The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the entertainment industry hard as gigs were cancelled, events postponed and performance venues closed.
No one could have predicted that, a year down the line, concerts, exhibitions and public events and seeing our favourite acts and artists performing live would still be impossible. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with restrictions easing in Scotland soon.
And, in other countries, concert venues have started to open up again, giving gig-goers hope. In Australia – where Covid-19 cases were only around 29,000 and less than 1,000 deaths – restrictions have been lifted so things are getting back to normal.
So, before P&J Live opens up fully to host concerts, events and exhibitions, we speak to Australia’s Tim Worton, who is Group Director of Arenas of ASM Global, P&J Live’s owners.
Tim, who oversees the operations of all of the ASM Global Australian arenas*, offers hope and said: “The future means a return to the new normal, that won’t be largely different to the old normal. And while in our part of the world, we’re ahead of where Europe and North America are, we were in a similar state of lockdowns and venue restrictions, so like our market, others around the globe will similarly open up – it’s only a matter of when, not if.”
Here, Tim gives us a glimpse into the future of how P&J Live – with the recent introduction of VenueShield (the global health and safety initiative introduced at ASM Global venues to protect its staff and visitors) – could operate in the near future once it begins to host concerts and events again…
What impact has Covid-19 pandemic had on venues in Australia?
Like all cities around the world, all of our Australian venues ceased operations from mid-March 2020, and the first event activity was sporting events in our stadiums from May, initially with no crowds, then minimal numbers of fans, culminating in November with a 100% capacity (52,000) rugby league match at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
So events are starting to come back, but it’s very slow, and it’s only local content, for now, until international touring can recommence.
How has the introduction of VenueShield helped?
VenueShield has helped our road back in a couple of important ways. Firstly, it helped in getting our COVIDSafe and Event Operations Plans approved by the various State Health Authorities, which then allowed us to operate events, as it gave the Authorities the confidence that the venues would be operated with a world-class environmental hygiene protocol. VenueShield gave Government owners and event promoters the confidence for us to host events in safe environment.
What changes have you had to make to the venue to cope with restrictions and social distancing?
As restrictions in Australia are now significantly less onerous than other parts of the world, we have not had to do too much. Operating at 75% and particularly 100%, the venue capacities are close to, or are normal.
Here’s what we have done:
- our arena bowl, there will be no social distancing, and in the concourses and concession areas, it will be exercised as practically as possible
- we have gone cashless to reduce touch points
- we have hand sanitiser throughout the venue
- we have QR code check in to assist with contact tracing in addition to the identity details that come from the ticketing system
- we are moving to mobile ticketing, and our public facing staff and catering staff are wearing masks
- there is Covid safety related signage and a major reduction in touch points
- we are encouraging of social distancing in areas where it can be facilitated (concourse, corporate areas, concession outlets etc.)
When the first live event happened, what was it like? How did everyone feel?
The two live concerts at Qudos Bank Arena in November came with a mixture of excitement and some trepidation, as they were like test events that would be scrutinised by the health authorities and local police, but on each of the two nights there was a buzz amongst our team that was palpable – we felt ‘we’re back, doing gigs’. We realised on those nights how much we’d missed it.
Looking back, compared to now, how do you feel?
I certainly feel far more optimistic and hopeful than I did even prior to Christmas, let alone in March last year, when our venue lives fell over. I feel that we’ll be at 100% capacity in all of our venues by the end of March, that we’ll have vaccinated population by the end of October, and that international visitors who are vaccinated will be allowed into Australia by late 2021 without an onerous quarantine period, potentially no quarantine at all.
We have very strong bookings of international artists and high level local artists routed in our venues from November 2021 right through 2022 and into the first half of 2023, and I’m very confident that we’ll be able to host all of these, and more, at 100% capacities.
Facts about the ‘new normal’ in Australian venues:
- The only concert since March 2020 were two events in ASM Global’s Sydney arena (Qudos Bank Arena) for around 6,000 per night
- Qudos Bank Arena and RAC Arena (Perth) hosted National Basketball League games in January and February 2021
- Venues are operating at 75% capacity in ASM Global’s Sydney, Perth and Newcastle arenas, and 100% in Brisbane
- Local acts booked to do shows from May 2021
- As activity starts back up, employees are back to at least 4 days per week, and they’ll be back to full pay when activity is back to normal, by late 2021
*This includes Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, RAC Arena in Perth and Newcastle Entertainment Centre.