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The sports and entertainment industry is under a real crisis at the moment.

But there are glimmers of hope. Late in 2020, there was a genuine sense of excitement and hope that with vaccinations and mass and rapid testing, the industry can return to live events sometime in 2021.

What are venues doing to return to live events?

In order to return to live events, venue operators are working with governments, local authorities, and their entertainment & sports partners to ensure that they can get the industry moving again, and generate revenue while keeping fans and entertainers healthy and safe. New technology discussed in our latest webinar includes health passports, contactless ticketing and concessions, and location services such as Blue Dot wayfinding.

In this webinar from November, Adam Goodyer, founder and CEO of Realife Tech, was joined by three leading figures in the live events industry: Sarah Schmidt (Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin / AEG), Adam Pearson (The O2), and Adrian Doyle (SSE Arena in Belfast).

Watch the full webinar or read the complete transcript of their conversation.

To demo the technologies integrated in the Realife Tech platform, or for more details, please get in touch with one of our consultants.

 

Full Transcript

Adam Goodyer:

Great. We’ll kick off. Welcome to this webinar from Realife Tech on the return of live events, new era, new technology. My name’s Adam Goodyer. I’m the founder and CEO of Realife Tech, and I’m very happy to be joined by three leading figures in the live events industry. We’ve got Sarah Schmidt from the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin and of AEG. We’ve got Adam Pearson from The O2 and Adrian Doyle from the SSE Arena in Belfast.

Before I ask the speakers to introduce themselves, I just want to set the scene of this webinar and there’s no escaping that this industry as we well know is under a real crisis at the moment. But there are also glimmers of hope. And in the last week in particular, there’s a genuine sense of excitement and purpose that potentially through vaccinations, through mass and rapid testing, that there is a real hope that we can resurface our industry towards the end of this year or early into next.

Adam Goodyer:

But this is a shifting landscape, and the panel that we are joined with today are spending their days and often their nights in working with governments, working with local authorities, working with partners and the whole ecosystem around events to ensure that they can get the industry moving again, and as well as with their grit and with their determination and guile, one of their key weapons in this fight is through technology in building the solutions to get funds back and get the industry back safely.

Adam Goodyer:

We at Realife Tech are happy and honored to be working with them in providing these technology solutions. And what we wanted to do with this webinar was to give some insight into some of those tactics and solutions that these great figures in the industry are using with our health and with others from the industry as well that can be shared.

I’m just going to do a little bit of housekeeping. We’ve got a packed agenda, and really looking forward to getting into these conversations. But to get things moving, we’ve muted all attendees. So no one who’s attending can speak, but please do feel free to introduce yourself in the chats. There is Q-and-A. We’ll be doing that at the end, so post your questions and we’ll do our best to get around to them.

Adam Goodyer:

So without further ado, I would love to introduce our panel and get them to give a little intro on themselves. We’ve got Adrian, and Sarah and Adam. Adrian can I start with you? If you could give us a quick introduction, that’d be wonderful.

Adrian Doyle:

Certainly I’ll do, good evening everybody? My name is Adrian Doyle. I’m the Director of Experience Operations as Adam said here actually for a company called the Odyssey Trust in Belfast, where a city center site consists of 12,000-plus capacity at the SSE Arena Belfast. It’s also the home for our Belfast Giants Ice Hockey Team. We have W5 State of the art of science and discovery center. We also have as part of our complex a food and entertainment district, which is currently undergoing a multi-million pound refurbishment.

Adrian Doyle:

And finally a 1,500 open space car park that supports the whole site. So what’s key for us at the moment is since March all of our trading activities ceased onsite and we haven’t restarted anything on site as yet.

Adam Goodyer:

Well, thank you very much, Adrian. Sarah, could I come to you please?

Sarah Schmidt:

Yes, good evening. My name is Sarah. I am with the Anschutz Entertainment Group in Berlin. I’m the director of CRM and Digital, here in Berlin at the AEG campus. We have the Mercedes Benz Arena which is a 17,000 capacity venue, giving home to two sports teams as anchor tenants, the AEG owned Eisbären Berlin ice hockey and the basketball team of Alba Berlin. We also operate a smaller venue, which is the Verti Music Hall, maximum capacity here is around four-and-a-half thousand seats or standing area and also on our campus, there’s the entertainment district, the Mercedes Plat Bars restaurants, a cinema bowling alley, hotel spot also with office buildings for more than 1000 office workers.

Sarah Schmidt:

Since the pandemic started, we were shut down not only the venues, but also the district. However, at least restaurants and cinema were reopened during the summer.

Adam Goodyer:

Right. Thank you, Sarah. Then Adam, could you do an intro please?

Adam Pearson:

Of course, yes. Good evening, everyone. I’m Adam, I’m the commercial director at The O2 Arena in London. We’re also part of Anxious Entertainment Group. The O2 – hopefully most people are sort of familiar with our venue. We’re the world’s most popular music and entertainment arena. So we put on somewhere in the range of 200 shows a year with kind of somewhere in the region of 2,000,000 ticket holders. We then have a further 7,000,000 visitors to the arena every year to Icon, which is the shopping outlet center and then the entertainment district.

Adam Pearson:

Similar to what Sarah just sort of outlined there with restaurants, bars, cinema, trampoline park, and that whole load of other entertainment. So clearly we’re nowhere near getting to sort of 9,000,000 visitors a year in the current climate. We have been able to reopen certain parts of the business, but the arena business, the ticketed business remains closed for now.

Adam Pearson:

In terms of my role, I am responsible for all kinds of key commercial revenue at the venues. So ticketing, food and drink, merchandise up at The O2 and then The O2 app, which is part of the reason why I’m here today.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you very much, all of you. So I’d like to kick off by talking about the future, the immediate future. You all talked about how you’re either under severe restrictions or not open at all. What are your hopes though, given recent announcements for opening up in the future? Is there a sense of optimism or a fear that this could be short-lived and alongside that, what are the main factors in terms of the ecosystem and partners whose decision it is to get these events moving again? Adam, can I start with you on that please?

Adam Pearson:

Of course yeah, I think in terms of how we’re feeling, I think like most businesses, coronavirus has sort of had a big impact no more so than on the live entertainment industry. But it’s a sort of roller coaster. And I think last week we probably felt relatively downbeat. It was a particularly tough week with lockdown coming into force in the UK and a few sort of impacts on staff and other bits and pieces.

Adam Pearson:

This week of the vaccine announcement, things got a bit more positive. But I think on the whole, throughout, since March when we closed down and we stopped hosting events. There has been a sense of optimism throughout. It’s been tough at times and the business is in a really tough place as it stands, but we don’t really believe in kind of sitting around and waiting for the solution or waiting for the vaccine or waiting for what’s going to come around.

Adam Pearson:

We want to be part of the solution and we know and feel that the live events industry will come back and will come back with a band and fans want to come back. People want to come to our venues, the chancellor in the UK talked about viable businesses when he was sort of implementing the job sports scheme and that the fellow scheme and the live entertainment industry is fundamentally a viable business.

Adam Pearson:

It’s not at the moment and we’re unable to host events, but it is fundamentally a viable business for the future. And we’re looking forward to finding the ways and helping being part of the solution and getting events back on.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you, Adam. And Adrian, could I come to you and specifically, if you can talk about Belfast, the ecosystem, who else apart from you as a venue to say, “Okay, we’re going to open up again.” Who else’s decision in that? Who do you need to bring on board? What are you doing to help monitor that and move it along?

Adrian Doyle:

Well, indeed in that ecosystem, and I think probably as everybody is finding potentially across the world, it’s that there’s a huge political will and I think an economic will to get us back open as soon as possible certainly from a U.K. perspective. And Adam’s mentioned sort of the current lockdown that’s in England and Northern Ireland, we’ve been in a lockdown for a number of weeks. It looks like that’s going to continue for the time being.

Adrian Doyle:

And you can see this tug of war, if we do the politicians who want to, especially in a broad brush hospitality, but with entertainment being at the heart of that, to get the economy back open, but versus the public health argument.

Adrian Doyle:

And I think that’s the crux of all those frustrations. And again, Adam’s referenced that is this horrible deadly virus, loves what we do as a business. It loves large groups of people being together, and especially when they’re having fun. So great intent, great will to get us open, but it’s a time thing. Then that’s the frustration when we talk about vaccines and mass testing.

Adrian Doyle:

So, locally we have our public health, the chief medical officer, chief scientific advisor involved in calls have been great dialogue, but they made it clear that a number of weeks ago, that until the vaccines available and until this is all comes out in society, don’t even dream of opening your doors for large events. Again, every time there’s a ripple of hope, you seem to get this tsunami of doom and gloom. And that was a bit of a gut punch for us over here.

Adrian Doyle:

But we still work with them. We still engage and very much what we’re focusing on now is to position ourselves. So when there’s a chink of light, when they open that door slightly, so we can put our foot in and just convince them that what we do as an industry and entertainment as a whole through, if we tackle problems and we meet them head on and we will use technology as a tool, put all the tools we’ve got to convince them that we can get back and get open and they can have confidence in what we do.

Adam Goodyer:

Right. Thank you Adrian. And then Sarah, in Germany, what are the sort of ecosystem differences that you’re seeing? Are there different pressures? Is there more optimism than maybe you might see elsewhere in Europe or elsewhere in the world?

Sarah Schmidt:

I think here in Germany, the ecosystem doesn’t differ so much from the U.K. and what Adam and Adrian have just been saying. Since the shutdown, we have always been optimistic to return back to live events very soon which is why we have been immediately starting on evaluating reopening scenarios, coming up with plans for various capacities. And of course also developing hygiene protocols and especially having two anchor tenants with our basketball and hockey team, that already gave us some hope since we have already been able to have basketball games with low amount of low capacity.

Sarah Schmidt:

And we are very optimistic that the German Hockey League will start in December as well. It remains to be seen if it will be with or without an audience, but you see there’s progress to return back to the events.

Adam Goodyer:

Right. And I think one of the interesting things that we’re seeing is how much of the solution and drive is coming from event organizers, arenas, sports teams themselves. So there’s a real, I think, like you said, Adam. There’s not necessarily a waiting around for things to be sorted out by the government. There’s a drive in the industry to make these solutions happen. 

Adam Pearson:

Sorry, just on that point there Adam, I think that’s very much the message we’ve had from the conversations we’ve had with government as well. Government want industry to find the answer, but they’re there to support us and they will provide the support that’s needed once that sort of solution is found and they’ll be part of the solution, but they want the industry to find the solutions themselves and to work out a way to get out of this in conjunction with all the different stakeholders that we’ve sort of alluded to already. So just sort of echoing that point really.

Adam Goodyer:

And that is a really good point. And it provides a nice segue into some specific plans around reopening, and Adam, The O2 is key in the test events in December. Can you talk about some of the specifics around the opening plans at The O2, and what your conversations with government have been like in relation to that? Because I think a lot of people watching will be interested in how you get this dialogue, with local authority and with government and how you lead that conversation. If you could give us a little bit of information on that, that’d be really helpful.

Adam Pearson:

I think on the sort of local authority side, we’ve always had a great relationship with Greenwich and our sort of local authority. So that’s been the sort of starting point. I think there’s been various different conversations that have happened over the last six months and we’ve sort of been all around the houses of all the different government departments. And sometimes that can be frustrating, but I think we’ve chosen to take the approach of every conversation is potentially the next great conversation or the right conversation.

Adam Pearson:

So, we’ve not sort of ruled anything out and we’ve spoken to DCMS at length. We’ve spoken to Public Health England. There’s a range of different government groups that we’ve had some sort of really, really good conversation with. Specifically on kind of bringing events back into our venue, we took the decision going back a few months that we wanted to sort of be at the forefront of that and be there to sort of bring appropriately-distanced shows to The O2 as soon as we possibly could.

Adam Pearson:

The commercials and the mechanics around delivering appropriately-distanced shows aren’t necessarily viable for the long term, but we felt like it was what we need to do is build confidence and we need to bring confidence back and we need to do that bit by bit. At no stage throughout the last six, eight months of where we thought a solution’s going to come, myself about it and suddenly we’re doing 20,000 people, five nights a week again.

Adam Pearson:

We need to sort of build back up to that and build confidence with all the stakeholders. We talk about having three kinds of principles stakeholders, fans, bands, and brands. We need to build kind of confidence with all three of those stakeholders, but there’s a fourth that comes into the current climate, and that is all that the sort of public organisations and the government fundamentally. So we took the decision around doing a socially-distanced show, the ticketing team in particular and the production team put a huge amount of work into mapping out how that would work within our arena.

Adam Pearson:

An absolute capacity, we can do around 21,000 fans for a socially-distanced show. We’ve got capacity of around four-and-a-half thousand. So you get fearless to the percentages and therefore, the commercials that go around that. But we wanted to do it in partnership with our promoter AEG Presents. We took the decision to move on with that. And we announced that we would have Squeeze on the 5th of December with the 400,000 capacity.

Adam Pearson:

In terms of how that event would play out and what that would look like, it would be social distancing. So you would have specific pockets that you would buy or customers have bought their seats in. And when you talk about technology, our ticketing partner access have been great in helping us deliver that technology instead of being able to buy one, two, three, four, five, six, as many tickets, as you want to sort of thing, you have to buy in a preordained group of two seats or four seats so that we can maintain that social distancing. When you come into the venue, you’ll have to follow mask rules, and sanitize, and all that sort of stuff. There’ll be one way systems throughout, we’ll sort of deep clean and fog the venue.

Adam Pearson:

Then I guess comms is probably the other area where we’re really kind of doubling down in terms of how we tell people what’s going to be going on and the venue app makes a big difference in that because we’re able to communicate live with customers when they’re in the venue. So that’s kind of the whistle stop tour through the journey we’ve been on and sort of bringing that event into The O2.

Adam Pearson:

Clearly U.K. in lockdown until December 2nd, December 3rd, and the event taking place on December 5th does put that in significant jeopardy where it we’re still in conversation about quite what happens with that, but we’d love the event to go ahead, even if it doesn’t, it’s not been in vain and it’s not been a waste of time by any stretch, because by taking this step, the conversation that’s opened up, whether that is with other venues and we’ve worked with a number of venues to sort of support in how we got to the stage that we got to. Or whether it is with local authority government to sort of show we’re on the road to putting events back on. It’s absolutely been worthwhile us taking that leap of faith if you like.

Adam Goodyer:

That’s great. Thank you, Adam. Adrian, in Belfast, you’re taking a slightly different approach. I think that when we talked previously, you were asking the question as to why, and at what point it is right to bring back events at Belfast. Could you talk a little bit about where you were approached slightly differently?

Adrian Doyle:

Yeah, I mean, I think as again as an industry, we focus so hard on the how to do things, and when there’s a challenge there is how to make it work and how it’s convinced it wouldn’t do what people say can’t be done, slightly different with this and very much on that confidence piece of Adam’s, there’s that extra stakeholders, public health, where we’ve looked at.

Adrian Doyle:

Well, probably with our local voters is we can build, I wouldn’t say pilots events, but similar to proof of concept events, having seen some of the events that have gone previously, I would simply say there is that concern that government or authority, when they say associates business take place, they take it off as a look everything’s on its way back to normal. And this thing has been always tantalizing out of reach we’ve gone.

Adrian Doyle:

Echoing all Adam’s bets about no experiences lost as we develop going forward, but the tools and the artillery, the armory we can, I mean be Ticketmaster would be our ticket provider. And we sit there and load it up. We can do socially-distanced seats and layouts. That’s all there, but looking what we do inside, we actually put up with the social distance, because it doesn’t work. In the longterm that it’s not sustainable, it’s not viable. But we’re looking at the moment, probably towards February sort of time would be the first point we consider actually going into bat to go for a proof of concept events to get back.

Adrian Doyle:

And that’s very much, back to the dialogue with the public health officials, here it’s almost like stay away at the moment, we’ve got to crack this through lock downs, we’ve got to crack this, and keep our values down, et cetera. So it’s sort of when the time is right. And I think one of the biggest fears from our point of view was the bet and we’ve seen it sort of locally here and the hospitality in general is once you get back open, once you get shows again and until the sudden chance that we can go get open or stay open and make sure we’ve got everything in place, all those tools to stay open, then we’re sort of holding fire a little bit until we go live with any sort of proof of concept event to come back.

Adam Goodyer:

Thank you very much. And Sarah, are there any marked differences in Germany, particularly in dealing with the authorities there and the systems that the German government and local authorities in Germany are asking you to work with in bringing events back safely?

Sarah Schmidt:

We are working closely with the Berlin Senate Department, then providing us information on current guidelines. But of course we are also together with other promoters and venue operators in discussions on what can be done under the certain guidelines that then of course also has to be adapted to the situation, which is changing, which can be changing from one week to the other, or from one month to the other.

Sarah Schmidt:

But we have always been confident and doing events at our venues. And because that’s our daily business to run events under certain guidelines.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. You’re the ones with the expertise in running those events. And as we talked about before in taking the lead in how that should be done and the technology that should be used in order to assist with that, what areas of technology are you looking at specifically? And what are the use cases that you’re most focused on? Sarah, could I come to you on that as you were just explaining how you’re taking control of those. What technology are you specifically focusing on?

Sarah Schmidt:

We have only focused on the digital signage system that we have at the venue, but of course also the venue app, which we have been using from your Realife Tech now since June 2018. I think for us, it’s a bit of a challenge that we don’t own the data of the ticket purchaser, because of the system that is in place in Germany. So we have the challenge to communicate with the venue attendees in advance.

Sarah Schmidt:

Therefore, we have to look at other ways like digital signage and the venue app to communicate our protocols onsite. And that’s where our digital signage system comes into place. But also, the venue app as Adam also said. We can communicate with our customers in real time. And therefore where there are large crowds, for example, at toilets, at concession stands, try to spread the customer and use all venue app for things like institute ordering, pre-ordering, et cetera.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you. And also on the same note, Adam moving to you, you mentioned communication as well being a key element for how you’re utilizing technology. Can you explain what you’re utilizing there, and also if there are other use cases at The O2. I know we’re working with you a lot on the food and beverage ordering systems as well. Can you explain where the focus is at The O2 in relation to technology?

Adam Pearson:

Yeah. I think you’ve probably got sort of two parts to that answer. And I think once we know that we’re going to have fans back in the building, you’ve got a whole technology play around ticketing and F& B and everything, which I’ll come onto in a second. I think probably one area where we spent a lot of time and effort from a technology perspective is all thing’s passport. And to an extent mass testing, which is perhaps less technology, but an element of technology in there.

Adam Pearson:

So similar to the point I made earlier in terms of … I was trying to get out in front and try and find the solution ourselves. We’ve been looking at our passports for probably four or five months maybe, and been all the way through, up and down, of kind of it being a viable solution or it not.

Adam Pearson:

There’s lots of businesses perhaps cropping up in that space that maybe weren’t there previously. It wasn’t a thing that was needed particularly. So you have to kind of navigate through that, but we fundamentally believe that health passport and mass testing in conjunction with vaccine, they’re all sort of building blocks and trying to get us back into live events. There are other more obvious building blocks, perhaps in terms of kind of your COVID-secure measures, whether that is masks, or sanitizing, or cleaning the venue on the day, you’ve got to look at fans and kind of how we changed their behavior and how they understand what they need to do when they come to an event that’s going to be different from before.

Adam Pearson:

Then I guess you’ve got technology as a building block in its own right. That kind of backs into mass testing or a component part. But this is where I guess, from a technology perspective, you’re thinking about the experience on the day. So I talked early about ticketing, I guess the area we probably focus there would be access mobile ID. So that’s our method of delivery for tickets at The O2. So, completely digital tickets are delivered to The O2 app for our customer to then transfer that ticket to their friends and come in on that ticket. So you’re completely removing paper stock.

Adam Pearson:

We’ve worked hard over the last few months and continue to work hard on integrating third-party agents into that system as well. So for anyone kind of listening from the U.S., it’s a slightly different model over here in terms of you have an allocation model on sale. So a percentage of tickets will be sold by one agent and another and another, and we want to sort of get them all delivering their tickets in the same way.

Adam Pearson:

It doesn’t change the opportunity for agents to sell tickets. It just means that we’re able to see who’s coming, where they’re coming from. And if we have to get into things like track and trace and health passport, we’ve got that data. And we are the controller of that if you like. So I think ticketing would be a big one.

Adam Pearson:

F&B is another one whether it’s socially distant shows or sort of full capacity, the concourses and people sort of buying food and drink is a major area of concern from a congregation and a sort of pinpoint perspective.

Adam Pearson:

People, particularly in Britain, are quite happy to go and queue at a bar. That’s not what we want in a kind of private time. So we’ve worked closely with the guys at Realife Tech to develop the way that we would sell food and drink, and the way that the customer would collect that food and drink so that they can order it from their seat.

Adam Pearson:

They’ll get a notification when that food and drink is ready and that they only go up to the bar or the food unit when that food is ready, so they can go and collect it. And we can get on top of the kind of management of those queues. So food and drink would be a big one, building on some of Sarah’s stuff that the sun screens, some sort of projects where we monitor queues. Communication would be a big one.

Adam Pearson:

So kind of getting fans engaged and understanding what we’re doing and using technology to deliver that alongside sort of surveys and other bits and pieces. So I think if I was kind of summarizing, technology is absolutely at the heart of us getting events back open. And I think we’ve seen a giant leap forward in the sort of adoption of technology certainly across the UK kind of thing.

Adam Pearson:

My 92-year-old grandmother now has an iPad and a Facebook account that she didn’t have 12 months ago. And she never would have had if it wasn’t for this. So if it can happen at that end of the scale sort of thing, we fundamentally believe more and more people will be comfortable and understand that technology is needed to deliver them doing what they want to do, whether that’s live events, travel, whatever it is.

Adam Goodyer:

That’s great. Thank you, Adam. And Adrian, we’ve worked with you at Belfast now I think coming up to five years and you’ve always been great lead adopters, alongside The O2 and AEG and many of other clients in terms of technology. When we were talking earlier, there was some very interesting concepts that you were talking about in terms of being able to be able to trace people throughout their journey at the arena. Can you talk a little bit about those plans and how you see that technology operating upon return?

Adrian Doyle:

Yeah. Adam, certainly of all the elements in there, the two other panelists talked about what’s in place and what goes into play. I think the example we were discussing yesterday, it was a live one. Is as well, just before every entered lockdown, when sort of COVID’s part of our lives. One of our last events that we had, we were approached afterwards by the Belfast Public Health Authority although via Ticketmaster approach came in and they were specifically trying to trace one individual and those people who were sitting in the seats around that individual.

Adrian Doyle:

So that was sort of our first instance in our facility. Somebody who had tested positive for COVID and they were trying to test and trace with the systems with them we have in there where the technology is and where it’s developing. And Adam as you say, we sort of made the decision five years ago that we really needed to get on board with digital.

Adrian Doyle:

And with that, we did, and the money we’ve invested over the years and with partners such as yourself and Ticketmaster, but where on your specific questions, we get into the building now, and that’s areas of tracking people throughout the building. So we know where people will be, where they’ll be in the seats. As Adam said, with the advancing ticketing technology and systems, and to get transfer, whereas you used to know the purchase who came in through the building and was with four other people, this would now be with three or four other people. We know exactly where the seats are and where they are.

Adrian Doyle:

We’ve sort of done trials before, have been folded with beacons, but looking where we are with us and in the wireless companies and the providers, that is how you can sort of track people around the building and sort of where they are and where they move. There’s elements of that, and alongside the turn to digital signage, push notifications, et cetera, how we can move people around. Both the guys have mentioned the idea of food and beverage and what you can do to try and delay people coming out onto the concourse in clusters, but you can deliver to their seats where you can delay them round and about. But I think this technology can be more deployed on what we do at the start of a customer experience.

Adrian Doyle:

And I was just going to mention what really sucks, Adam, on communication and surveys, post event. I think so much of what we can do and our ability now, and we’re fortunate here. We have a lot of the ticket data we can get to, is actually making sure that what we do in terms of that confidence has worked for the customer. Then what do they want to see going forward? Because I think we’re always trying with this thing. We’re trying to answer the questions that we don’t know what a lot of questions are yet.

Adrian Doyle:

So I think with that survey, with that customer interaction pre- and post-event, is building for the future as well as to what the customer wants, and then what we can adapt and change our systems to because, no bones about it, their technology that’s now available is almost perfect coming out of this scenario where we can do different entrances, we can move people on the buildings and we know where they are. But there’s a lot more we need to find out from them, the customer for what they want to see, what makes them feel safe and willing to come back.

Adam Goodyer:

That’s an excellent point. And I think focusing on the customer and focusing on the fan is potentially something that can get lost in all of the maelstrom of information and just trying to get back and dealing with government. But in our conversations, in the work that we’ve been doing with all of you, how the fans feel and the apprehension that they may feel about coming back to live events, about them being safe, even if they’re allowed to do so is obviously a key element.

Adam Goodyer:

And I’d love to be able to touch on how fans are feeling, how they’re interacting with you. Is there just a huge desire to come back to events and also are you seeing any changes in attitude as a result of this?

Adam Goodyer:

And Sarah, one of the things I think is really interesting as well as just not doing that core question, is the change in attitude, in adoption of digital in Germany, which has historically been quite difficult. But you’re starting to see a sea change. What are you seeing from the fans in Germany in terms of digital adoption, willingness to embrace these new forms of technology? And of course, in their willingness to actually come back to events.

Sarah Schmidt:

We have seen that during the pandemic, a lot of people are using more and more digital platforms. As Adam was also saying, even his grandmother’s using an iPad now and has a Facebook account. We see the same development in Germany. There’s a coronavirus warning app. So also from the government side, digital platforms are implemented to make the people get them closer to using these digital devices. Also when it comes to paying cashless, Germany has been a very cash-driven country.

Sarah Schmidt:

So for us, it was always a challenge to implement devices where you can pay cashless. So since the pandemic where more people used apps and NFC chips to pay cash less. We have seen that the customers are more used to it. So we are very, very hopeful that this development will increase.

Sarah Schmidt:

And in regards to your questions, how the fans react in regards to going back to live events. Surveys have shown that most of the people, they want to return to live events yesterday rather than tomorrow. It depends a bit on the age group, but of course the younger age groups, they really want to return. Especially on our social media channels, we feel this desire. So that gives us a good feeling, also on postponed events, the results are small to people. They keep their ticket so that they can return to the show when, and then it actually takes place.

Adam Goodyer:

That’s really interesting. Thank you. And on the same note, Adam, what are you seeing — obviously we don’t expect you to be sharing specific numbers — in terms of the economics, the fans, are they still willing to spend and to buy their tickets? Because obviously there’s a fear that maybe they’re thinking of what if this is canceled. What are you seeing in terms of uptake and on the economics?

Adam Pearson:

I think, firstly building on Sarah’s point, likewise, we’ve seen a really low refund rate on events that get postponed and events that get moved. So, fans fundamentally still want to come out to those events. We’ve also kept in touch and surveyed fans throughout and somewhere in the means of 80% kind of ranked live events as the thing that they miss most from lockdown higher than travel and bars and dining out more of you. Well, over 80% are keen to get back into shows in the first quarter of next year, so the demand is there.

Adam Pearson:

We have had a number of shows that have gone on sale, and we’ve probably, again, sort of been through a bit of a journey with that. I think there was a bit of a blind optimism, a little bit at some stage earlier in the year. We felt like the solution was coming, but we didn’t quite know what the solution was.

Adam Pearson:

So we were putting shows on sale and ticket sales were good. I think as the pandemic has worn on and as it’s kind of taken longer to get towards a solution, perhaps that appetite to put shows on sale as much as waned a little bit, but we are still announcing new shows and we are still putting shows on for the future. And when you start to look at the diary for us in 2021 and into 2022, it’s the busiest it’s ever been.

Adam Pearson:

I think there’s a slight decrease in demand. I would have said we’ve not had an onsale since the vaccine announcement, but I think people sort of have got to a stage where they feel like they need to visualize what the solution is. So shows that we put on sales three, four weeks ago, they’ve still sold really, really well, but it’s slightly down on what it maybe would have done in a pre-COVID time.

Adam Pearson:

I think what would be really interesting is the shows that we might have on sale in the next few weeks that are going to play out in the second half of next year, probably based on the sort of lead times we can really operate on.

Adam Pearson:

Now that there is talk of a vaccine and there is much more talk in the press and industry about the solution, and health passports, and testing and the sort of mass asymptomatic testing that’s going on in Liverpool. It feels like we’ve turned, or are turning, a corner. And therefore based on the stats I gave earlier, we know the fans want to come back out and they can start to see a solution now. We think they’ll buy tickets in droves.

Adam Goodyer:

Thank you Adam. Adrian is that something that you’re also seeing in Belfast, in Northern Ireland as well?

Adrian Doyle:

Yeah. Most definitely, there’s sort of echoing all those points again. We keep mentioning confidence, and I think sort of Adam’s last one there, is not that desire and need for certainty as well. So certainly think what we said earlier. If you’re having this conversation a week ago, put a bit more doom and gloom, but now we’ve talked about vaccines, obviously Pfizer being the first one out there that’s welcome. It was one of the U.K. papers today that has run with the story of DIY testing, which might make mass testing. Do it yourself, that’s somehow more cheap or cheaper and affordable that might get us over this hump and back.

Adrian Doyle:

But the refunds on tickets on that, people still want to go, shows that we’ve had go onsale have sold very well. Sort of take Adam’s point there that maybe there’s that little bit of a hang on. There’s a bit of a low amount at this conference there with promoters and content providers, needing that certainty as well. The move over the last week with the vaccine specifically of hope, one of the big hopes is now coming in sort of the first six months of next year, where we’re looking at shows that might move, and a being lined up to move over.

Adrian Doyle:

That gives some confidence for more content to come in, a lot shorter notice, but also for shows to go ahead and there’s a whole important element to think for the industry. If we get to the summer and outdoors events, festivals can get going again and we can get back into the swing of being a society. And I have a picture here of the Colosseum in Rome.

Adrian Doyle:

So for hundreds of years and thousands of years, people who have gathered went out and been entertained, there’s probably far worse plagues have swept the continents of the world than this one. But there will be a time when things will return to a normal. Well, they use in the new normal world, but it’s that point of certainty and confidence to get back, but certainly the fans are there. I would say even weak, we’re not playing ice hockey at the moment. Our ice hockey season’s on hold, because the league couldn’t get running and that’s the slight political in there with the nature of the U.K. government.

Adrian Doyle:

But our season ticket holders are still there. They’re still there waiting for next season. They’re not asking for refunds. They’re staying with the team. Their love of the team, their love of the sport, the desire to get back. And I think that goes with sports fans and music fans alike.

Adam Goodyer:

I completely agree. And I think it’s going to see across the board, across countries, that there is a willingness for fans to come back. They’re doing that economically as well, so it’s not just what they say, it’s what they’re actively doing. And that hopefully technology solutions and with the way that some of the big initiatives are moving, that this can hopefully start to see some glimmer of hope. And this is why we’re excited about doing this webinar, particularly at this time where maybe we are starting to see some light now.

Adam Goodyer:

I think we adopt that and drive it forward and utilize technology to do so is important, but I think what is also important I’m going to go to some questions in the Q-and-A. For those who are watching, feel free to send in any questions, we’ll try and get through them.

Adam Goodyer:

I’m just going to focus on the first couple of questions that have come in the Q-and-A from John Alien and Simon Antech. Thank you very much for sending these questions through. They talk about ‘What is technology doing to address the operational challenges?’ I’m going to start with you Adam, because a lot of these are around the sort of social distance events.

Adam Goodyer:

I’ll start with the checking of the health passports, and testing that you mentioned. How are you looking to manage that on site? How are you going to manage queues? And you said that would probably be impossible of full capacity, but can you start to talk about maybe the transition of testing to offsite as well as on and just focus on that a little bit more?

Adam Pearson:

Absolutely. I think first thing to say we’re very much in the planning stage of that. We don’t have an out-of-the-box, ‘this is how we’re going to do it.’ And it’s a moving feast. Another sort of coined a phrase that seems to have been used a lot of late, as well as new normal. But it is a moving feast, and as things like a vaccine come along, that might change the way that we have to treat the amount of testing that we’d have to do onsite.

Adam Pearson:

We’re talking a slight segue before I come back to the question, but we were talking earlier about some technology out of M.I.T. in the U.S. which is able to sort of use artificial intelligence and detect through your cough, your propensity to potentially have COVID. If that can get to a level of accuracy where it’s maybe not the actually a solution for all 20,000 attendees, but it weeds out a whole load that we know don’t have COVID sort of thing.

Adam Pearson:

And we only have to test a small fraction of the audience then the infrastructure that we need to test that group significantly sort of decreases. I think in terms of health passports, the sort of the utopia, the dream is something that integrates with the ticketing system. I think that’s still an ongoing conversation.

Adam Pearson:

You obviously got multiple different ticketing providers across the U.K. alone, let alone the globe, as well as multiple different health passport providers. I think that the N.H.S. within the U.K. talking here want to be the hub, if you like, in terms of managing the health data. If you can link that up with the sort of ticketing system through APIs, then we believe there is a way where you can have a single method of entry.

Adam Pearson:

So you’re not having to have the sort of two-part entry where you get checked once for your COVID test sort of thing and then you get all your vaccine or whatever it is that’s giving you the green light within the health passport, and then you get checked for your ticket, which gets you into the venue. But if we need to do that two phase whether that is as part of the sort of return to live, if we need to do that in the first instance, then that’s done at events across the world in other parts. So it’s absolutely something that we can deploy.

Adam Pearson:

Testing. Again we’re continuing to explore, we think we probably can deliver onsite testing. We would want to do it in advance of the event. We don’t want to bring potential attendees with the virus to the venue on the day of the event. But we think in the similar sort of model of the airlines to the kind of 48-hour window, from sort of 72 hours out to 24 hours out. We could get through a decent volume of testing, onsite, or potentially looking at working with pharmacies and having some sort of off-site testing as the government sort of ramp up their testing capabilities, and their sort of asymptomatic testing capabilities, then there’s a chance to sort of get involved with that.

Adam Pearson:

I think I could probably talk for another 45 minutes about this alone sort of thing. But we’re continuing to develop the conversation, keep the conversation going to try and find a solution, find a way to get live events back.

Adam Goodyer:

And it’s very interesting that you mentioned the ability to be able to take APIs from different suppliers. Because you and I and other companies have been working a lot on which health possible providers are going to be the preferred ones. If they’re going to be centralized, if they’re going to be decentralized. You’ve got obviously multiple ticketing providers, multiple access control providers. The ability to be able to provide a frictionless way for all of those systems to communicate is going to be absolutely vital.

Adam Goodyer:

And it’s a big push for us in the conversations that we also have with government and to our partners in being able to link these systems together effectively so that they can communicate. And we’re not having silo data. I mean, even pre COVID, everybody knows the issues of having different data silos and the difficulty of overcoming them.

Adam Goodyer:

So the ability to be able to remove that, is a big push that we and all of us are working on here. I’ll come to you Sarah and not support more sort of doom-and-gloom on it, but it takes this question of the sort of decentralized approach and having to use maybe governmental systems, but also leading that into safety.

Adam Goodyer:

Now, if it comes to a point where we’re having to potentially use government systems to enter the building and you as the venue don’t necessarily have the visibility of who is there, or who is coming in, are you also concerned about potential other threats that might be in place if this happens? For example, we’ve seen that terrible and sad news with terrorist attacks in France. Is this something that you’re thinking about as well? And is there a sort of concern that if you can’t control that safety aspect, then things could go right.

Sarah Schmidt:

Well, we have been already reacting to what you’ve been referring, terrorist attacks in the past, implementing security checks at doors, which we have implemented already in 2018. So we always try to be at the top of our game when it comes to the pandemic. The corona warning app in Germany isn’t mandatory. So we recommend to use it, but it’s not mandatory to show your status in the app while you enter the venue.

Sarah Schmidt:

So of course there is a concern that something could happen at the venue, but we feel very confident that the protocol said we have been in place that we’ve put in place in regards to our way funding system, one way systems, et cetera, that they will be working.

Adam Goodyer:

All right. Thank you. And then Adam again, same question to you especially with onsite testing. That must be also a concern operationally and something that you have to manage very carefully.

Adam Pearson:

I think the venue has to control large parts. Almost all parts of the entry and the data. I think that the government supporting and testing, and the N.H.S. kind of managing that health passport specifically, and passing certain information through is OK. I think beyond that, we are the experts in delivering events in our venue and managing ingress and managing the data and everything like that.

Adam Pearson:

And I think if you go any further than just the sort of the test specifically, it starts to get into a world that we wouldn’t want to be in. And I don’t think that the third parties that we’re sort of talking to about this would want to be in either.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you. I want to ask a question that’s come up around and I’ll paraphrase, around the economic impact that coming back from COVID will have. Adrian, the question talks about building costs are going to go up, cleaning, technology. One of the things that we’ve talked about, well, still also the financial impact of COVID on the individual is going to be difficult. Do you see prices having to rise accordingly in order to deal with this? Do you think that’s going to dampen people’s willingness to return?

Adrian Doyle:

Very good question. I mean, economically and looking at it from different ways. From a venue perspective and what we have to put in place as I sit here now, the technology is there and how we utilize it. And I guess there’s a point where is COVID at, would leave us having to invest so much more in technology and systems than COVID disappearing overnight. But if we look at the combination of technology that exists with systems as a whole, we were talking about this earlier, that ventilation or building ventilation is one of the very first World Health Organization sort of question was around how much can you ship there in a building? And that’s come again now.

Adrian Doyle:

And that’s these droplets hanging around in the air. So there’s mechanical solutions that exist for something that might be massive investment, but for more modern buildings, there’s an ability to move around. Then you come into the sort of physical costs and the customer experience for me. And we’ve discussed this many times over the years Adam is that it’s the blend of the physical, along with the technology. And that’s the human element.

Adrian Doyle:

So what do people want to see when they come into the building? They’re going to want to see cleaners, they’re going to want to see hand gel stations. They want to go see added security, people being moved around. So there’s going to be an additional, physical cost without a doubt. And again, it sounds to me if we’re having to test or having to filter people outside, there’s a bigger external cost as well to protect those people. I think it was going through those questions and keep them safe.

Adrian Doyle:

So where did that go? And I think there’s a certain amount has to be absorbed into the operations, we do with that. Where that gets passed on what the amount is probably really depends on the overall extent and the expense that has to be spent doing this.

Adrian Doyle:

And we were saying yesterday from a local U.K. high street retailer, you can get eight COVID tests for 120 pounds. Then nobody’s going to go and pay that they’re going to come to an event. Nobody really wants to add five, 10 pounds onto a ticketing experience, but where that comes in, where does that sit in sort of the ecosystem? So venues are expensive venues and you’ve referenced the security incidents over previous years. There’s been an upstep in systems, procedures and physical delivery that has caused an increase in cost.

Adrian Doyle:

Here, we haven’t sort of passed that in over in rentals or in exit ticket fees, but I think there is a potential that within that say that the ticket price, that there is a chance that will have to be passed on, but how much to your other point will the customer would be willing to take on. So a mass unemployment scenario is perfectly been avoided for a few months. But people haven’t got the disposable income and people are worried about the jobs, we say they’re still buying tickets, but what’s that mean when they come out to spend and if tickets were to go on sale now, and with such a premium going on for security, and to get by going. This is a wider question.

Adrian Doyle:

What’s going to cause international costs because that we had across borders and boundaries and harmonization across Europe of late. So there is a risk, but I don’t think we could get to a point where really we’re inflating into the price so much against the value of the experience. So there’ll be a set amount of various parties in the chain of having to absorb that, but ultimately there might be a bit of it that gets passed to the consumer.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. And I think it’s also something that we look at very carefully from a technology standpoint, that as well as safety, that providing a better experience through technology and making it easier to access the key things that you want to find, the key things that you want within, what all of your destination, including the district areas, there’s a huge environment that you might visit four, five, six times a year.

Adam Goodyer:

Looking at using technology to maximize the profitability of your venues and destinations. It’s going to be equally important as well as the convenience for the fan. We have now four minutes left, there are more questions coming in.

Adrian Doyle:

Adam, sorry. Just pitch back and one quickly. So, what I would say is that piece you mentioned on social distancing, and I’m sort of passionate about that and I get all the bits where it’s a step packed to prove we called this properly for health authorities and the public.

Adrian Doyle:

But we’d have to have position our buildings, our venues, our outdoor sites, they’re not designed to work at two meters or one meters. It doesn’t work for the experience of the artist or the customer. We have to have technology play a huge part, but ultimately in that economic system, it’s not viable if we can’t make sure that as part of this process, social distancing becomes the two words of the past.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you very much. So as we’re sort of moving to a close I’ll ask for your final thoughts, guys. Thank you, everybody for attending. We’ll aim to answer the questions that haven’t been done through our newsletter, you can find out more about the work that we’re doing with clients such as AEG, the SSE Arena in Belfast, The 02, Mercedes Benz Arena and others. I’ll just do the plain plug bits, Realifetech.com. You can sign up to our website and we’ll be sending all of the information on what we’re working on.

Adam Goodyer:

As we close up, guys, can you just give a final 30 seconds each on your hopes and thoughts for the future? What’s going to bring us back safely. Sarah, can I start with you?

Sarah Schmidt:

Our hopes are well, we feel that especially hosting already sports events will prepare us step-by-step according to increase capacities to return to life events. And we feel that especially from the feedback that we get online, there is really a need, a desire for fans to see their favorite artists again. And of course there is some hesitation around attending an event at a closed venue, but we feel very confident that the technology that we have in place and that we be implementing throughout the next month that will help us to provide a safe environment to our customers.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Thank you very much, Sarah. And Adrian, can I ask the same question to you? What are your hopes?

Adrian Doyle:

What the hopes are, I mean and who would have thought back in January, when Wuhan become a name that probably most of us never heard of before that 11 months later, we’d still be out of action as an industry. And not being naive to think that in the next three, six months, a year possibly this COVID will be able to live our lives. But I really do hope that they being out with the vaccines, is a massive turning of the corner.

Adrian Doyle:

And I use that word confidence again. Even from the conversations just with this panel, preparing for this by what we can do technology to really sort of aid the fight of getting back, allied that with customers who want to come back, and we know there’s a whole load of content providers and sports teams who are desperate to get back.

Adrian Doyle:

So the portion right will be there and we’ll be back. It’s going to be a matter of time, but it certainly feels, and maybe it’s just this week we’ve talked about vaccines that enter into 2021 we’ll be talking about really getting back rather than just sort of hoping around the board.

Adam Goodyer:

Great. Then finally, last word for you Adam, what are your hopes?

Adam Pearson:

Echo all of those points. I think confidence is a real key word and we believe that we can build confidence back in all those different stakeholders that I talked about earlier. I think technology has got a huge role to play. I think our industry is incredibly well-placed to manage this building of confidence and to manage putting events back on. That there are huge number of experts and industry people that can play a part in putting events back on.

Adam Pearson:

So I, like the other panelists, think we will be back in 2021. We’ll start to sort of bring events back in, in terms of a sort of a hope and a note of optimism I guess for closing, I hope we sort of look back on COVID as actually being an opportunity. It’s difficult to see that now because we’re right in the middle of what is the worst thing that’s happened certainly in my career and I think in all of ours.

Adam Pearson:

It’s devastated our industry, but it’s going to bring on technological change that is going to move things on five years in six months sort of thing. There’s going to be a whole load of opportunity. And if you go into that mindset, I think we as an industry can find those opportunities and it might be five years, it might be 10 years from now before you properly look back on it and go, do you know what? COVID was shit but it was a huge opportunity.

Adam Goodyer:

Thank you. Close to the day there. Thank you very much, Adam, Adrian, Sarah. Thank you all for your time. Thank you everyone for attending. And we look forward to talking to you all again soon. Take care. Thank you, everyone. Bye bye.

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