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Switzerland

Market Focus
May 22, 2018
A thriving market due to a healthy economy and generally wealthy population, the country has a disproportionally large festival sector compared with other markets and some believe it’s at risk of becoming a victim of its own success, with fears that the live music scene may be at saturation point. Neil Bracegirdle reports

Not only does it have borders with five countries – Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein, but Switzerland has four official languages, with its population divided into 65 per cent German-speaking, 23 per cent French-speaking, eight per cent Italian-speakers and 0.5 per cent speak Romansch, which has Latin roots.

The German-speakers are located around the country’s largest city Zurich, the French-speakers are centred around Geneva and Lausanne, Lugano is home to the majority of its Italian speakers, with Romansch spoken predominantly in the south-eastern canton of Grisons.

As one would imagine, this diversity presents a unique set of challenges, as well as possibilities.

“Acts that sell well in the German-speaking part may not sell well in the French-speaking part, while we have Italian artistes because part of the population speaks the language,” explains ABC Productions boss Andrè Bèchir.

With more than 40 years of experience in the industry, Bèchir set up Good News Productions in 1972, establishing it as the country’s leading promoter before selling to German conglomerate Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) and media company Ringier in 2000, after which he set-up ABC.

The company, in which pan-Europe German ticketing giant CTS Eventim has an 80 per cent stake, has upcoming shows with Roger Waters, Katy Perry and Arcade Fire, each at the Hallenstadion (cap. 13,000) in Zurich, Iron Maiden at Geneva Arena (9,500) and The Vamps at X-Tra (1,800) in Zurich.

“A sold-out show is much harder these days,” says Bèchir. “Ticket prices have gone up, but people earn the same amount of money, so they go to less shows, which is reflected in ticket sales.

“The question is how far you can go? How long are people prepared to pay that amount of money for tickets.”

In all ABC stages around 100 shows a year, with Nickelback, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol and Status Quo also among its events.

Act promote Helene Fisher in Basel

Basel-based Act Entertainment is following up five sold-outs shows at Hallenstadion with Helene Fisher last year, with a concert by the German singer at St Jakob-Park (45,000) in June.

As well as organising 350 shows annually, Act is also behind the 30,000-capacity Greenfield festival at Interlaken, featuring The Prodigy, Limp Bizkit and Parkway Drive, and Summerstage (20,000) in Basel.

Thomas Durr

“Ticket prices, but also production costs are generally higher in Switzerland compared to neighbouring countries,” says CEO Thomas Durr. “The potential of top acts is not fully realised yet, as the illegal secondary ticketing market shows.

“Due to rising living costs, concert attendees focus on few events, but are willing to pay more for those selected concerts. This often results in lower attendance at small and middle sized concerts.”

A relatively new, albeit influential player, in the country’s live scene is global behemoth Live Nation Entertainment, which opened an office in Zurich in 2016, as an extension of Live Nation Germany and Austria.

It has presented shows with acts including Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Depeche Mode and last year sold 90,000 tickets for two shows with Coldplay at Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich.

Matt Schwartz

“Our focus is international talent where we became market leader right away with six stadium shows in the first two years and many successful arena and theatre events,” says MD and chief operating officer of Live Nation Germany, Switzerland and Austria (LNGSA) Matt Schwartz.

“We are very pleased with the actual amount of tickets sold for Live Nation shows here. Almost all our shows are above expectations over the whole range of our roster from club to arena up to stadium and from rock, metal or urban, hip-hop and pop to family entertainment.”

In June last year LNGSA took a majority stake in Openair Frauenfeld Festival (50,000), founded in 1985 and previously known as Out in the Green (see Audience issue 210). The event, in July, will feature Eminem, J Cole and Wiz Khalfia.

“The market is very healthy and Frauenfeld sold-out earlier than ever this year,” says Schwartz.

“On average we promote up to 50 shows with a ticket volume of approximately 200,000-250,000 per year in Switzerland.

“In 2018 it will be a little less, maybe about 30 shows. But we can already predict that 2019 will be a lot busier with an increased show count.”

Among upcoming events are Hallenstadion shows by Justin Timberlake, with tickets at 155-179 francs ($155-179) and Shakira at 74.50-113.50 francs ($74-113).

Geneva calling

At Live Music Productions (LMP) the company is still on a high, having promoted what it claims was Switzerland’s largest ever indoor show, with Metallica at Geneva’s Palexpo last year.

Michael Drieberg

“It was an in-the-round performance to 22,000 people,” says LMP founder Michael Drieberg. “The venue is usually an exhibition hall but was transformed and it worked so well we will probably use it again.”

LMP also staged Bruno Mars at the Geneva Arena last year and stages Sion Festival Under the Stars (15,000), which will see performances from Liam Gallagher and Placebo and should sell-out, according to Drieberg.

“Unemployment here is just over two per cent, which is one of the lowest in the world,” he says. “People still have money to spend and we are very lucky.

“However, of the 100 shows we do a year, around 60 of which are concerts, we probably do half French concerts and half international, and a lot of the French shows are stopping as the big acts are getting less and less, as they are getting older. It is a worry.”

Drieberg feels that another concern is a lack of smaller venues, particularly a lack of 3,000 to 4,000-capacity venues, and this perhaps is the motivation for LMP’s exclusive management of the Metropole (2,000) in Lausanne.

“That allows us to take risks and help young acts to get bigger,” he says. “It’s based in the French part of Switzerland and there is a lot of energy there. It’s an old theatre rebuilt into a concert hall and it has a lot of history and atmosphere.

“We still have fun being independent”

Michael Drieberg

“We have more and more artistes for venues of this size but nowhere for them to play. The idea to build big arenas 20 years ago now seems a strange one, as they are only used four or five times a year.”

Although global enterprises such as Live Nation Entertainment and AEG, which will operate the as yet unnamed 11,000-capacity venue in Lausanne when it opens next year, are entering the market, Drieberg remains committed to being independent.

“We work with Live Nation on some French shows and although we have been approached to become part of bigger companies, we still have fun being independent,” he says.

Vincent Sager, director of Opus One, which has been operating since 1992, is another who feels ticket prices have reached their limit.

“It seems to be hard to go higher, except for special packages and front row tickets,” he says.

“Top acts remain extremely attractive, but there are so many tickets available that that some shows are more difficult to sell.”

Largely promoting a mix of French and international artistes, Opus One has shows featuring Iron Maiden at Geneva Arena and Hallenstadion, Arcade Fire at Hallenstadion, and Christine and the Queens at Geneva Arena.

Paléo festival

Pulling together

Founded in 1994, Gadget Entertainment promotes around 100 shows annually, with upcoming concerts featuring Haim at X-Tra, Thom Yorke at Halle 622 (3,500) and Nightwish at Geneva Arena.

The company is also part of promoters collective wepromote, which includes Wildpony, Incognito Productions and festivals OpenAir St Gallen (30,000) and SummerDays.

“Most of the shows are selling okay, but we feel it’s generally more difficult to sell-out,” says Gadget’s Stefan Wyss. “Ticket prices are high and getting higher, and there is a risk that people will get tired of paying these prices.”

Wyss says that by working together as wepromote, new opportunities have arisen, including the launch of Seaside Festival (10,000) and Unique Moments (2,900).

“In terms of festivals, I have the feeling that the sales are slower in 2018 than in previous years,” says OpenAir St Gallen’s Christof Huber, chairman of wepromote. “Only two to three are already sold out which was different in the last years.

“Besides incredible competition in the summer and high artiste fees, it’s getting more and more difficult to get exclusivity of artistes. Even big headliners play two or sometimes up to four shows in Switzerland during the summer.”

Among acts playing St Gallen are Nine Inch Nails, The Killers and First Aid Kit, while SummerDays will feature performances from Van Morrison, 10cc and The Gipsy Kings.

Market pressures

Samsung Hall

As previously mentioned Good News is one of the country’s longest established promoters, and has concerts with Foo Fighters at Stade de Suisse (45,000) in Bern, Die Toten Hosen at Allmend (15,000) in Lucerne and Judas Priest at Zurich’s Samsung Hall (5,060).

“I think at the moment there are too many shows and it is growing everyday,” says Good News CEO Stefan Matthey.

“There are too many acts touring, both big names and baby acts, always too much in the market at the same time. It is making things a bit shaky. Sometimes tickets are very slow until the last couple of days before the show.”

However, with the company presenting over 350 shows this year, Matthey is confident in the market’s resilience.

“There is always a light in the tunnel,” he says. “There are new business models and we just need to focus our self and our teams.”

Another depicting a saturated market is Soldout Productions CEO Julian Rouyer, who also points to tax issues causing difficulties.

“In certain cities such as Lausanne [where Soldout is based], there is a 14 per cent tax on gross ticket income,” says Rouyer. “Such taxes have an impact on ticket prices and make it difficult to break a show.

“Ticket prices have increased 25-30 per cent in the past 10 years or so, due to artiste fees and production costs inflation, as well as higher competition.”

But having been in business for 12 years, Rouyer knows the market and the company has a sold-out, second edition of its The Beat Festival (9,000) at Geneva Arena, with tickets from 65-125 francs ($65-125). Performers included $uicide Boy$, Damso and Romeo Elvis.

“The music businesses has been put under huge pressure in the past five years and it is more difficult to establish and keep a sustainable and loyal relationship with the music industry actors,” adds Rouyer. “It is a bit of a jungle out there and everybody goes for the quick money, no matter the history.”

Other Soldout shows include Djadja & Dinaz at Les Docks (1,000) in Lausanne, prices at 35 francs ($35), Vald at Palladium Geneva (1,300), at 39 francs ($39) and Damso at Geneva Arena (9,000), with tickets at 69 francs ($69).

Creating a buzz

Formed in 2013 through the merger of Abart, Black Lamb, Cult Agency and Redda – Mainland Music promotes around 200 shows annually, including We Are Scientists at Dynamo Werk21 (500), Kiefer Sutherland at X-Tra and Maluma and Sam Smith, both at Hallenstadion.

Marc Lambelet

“We are at a time again where people are not really curious to discover new things,” says Mainland co-director Marc Lambelet, who founded Black Lamb. “Only the ones that already have an audience or that are buzzing sell easy, mostly hi-hop and Ed Sheeran.

“We’ve seen a slight decrease in the average ticket prices last year, and we’ll see if that trend continues, but I would say that promoters are now aware that we need to keep them at this level if not lower them a little.”

Other Mainland shows are G-Easy at Samsung Hall, Flogging Molly at Z7 (1,600) in Basel and Fat Freddy’s Drop at Volkshaus (1,200) in Zurich.

After recent sell-outs with Sam Smith at Hallenstadion and Queens of the Stone Age at Samsung Hall Sion-based, Takk Productions has shows with Thom Yorke and A Perfect Circle, both at Halle 622 (3,500), with tickets for each 80-95 francs ($80-95).

“We promote, co-promote and book around 250 shows per year,” says TAKK’s Sebastien Vuigner. “And we’ll be closer to 300 this year.

“Tickets for the big shows are still very strong, although we struggle a bit more to sell tickets for the new acts.”

Part of the problem, according to Vuignier, is the spread of people across the country.

“Swiss cities are really small, the largest one is Zurich, with around 450,000 population, so we usually do less tickets than the large European countries,” he says. “But as the salaries are much higher here, we can do higher ticket prices to reach decent gross incomes.

“The festival market is amazingly dense. We booked acts at more than 50 festivals this year and it’s not limited to the summer anymore. We have acts playing festivals from January to December. It’s competition to headline shows, but it’s a great opportunity to raise acts profiles.”

Launched in 2009 by Samuel Galley, Just Because promotes an average of 70 shows annually, working mainly in venues between 2,000 to 5,000 capacity.

Galley highlights an issue he has to deal with from time to time, which he blames on Switzerland having a higher cost of living than neighbouring countries, exacerbated by it being in the middle of the European Union, but not a member of it.

“For smaller acts, touring here is expensive,” he explains. “We often have to defend and argue about high production costs or equipment renting prices which obviously result from salaries, but also consumer prices being much higher than in the neighbouring countries.”

Forthcoming Just Because shows include Cigarettes After Sex at X-Tra, Tash Sultana at Samsung Hall and Vance Joy at Komplex 457 (1,800).

Less is more

Promoted by All Blues Konzert, Ed Sheeran will play two dates at Letizgrund Stadium in August, with the 96,000 tickets sold-out since last sold-out since last November.

All Blues founder Johannes Vogel says his relationship with Sheeran dates back to the artiste’s first Zurich show at Kaufleuten (1,100) in 2012.

“The market is still going strong, but we have too many concerts coming up – this problem is not a new one,” says Vogel. “However, there has never been so many promoters in the market and so, for us, it’s important to stay in our niche and do less concerts rather than more.”

“There are too many shows in the market and too high ticket prices”

Felix Frei

All Blues shows include Dionne Warwick at Theater 11 (1,500), José González at Volkshaus and Pink Martini at Kaufleuten.

“We are prompting 100-120 concerts from September to June-July, most of them in Zurich, and some further afield in in Geneva, Lucerne, Basel and Bern,” says Vogel. “Some are promoted in collaboration with local partners, but we take 100 per cent of the risk for all of our shows.”

Booking operation Basitours was founded in 1981 and has worked with artistes such as Miles Davies, Ray Charles, Vasco Rossi and Kris Kristoffersen over the years. It currently has tours with Kennedy Administration, Maceo Parker and The Original Blues Brothers.

Peter Basier

“Swiss audiences are very spoiled, they are not missing anything from the music scene,” says agency founder Peter Basier. “The currency is stable and home-grown acts are enjoying their own market.”

Now in its 26th year Blue Balls Festival takes place across nine days in three Lucerne venues – KKL Lucerne, the Pavilion and the Schweizerhof Hotel. It attracts around 100,000 visitors during the event, with previous headliners including Rita Ora, Seal, Tracey Chapman and Ed Sheeran.

“We have too many festivals in Switzerland, but what makes Blues Balls festival special is its location – in one of the world’s most beautiful cities and we have the best quality in every sector,” says CEO Urs Leierer. “I can’t see the demand from Blue Balls fans changing.”

Acts appearing this year include Jessie J, Alanis Morissette and Tom Odell.

Despite the views of many that the festival sector is suffering from saturation, the 50,000-capacity Paleo Festival Nyon has sold out for the last 17 years, with this year’s six-day event selling out in seven hours.

“The festival and its brand has become the principal headliner,” says organiser Dany Hassenstein. “But we can observe a slowdown with ticket demand for headline shows, that’s certainly coming from the fact that we have a very high density of festivals in summer.”

The average daily ticket price for Paleo is 70 francs ($70), with headliners Depeche Mode, The Killers and Gorillaz among 220 acts performing.

Pick your moment

Running for almost three decades, Festival Rock OZ’Arenes (7,000) will see acts such as James Blunt, Texas, Stereophonics and Damso take to the stages across four days in August, with day tickets at 88 francs ($88).

Charlotte Carrel

“It is getting more and more difficult,” says festival director Charlotte Carrel. “The majority of ticket sales are last-minute. Too many similar festivals will kill the festival market.”

But Carrel is not without hope and believes there is a simple solution.

“Every artiste is touring all the year at too many places in Switzerland and it’s getting really difficult to create a very special event for artistes,” she says.

“Artistes should only play at the right place and at the right moment every year.”

Premium indoor festival Baloise Session at Basel’s Event Hall (1,500) takes place in October and November across 12 shows, with last year’s acts including Alicia Keys, Goldfrapp, Nelly Furtardo and Clean Bandit.

“The Baloise Session was a 99 per cent sell-out last year, so we are happy, but from what I hear, not everything is selling well here unfortunately,” says CEO Beatrice Stirnimann.

“I think ticket prices are at a sensible level due to artiste fees and competition in the market. With always more festivals and shows, there is a bigger need for acts, so the promoter is in the end willing or in need to pay more to get headliners for his event.”

The line-up for this year’s event will be revealed in August.

Felix Frei

At Zurich’s Hallenstadion, where shows include two dates with Roger Waters, Nickelback and Iron Maiden, arena director Felix Frei says the market is being “over-played”.

“We feel that the tickets are not selling so well anymore,” says Frei. “There are too many shows in the market and too high prices. The volatility has become extremely high.”

Of the 127 events the venue staged last year, 40 were concerts and it plans to hold an additional 10 this year. Its most successful include 53,000 tickets sold across five nights for Helene Fischer, grossing seven million francs ($7m), 13,768 sold for Bruno Mars, grossing 1.3m francs ($1.3m) and 26,580 across two shows with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, with a gross of 2.7m francs ($2.7m).

“There needs to be an effort from all sides, to play the market in a reasonable and healthy way,” suggests Frei.

A new addition to the sector is Samsung Hall (5,000), which opened in January 2017, and has hosted shows by Sting, John Legend, Diana Krall and Alice Cooper.

Anke Stephan

“People can attend shows and concerts every day in Switzerland, but spending money is not growing,” says MD Anke Stephan. “We have definitely reached an over-saturation in the concert market.”

Hollywood Vampires, Judas Priest and Bullet For My Valentine are among acts due to play the venue.

Returning to the live music sector after a period of reduced activity, following two years of construction work is the St Jakobshalle in Basel, which is due to reopen in October. The work to rebuild the arena is expected to cost 110,000 million francs ($109.7m) and will see the capacity increase from 9,000 to 13,000.

Director Thomas Kastl says the venue will be “nestled in a good mix” when fully functioning again.

“We will have a very generous foyer, an in addition to the main arena there will be seven modern secondary halls where all types of events can be staged,” says Kastl.

“Over the last few years there has been more competitors for us, especially new venues with a capacity of 4,000-6,000.”

Acts due to play St Jakobshalle include Andreas Gabalier and Andrea Bocelli.

Having launched in Switzerland less than a year ago, Ticketmaster is buoyant about the opportunities the market represents and is partnered with festivals such as OpenAir Frauenfeld and Festival Sous Les Etolie in Sion, as well as having tickets on sale for Justin Timberlake, Shakira and Demi Lovato, all at the Hallenstadion.

“Swiss fans have a great hunger for live music, from festivals right through to big arena shows,” says CEO George Egloff. “Also, over the last few years many home-grown Swiss artistes have become increasingly popular, filling huge arenas on their own.

“We expect the live music scene here to grow and diversify even more over the coming years.”

The arrival of Ticketmaster was not unexpected by rival Starticket, which has experienced strong sales with Sam Smith, Imagine Dragons and Macklemore.

“We knew they would enter the market, so it was not a surprise,” says sales director Marc Boehrer. “Although they are still at start-up level, we have them on our radar. As long as they don’t have a certain number of exclusive deals, we do not believe Ticketmaster will play an important role in the market.”

Ticketing around 10,000 events annually Boehrer agrees that home-grown acts are now becoming a force to be reckoned with.

“The quality of Swiss artistes, no matter what language or genre, has become very good over the past few years,” he says.

“You don’t need overpriced international has-been acts in order to fill all your headliner slots. You can go with the Swiss and it pays off.

“That’s a very good sign and I’m confident it will continue like this.”

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