Panic, Pandemic and The Business of Fun
Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped Look at that low playing! Fine, then Uh oh, overflow, population, common food But it’ll do
Save yourself, serve yourself World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed Dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right Right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light Feeling pretty psyched It’s the end of the world as we know it It’s the end of the world as we know it It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine It’s the End of the World — R.E.M.
I’m watching the dawning realization across the world about the breadth of this Coronavirus pandemic. And, at the same time I’m seeing the hard turn away from politics of division and class war as people of every race, creed and political alliance realize this virus does not care no matter where on the planet they live. The only thing dividing those affected is whether they live or die and that’s a matter of age, health and access to care.
In the greatest expression of hope I can remember, the world is reacting collectively. The top priorities are now care for the sick and slowing the tide of the infected. We all understand that caring for each other is more important than caring for our money and that change is the first step in reversing the pendulum swing which had moved far from love and closer to hate over the past years.
Ultimately, all crises pass, as will this. The process will be painful. As in all things, you may not be able to control the circumstances but you are absolutely in charge of how you react to them.
Because my audience is primarily interested in live entertainment, I am writing with examples from that world, but my thoughts are meant to be read more broadly. First, for all of you who are experiencing your first severe downturn, understand that ultimately the financial markets calm down, order is restored and life slowly returns to normal.
In ticket world the 800 pound gorilla is Live Nation/Ticketmaster a company which many of us, including me, have called out in the past. This week they have shown incredible courage and sensitivity in their decision making. Here are examples I’ve seen from them in just the past 24 hours.
1. For public safety, all tours on the road are being brought home until conditions are safe for the artists, road crews and fans. 2. Employees will work from home in order to prioritize their health and the ability to parent children while we are in the process of closing all schools. 3. Communications between their resale division and their suppliers are coming quickly, clearly and with sensitivity to what’s best for everyone. 4. All of these actions are taking place while their stock price was nearly halved and their carefully planned tours and events are canceled or postponed.
Companies which act this responsibly should be praised, and I’m going to go first. Great job, thank you. We need leadership like this, from the top and taking the needs of everyone into consideration. Michael Rapino and the entire team at Live Nation are working to make decisions which consider the impact on their entire ecosystem including fans, suppliers and localities. The leadership they are demonstrating will set the benchmark for others to follow.
Equally impressive is the coalition just announced:
This is a heavy hitters club and they are joining forces in an effort to find the best path for everyone. These are the actions of a responsible industry and leaders who put aside their own competitive advantages in an effort to restore normalcy for everyone. Today, in the midst of such turmoil, I’m so proud to be a part of this community.
Others in our industry have simply made decisions in their own best interests. StubHub, Vivid Seats, SeatGeek and all the other secondary markets will lose market share unless they join the community of people who are making financial sacrifices to stabilize the entire industry. Of course, as we ask the markets to take on responsibility, we too must do the same. This is not the time to try forcing refunds because the tickets you bought are not as profitable as you’d hoped, or because the event has been postponed. That’s a risk of the business and you get to share it. Events that are simply cancelled will be refunded. We have to be part of the solution and share in the pain. Ultimately, it’s doing right which ends up being good. You know, Karma.
I sincerely hope that the remaining major players making decisions about how to restart live entertainment will be equally selfless. People who go to live shows are traumatized. It will take time and effort to get back the enthusiasm for attending mass events which existed just weeks ago. We as an industry need to work together to rebuild demand. After all, without fans who want tickets all of us are unemployed. Many of you are scared, and I understand that. The last massive economic downturn came in 2008, so all of you in your 20’s and early 30’s have never experienced anything like this.
With the stock market currently down approximately 6,500 points from its highest closing value of 29,551, reached a month ago, it’s time to step back, refocus and aim before shooting. Or, as I heard repeatedly last month while spending three days with Brendon Burchard: Common sense is not always common practice. Let’s apply that common sense to the new rules of tickets:
What goes up must come down Spinnin’ wheel, got to go round Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles, it’s a cryin’ sin Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel spin
You got no money, you got no home Spinnin’ wheel, all alone Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles and you, you never learn Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel turn
Did you find the directing sign On the straight and narrow highway Would you mind a reflecting sign Just let it shine within your mind And show you the colors that are real
Spinning Wheel — Blood, Sweat & Tears
First, we’re about to have an old fashioned time-out. Almost every event for more than 1,000 people is canceled. That’s cruises, conferences, political rallies, concerts, sporting events and live theater. Maybe we’ll restart in April, maybe May. Even so, those first few weeks will be tenuous. I don’t expect a full calendar until June at the earliest.
But, here’s a hopeful chart showing just how little the recent drop in stock prices are in relationship to the overall gains of the past ten years. And, quick note, the market closed up today at 23,185, up 1,985 points which the chart does not reflect as it is only plotted through yesterday.
Here’s the thing about having lived a few years: you know a few things because you’ve seen a few things. Now, sure that’s the Farmers insurance advertising tagline, but it’s true. Prices go up. Prices go down. This is a long term game. It’s not roulette. Buy tickets that make sense, and price them fairly. Don’t try to buy 1,000 tickets to make $1 apiece. Buy 8 tickets that might make $25 each, then repeat. In a time when you won’t get paid until after the event, auto-pricing below face value makes zero sense. Get good advice. If you’re in a chat group, stay in that group. Talk with your peers. Share information. There are really no secrets in this world, only people who think they have a secret and don’t realize that 100 others feel the same.
Manage your cash flow carefully and don’t get destroyed by credit card interest. No risk is worth financing at 25.74%. Talk with your lenders. Some banks are being cooperative without killing your credit score. I’ve heard American Express is waiving fees and interest for two complete cycles if asked. I would expect similar actions from all of the major card issuers.
Use this time to be good to yourself. I’m going to the gym more — it works out stress and my clothes fit better. Create a business plan. Tickets are a business in the midst of structural change. Decide if this is the best path for you or if you should be working toward something less volatile. Read, take classes, give yourself every opportunity to improve your own performance. Your business will thank you.
There is no easy path through this crisis. It’s still developing and the only sure thing is there will be more surprises before it’s over. Recognize that no one knows how this will play out. Keep your head down, do the work, stay connected to your community and make choices which will make us all proud. If you feel down, recognize that the blues is an authentic American art form. Cue some up, get it out of your system and then get back to work.
It don’t matter if you’re rich It don’t make no difference if you’re poor Simple things in life can make you mad to the core It doesn’t matter if you’re young Don’t make no difference if you’re old You got to stand a little rain Before you reach a pot of gold Everybody gets the blues
Everybody Gets the Blues — Kenny Wayne Shepard
I read a lot of books. There’s always something to learn from everyone. Tilman Fertitta, billionaire owner of the Houston Rockets, Golden Nugget casinos and Landry’s restaurants wrote a very short book last year. That book had a useful thought: …when it comes to business and most everything else in life, there is a paddle for everybody’s ass. And you never know when it’s coming or where it’s coming from. Shut Up and Listen — Hard Truths That Will Help You Succeed
Our paddle arrived in the form of a virus and it is laying on a beat down. Just remember, almost all the power in our modern world from politicians to bankers, scientists to coders are united seeking to crush it. They will and in time things will get better. Ultimately, once this virus is beaten, everybody’s working for the weekend. It’s our job to make sure their weekend plans are met.
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 all month. 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