a lack of venues there is no denying that New Zealand can no longer be left out of global tour plans.
With Live Nation investing, and a host of smaller outfits who know the country and its audiences inside and out, the market is only set to prosper.
Population (millions): 4.7 million
Currency: Dollar (NZ)
US$ exchange rate: 0.6790
GDP per capita (US$): 42,940
Internet users: 4.27m
Broadband households: 1.58m