Festival organisers are enjoying record ticket sales after the government’s announcement of its roadmap out of lockdown in England, as punters prepare to “make up for lost time” despite uncertainty over what state support exists if last-minute cancellations have to take place.
“Lots of our members have seen sale spikes since Monday, which has generated lots of consumer confidence,” said Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals. “There is a huge appetite for live experiences and I don’t think that is surprising. It’s about communal experiences, being outdoors in groups.”
Monday’s announcement triggered a 600% rise in traffic to Ticketmaster this week, said the managing director of the site’s UK wing, Andrew Parsons, and there was no sign of it slowing down.
“We’ve had around 2 million fans on our site with half a million visits to the Ticketmaster Festival Finder guide,” said. “It’s a week unlike any we’ve experienced in a typical February. The pent-up demand to get back to live events is undeniable. Fans are ready to make up for lost time and it’s just brilliant to see.”
Despite the excitement, however, organisers are concerned about the potential of last-minute cancellations, as the coming months are filled with uncertainty. They are calling for a government-backed insurance scheme so that if they have to change plans, they will not lose all their investment.
Field Day festival in London announced it had sold out on Thursday, saying in a tweet: “Wow! Tickets for Field Day 2021 have sold out. Thank you so much to everyone who bought a ticket.” The organisers of Leeds and Reading festivals, which take place in August, have implemented a queueing system owing to demand for tickets.
Pete Jordan, festival director of MADE festival, the longest-running dance music festival in the West Midlands, said he expected to sell out of tickets in a week. “It is pleasantly surprising but we can tell there is a lot of pent-up demand. Young people, who have been affected by this more than most in a social situation, they just really want to get back to living life.”
Jamie Tagg, who runs Mighty Hoopla, a festival in south London, said it had had its biggest rise in ticket sales in its five-year history, and “on the day the roadmap came out ticket sales spiked again. I think we are all bored with Zoom, and seeing everything digitally and it’s something to put in the diary and look forward to,” he said.
But he added: “The longer it goes on the more nervous we might get. Insurance would be everything for us right now.”
Reed agreed: “Insurance is more critical than ever and it is something we have been pushing for as a sector for many months. We welcome the roadmap, but the 2021 festival season is not guaranteed. There is still a chance of cancellations.”
He said it was an “enormous risk” for independent businesses to go forward without insurance, as the cost of staging an event was about £6m. “There are essential costs to be met for it to get signed off. It is not just about artist or production deposits, where there may be flexibility, but there are essential costs like medical provision,” he said.
Sacha Lord, the co-founder of Parklife festival and the Warehouse Project, and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said: “Let’s follow in the footsteps of other countries, where there is an insurance indemnity policy. We are not expecting a free handout and we will pay a small percentage of the turnover figure. Putting a festival on is hard without insurance in place, that is why Glastonbury cancelled.”
Lord said he was expecting news on insurance at Rishi Sunak’s next budget on 3 March. “This coming Wednesday is the most critical day of my 26-year career. For those who work behind the scenes, it will be make or break. They need hope.”
One good thing to have come out of the changes to festivals this year, Lord said, was that they expected to see a growth in homegrown UK talent. “We might see a massive surge in domestic talent appearing in festivals, and it could be an opportunity for homegrown talent to stand up and take to the stage.
”At the moment, as an artist, if you want to come in from France you would need to quarantine 10 days and then there is the whole issue of production coming in, and concern it could get stuck at the border.”
Guidance on what safety measures festivals would have to put in place has not yet been announced, but organisers said social distancing would be impossible at large-scale events. They would comply with whatever measures were suggested, including rapid testing of guests or people having to show vaccine passports, they said.
Boris Johnson has said all adults in the UK would be offered their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July, which has given some organisers confidence to reconfirm their festival’s lineup.