Happy crowds, sunny fields and pop-up tents. This year was supposed to be a vintage year for festivals, and there’s barely a weekend this summer where there isn’t one somewhere in the country.
But while big hitters such as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds are already sold out, sales elsewhere are stagnating and many promoters are struggling to sell tickets in the face of rising costs. Some events due to take place in the coming weeks – including This Is Tomorrow in Newcastle, Brainchild in Bentley, East Sussex and Summerfest in Ewood Park, Blackburn – have been cancelled.
“We normally sell out but when we went on sale in December we knew something was wrong,” said Marina Blake, 29, creative director of the Brainchild festival, which has been running for nine years except in 2020 when Covid got in the way. . “It was so much slower than normal and there was just no demand. We recently made the decision to cancel.
She says it was a confluence of factors. “Artist fees are higher as people try to make up for lost income during the pandemic, production costs have gone up and even just finding the labor to put up the tents was a problem.”
The organizers of Summerfest, which was to take place at the end of May, made the same call. “We had to make this decision because ticket sales were stagnating. It is a 30,000 capacity venue and tickets stopped selling at around 16,000 so it was not financially viable to operate. Three other festivals took place the same week. It was a domino effect,” said a spokesperson for the event.
“With the cost of living crisis, people are struggling to afford tickets and production costs have skyrocketed. The price of diesel has exploded and we have to transport everything to the site.
With continued renewal of event tickets canceled in 2020 due to Covid, Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said it was a perfect storm. Infrastructure costs have risen, many skilled workers have left the industry during the pandemic, and now the public is facing the cost of living crisis. “It’s extremely difficult there. It’s certainly not a rebound year for festivals.
Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife festival and nighttime economy adviser for Greater Manchester, agrees and says smaller festivals are in particular trouble. “We will see more of them make the decision that they are not viable. People are waiting to see how much money they have in their pockets. This is extremely concerning for the industry.
One explanation is that the market is saturated. Normally bands would take time on the road but, after years without gigs, more acts are now available. Nick Checketts, a promoter in Edinburgh, said in Scotland there are festivals most weekends this summer. “There are too many choices,” he said. “Many festivals are canceled and organizers are really struggling to sell tickets.”
With faltering sales, he thinks the only hope is that people will buy in at the last minute, but a lot may depend on the weather.
Another concern is that the queues are too similar and not appealing to young people. Two years have passed without a progression of young people joining the industry, and there is a mismatch between what is on offer and what ticket buyers want. Without “new blood,” according to Lord, it’s no wonder the industry is stagnating.
With tickets costing around £250 for a weekend festival, young people are particularly put off. In a bid to attract new audiences, events such as Wilderness in Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire and All Points East in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets, East London are advertising ‘team tickets’, where festival-goers can get six for the price of five. Many also offer “book now, pay later” options.
Jasper Mcluskie, a student from Cardiff, has a ticket to the Boardmasters festival in Newquay, Cornwall, and is paying in instalments. “The ticket and everything that goes with it makes it hard to afford. I’m paying it back little by little and I’ve been saving up over the year to be able to go.
Even those with money to spare are looking elsewhere – and a guarantee of good weather. “We hear of an increased demand for events in Ibiza. This is the first international travel opportunity after Covid, and people are choosing that over the domestic experience,” Reed said.
Others agree. “People go to Ibiza instead,” says an artist manager, who does not want to be named. “When going to a UK festival costs the same as flights and tickets to one in Ibiza, why wouldn’t you?”