Live Nation gets right to the point in the announcement accompanying its earnings statement for the first quarter of this unprecedentedly troubled year for the live-entertainment business.
“At the beginning of the year, we were on track for tremendous growth across all our businesses with both fan demand and artist touring increasing on a global basis,” it reads. However, in mid-March we came to a halt and we have held no concerts in almost two months. Despite these challenging times, we continue to have full confidence in the long-term supply and demand dynamics of the live concerts industry, Live Nation’s leadership position and our business model’s ability to successfully deliver profitable growth and shareholder value.”
The statement from CEO Michael Rapino then elaborates at length about the company’s commitment to health and safety, its financial resilience and its plans for reopening “when the time is right” — but the earnings report, which covers the first three monts of the year (just a couple of weeks of which were affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.) cast an ominous light on the rest of the year.
Quarterly revenues were down 20% at constant currency year-on-year, to $1.37 billion. Concert revenue was down 25% year over year, from $1.318 billion to $993.4 million. Ticketing was down 16%, form $337.6 million to $284.3 million.
Fan attendance was down 6.2% year over year, but Rapino noted, that “Globally, over 90% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows where refunds are available, which is the clearest demonstration of pent up demand that will enable us to quickly start concerts back up. Reinforcing this, in a global survey of ten thousand live music goers, over 90% indicate they will be back to concerts once possible to do so. Looking further out, given that 80% of shows have been rescheduled rather than canceled, and as we noted almost all fans are holding on to their tickets, we believe 2021 can return to show volume and fan attendance at levels consistent with what we’ve seen in recent years.”
This is partially due to the eligibility period for company’s refund policy beginning just days ago, as outlined by Rapino late last month.
The company is in for a grim second quarter: Not only has it seen more than 8,000 concerts and festivals impacted since March (with 6,500 events postponed and 1,500 events cancelled), it has been clobbered in the press for its refund policy — which was recently revised, after considerable criticism, to include postponed shows as well as cancelled ones — and its Ticketmaster service has had some 50,000 events on its platform impacted.
However, the company has been fighting a hard campaign to bolster confidence in itself and the live-entertainment industry. A widely circulated Bloomberg report on Wednesday pointed to a forthcoming acoustic Travis McCready show in Arkansas as the “first socially distanced concert,” with the venue at 20% capacity and the audience spread out in a series of “fan pods” between 2 and 12 seats. Audience members are required to wear masks and have their temperature checked at entrances, bathrooms will be limited to ten people at a time, and concession-sold food and beverages will be prepackaged or have lids.
While a rep for Live Nation told Variety that the concert is not promoted by them, the article, derived from an analyst’s report in advance of Thursday’s earnings call, served its purpose as the company’s stock rose slightly in the hours before the earnings call.
In another negative look, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, recently purchased a large stake in Live Nation, according to SEC filings released last month. Public Investment disclosed that it owned a 5.7% stake in the company, a total of 12.3 million shares valued at approximately $500 million. The fund’s stake in Live Nation rose above 5% as of April 16, according to the filing. Public Investment is now Live Nation’s third-largest shareholder; Liberty Media, which owns a 33% stake, is the largest.
Live Nation’s share price is down about 45% for the year to date amid the pandemic-related lockdown that shuttered most of the promotion giant’s business. In mid-February, before the coronavirus crisis began in earnest in the U.S., Live Nation shares were above $75.
Rapino has made aggressive moves in recent weeks to bolster confidence and give support to the industry, ranging from foregoing his $3 million annual salary for 2020 to purchasing $1 million in the company’s stock himself, along with six-figure investments from other top company officers. He has also repeatedly assured the staff on conference calls that there will not be layoffs, although it has been hit with “hiring freezes, reduction in the use of contractors, rent re-negotiations, furloughs, and reduction or elimination of other discretionary spending, including, among other things, travel and entertainment, repairs and maintenance, and marketing,” according to a recent SEC filing. Other top executives reduced their salaries for the year by 50%, including president Joe Berchtold (from $1.3 million to $650,000), chief counsel Michael Rowles (from $800,000 to $400,000), and CFO Kathy Willard (from $950,000 to $475,000).