Pandemic and Panacea: 19 Lessons To Learn From Covid
Let’s dive in:
1. Live is not a Disney movie.
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
When You Wish Upon A Star — Leigh Harline & Ned Washington
Disney movie lyrics are purpose built to move the story along to the inevitable happy ending. Life, not so much. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to bear witness to a raging fire in a circus tent being responded to by a tiny clown car then you’re halfway to understanding just how fucked the live entertainment industry is now.
Here’s the truth: there will be no live mass events this year. There will be a very slow start next year if we have a vaccine which is proven. Maybe, if the stars upon which you wish align, we will see theaters and arenas open for events in the late spring or summer.
You don’t have to believe me. Most of the time, I don’t believe me. But, believe Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles or Dr. Zeke Emmanuel:
2. Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation understands and is setting the agenda
What do you do when you sell 550 million tickets a year, operate 240 live event venues, mount and promote tours globally and you get almost no notice that a virus circulating the globe is so dangerous that we’re closing the world?
How much courage does it take to press the stop button when information is coming in fast, unconfirmed and the subject of much debate? You have to balance your duties to your clients, your shareholders, your employees and the public which trusts that it’s safe to enter your buildings or those which you ticket on behalf of their ownership.
In the old days, when Drexel Burnham ruled the world of takeover financing, and a deal could be made based upon not much more than a simple one page “highly confident” letter, companies were upended for the price of a postage stamp. The “poison pill” share dilution strategy was built by lawyers to defend against marauding financiers. It was high stakes poker whenever a CEO had to decide whether to trigger the poison pill defense or just accept the buyout and float gently to earth protected by the embrace of his golden parachute.
Live Nation and Rapino had a much tougher choice. If Coronavirus spread was accelerated by mass events, he had to ingest the cyanide so others could live. Live Nation, a company which in 2019 reported $11.5 billion in revenue was going to go full stop. Their primary revenue sources would be on pause until live events resumed, which could be as much as 18 months in the future. There was no choice. This was Michael Rapino, not Montgomery Burns. When you have to choose between human safety and money there’s really no choice.
This week Rapino reaffirmed his commitment to maintain 9,000 employees, addressed the potential issues with Live Nation’s loan covenants, acquired additional liquidity through an expanded borrowing facility, severely chopped salaries of his executive team and waived his own salary into the foreseeable future. Live Nation president Joe Berchtold went onto CNBC to discuss what this would mean for the company:
Live Nation is also working on their messaging, trying to help the public understand that the tickets which are sold by Ticketmaster are not completely under Live Nation’s control. Live Nation owes a duty to the promoters, the performers and others and cannot act unilaterally.
I believe Rapino and his team when they say that the money from ticket sales for events in the future are set aside until the events are held or cancelled. This is one thing that separates Live Nation from the debacle we’re currently seeing at StubHub which is effectively bankrupt because it cannot recall the tickets it sold or refund them. I wrote a massive piece about that at the beginning of the month:
It’s no secret that I’ve gone after Live Nation in the past. I calls them as I sees them. Live Nation owns the future of live at least in the concert space. They’re tough, they’re smart and they’re the default whenever things go awry. Nathan Hubbard fails? Live Nation steps in and soon they own Rival.
I wrote a piece last month, the day after Live Nation recalled all touring acts which praised Live Nation on the steps they were taking to protect everyone’s interest in live:
There is always hope when good people sacrifice their own interests for the common good. It’s easy to become mired in our own misery and overlook the efforts by others. I say take this time and celebrate those who are doing the right things. In times of distress, “a little something for the effort” is the least we can do.
3. “Concert Industry hits peak blight as artist guarantees disappear, refunds get complicated”
It isn’t just ticketing companies taking the hit in the live entertainment space. It’s everyone. We are going to make long lasting changes to the ways in which everything works, including the ways by which artists get paid. Having a hit song is no longer a direct path to a $10 million contract and a NetJets card:
4. Prices go up in good times, prices go down in bad times. Where are we now?
In the days of my youth
I was told what it was to be a man
Now I’ve reached the age
I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can
No matter how I try
I find my way to do the same old jam
Good times, bad times
You know I’ve had my share
Good Times Bad Times — Led Zepplin
We just crossed 22 million people filing for unemployment benefits (4/16/2020). It took less than a month to get here, and more claims are coming. People are hanging on waiting to receive their one time $1,200 stimulus checks. You know, those checks which were supposed to go out immediately but are already weeks late and might take until September to all be delivered.
The New York Times reported 31% of tenants are unable to pay their full rent. Everyone lives their own reality, but the number of people who are going to come out of this crisis with money to burn on tickets is shrinking rapidly. I’m reminded of a classic Monty Python sketch about “luxury”:
(“MP” — Michael Palin, “EI” — Eric Idle, “GC” — Graham Chapman, “TG” — Terry Gilliam)
MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”
EI: ‘E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN’. We used to live in this tiiiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.
GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!
TG:You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!
MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.
EI: Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.
GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!
5. Netflix taught us to watch movies at home. What will we learn from a year of live music on Zoom?
And now we meet in an abandoned studio
We hear the playback and it seems so long ago
And you remember the jingles used to go
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
Video Killed The Radio Star — The Buggles
Elton John hosts specials from a house without a piano. Billie Eilish sings while holding two puppies. Chris Martin channels Bob Dylan on Saturday Night Live (at home.)
Our heroes and idols turn out to be normal when seen through Zoom with bad hair and terrible lighting. There’re no stage effects and the only crowd is you and those who share your quarantine tontine.
When this is over, do we really want to hike into Coachella from the parking fields, have nowhere to sit and stand in 30 minute lines to buy a $16 beer all to see Cardi B from 200 yards away? Where’s Occulus? It seems your time has come.
6. We’ve redefined what confers status. Marketers beware
A gentleman used to be assessed by the brand of his automobile, the caliber of his wristwatch and the quality of his shoes with particular emphasis on the wear of his heels. More recently we looked to the size of your home and the zip code in which it is located. We’ve also had a big obsession with brand logos creating perceived value for something which is marginally better but because of its label seems to be more that what it is.
Now, as we move from continuous measurements of status based upon what you own to taking a measure of who you are, because after all in a world where we’re zooming from home in pajama bottoms while hiding our 8 week old hairstyles, who really cares whether the sneakers you’re wearing are Yeezy or Kirkland?
That same logic might translate to how we’re willing to spend money for live events. The best seats for the biggest events had been the driving force expanding both dynamic pricing and resale markets. When cost is no object because of the social status gain is replaced by, let’s say, common sense, then value returns to the equation. I go to lots of live events, but I’m always conscious of the price. If I had the choice between paying $3,000 for a pair of really good seats to see The Rolling Stones or a four night visit to Paris we can plan to meet for soupe a l’oignon gratinee at Chez Flotte on Rue Cambon. That’s not even a five second decision.
7. Social distancing as the new normal
What will an event feel like in a social distancing environment? I love crowds. Last year I spent more than one full month on festival fields. I’m there for the music, for the humanity, for the good times and for what I can’t find anywhere else: the collective cathartic energy of a crowd.
Will it feel same when every other row is empty or there are hash lines on the field like there are now in grocery stores? I’m not leaving home for a Gilbert O’Sullivan experience.
It seems to me that there are more hearts
Broken in the world that can’t be mended
What do we do? What do we do?
Alone again, naturally
Alone Again (Naturally) — Gilbert O’Sullivan
8. Resale may become less relevant for ticket distribution
The face plant of StubHub and other resale markets as a result of this completely random global shutdown of all things live will impact the future of resale tickets. Consumer confidence is wavering, and how the markets as a whole decide to act now and in the future will help determine their fate.
Resale has really served two useful purposes: it gives you the ability to change your mind and get out from a ticket purchase by reselling it to someone else when your plans change or it allows you the ability to see a show you didn’t expect to see when the tickets were first on sale.
For me, I’m in New York a couple of times a year. If Billy is playing the garden, I’m there. Resale makes sure there are tickets for sale, always. Here’s a look from a show he played on (for?) my birthday.
9. PGA — Eagle or Bogie?
You never can predict who will lead into a new paradigm. I have written several times about my belief that basketball and baseball are done for this year and football is iffy for anything other than games in empty stadiums played for television. I’ve also said privately that golf is the only sport I can think of which might start early because golf courses are wide open, there’s a good ability to maintain social distance and it fills lots of television time. And, golfers are a particular breed. My father is an avid golfer who, at 84, still can shoot his age or better. Every time I see him he describes his new swing. He’s swung more than Hefner and that’s saying something.
So, when the PGA announced their tour will resume in June, first with no fans, and then allowing them on the course I wasn’t surprised. But, it’s bold and early. Stay tuned.
10. Kamala Harris is trying to save the November 3rd, 2020 election
The counter argument to holding golf tournaments which allow fans is the $5 billion push that Senator Harris is making to assure that the November election doesn’t force a choice between personal health and the right to vote. Harris wants to assure that states have the infrastructure to allow voting by mail through the VoteSafe Act of 2020.
I’m waiting for Bill Mahr to endorse this bill as he’s been consistently vocal that President Trump isn’t planning to leave office, whether or not he’s re-elected. Mahr is afraid the swirling fear of pandemic, voter suppression or constitutional tinkering tinged with martial law has to be at least considered and plans implemented to block any such attempts.
11. When Obama Knows Your Kink
Louis CK made a mistake last week when he released a new comedy special through his website.
He sent out the following email blast:
Hi. I feel like there are two kinds of people in this world. One kind needs to laugh when things get shitty. In fact, the shittier things get, the more serious, the more dark the more terrifying, the more dangerous and dire anything is, the more important it is to laugh in The midst of it and often directly in its face. These people believe it’s no coincidence that human beings have survived despite our fragile hairless bodies, through the most difficult of times And that we are the only species, besides ladybugs, Who laugh at life. The other kind of people feel that it’s important to put aside laughter in times of difficulty and give serious And painful things the respect and the silence due to them. And to bow their heads to the tragic and to show kindness to people who are afraid and hurting by not making light of their fears or pain. I don’t think that either one of these kinds of people is right over the other. I can only say that I belong to the first group. I Love and respect many members of the latter group And I can’t stand many members Of my own. Anyway, for those who need to laugh, I hope my new show will help. For those of you that can’t laugh right now I just wish you all the peace you can grab in this shitty shitty time. Sincerely, Louis CK
PS it’s not free or anything. I’m selling it on my website for 7.99
In a time when major stars are releasing free video content to help the country weather quarantine, selling a show as a release valve for pent up stress is already a strange tactic, double so given what got CK into trouble in the first place. But, adding the pricing only at the very end does not help restore your stature. For a guy who hates ticket resale he’s sure not shy about adopting their tactics.
I have always had tremendous respect for the work Louis CK did as a television and film maker. He’s super creative and sometimes the ability to be creative conflicts with the ability to recognize social lines. Still, this feels off. Take down the price wall. Give back. It’s your fastest path to redemption.
12. Lukas Nelson inspires
I just want to love you while I can
All these other thoughts have me confused
I don’t need to try and understand
Maybe I’ll turn off the fuckin’ news
Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) — Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Lukas Nelson is one of my favorite artists of the past few years. He’s a great player, a strong front man and comes across with the empathy we seek especially in these times. So, it was perfect to hear his new song echo what might just be the best healing this world needs. In my family we’ve got three new gardens going, bread baking in the oven and a future of fresh herbs and vegetables in our future. If I could only figure out how to grow yeast.
13. You’re not Jack and that isn’t a beanstalk
When the friend you’ve lent money can’t pay you back because he’s broke, taking a post- dated check for 120% of what you’re owed is crazy. So, when StubHub or someone else says they can’t refund the money you paid for a show or game which isn’t going to happen this year and might not happen next year, why would you take a promise for a credit in the future? There’s a very simple fix: call your credit card company and charge back the ticket. Then, in the future, when we enter the new normal and there’s something else you want to see, buy another ticket.
14. You and you alone control your feelings and your path forward
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”
Cat’s In The Cradle — Harry Chapin
Irony has no sense of humor. Harry Chapin was killed in a car crash on his way to play a free concert, leaving behind a wife and five children.
For those of you who are now under stay at home orders, laid off or working from home you have a new freedom of time. Review how you’ve spent your time over the past year. Think about how you can spend your time now.
Here’s a tip. Time is finite. Here’s another: each and every one of us has an expiration date. No one knows what it is until it arrives. When it’s your turn, there’s no negotiation. Use your time wisely.
In the past couple years I’ve seen the Foo Fighters play all across the country. Their show has so much energy and their crowds seethe with shared expressions of joy. Still, and maybe it’s because I’m creeping ever closer to old, I tear up each time I hear these lyrics:
One of these days the ground will drop out from beneath your feet
One of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat
One of these days the clocks will stop and time won’t mean a thing
These Days — Foo Fighters
15. Lady Gaga steps up
On April 18, 2020 there will be a six hour worldwide telecast to benefit Coronavirus healthcare workers. GAGA left behind her exaggerated public persona and helped deliver the goods. All of us have a part to play in the healing. It only takes one phone call to start the world turning.
16. Leo Tolstoy is wise:
All happy families resemble each another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
17. So is Fyodor Doestoevsky:
Man is fond of counting his troubles but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
18. Don’t be a Ted — Watch every sunset. It doesn’t have to wear off.
I end purposely with quotes from two Russian authors. This world is leaving behind its us vs. them, race baiting politics of hatred. We, as a common species spread across oceans are rediscovering the true importance of love, family, trust and cooperation. Those are the fresh blossoms of Spring on the tree of mankind. Remember and cherish them. They’ll serve you well.
19. Finally dear readers, from me to you:
It’s a little bit funny, this feelin’ inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money, but boy, if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind
That I put into words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.
Your Song — Elton John
I’ve had the good fortune to interact with many of you either directly, at conferences, during group chats or through stories such as this one. I want you all to know that I believe in you, and I believe in this business. As my part of trying to help rebuild, I’ll be answering reasonable questions. That’s my way of contributing to solving this crisis. Just email, my address is below.
I’ll do my best to either answer you directly, or if I see certain questions repeat frequently I’ll post another article which goes over them all. I will not identify publicly the source of any question.
Let me know what you think.
I’m a consultant advising leading companies in the live event space. If you are an investor, artist, promoter, team, producer, venue operator, primary or secondary market of ticketed events or have comments on this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me:
Copyrighted 2020 by Eric Fuller