Ticketmaster North America has furloughed a quarter of its workforce, sources confirm to Variety, in one of the most tangible signs yet of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the concert industry.
The hundreds of affected employees were alerted Tuesday in a conference call that was followed by a letter from Ticketmaster president Jared Smith.
“For the very first time in the history of live entertainment, the industry is completely shut down — something that a few short months ago would have seemed incomprehensible,” Smith said in the letter to employees, a copy of which was obtained by Variety.
“Since the beginning of this global crisis,” he continued, “we have operated with the goal of staying true to our company’s core philosophy of ‘taking care of our own.’ This is why we continued to keep our team at full pay through March and April, even as the tens of thousands of events we support and sell ground to a halt.”
Smith praised the staff for its crisis response in the midst of revenue grinding to a halt and said that “this team spirit and camaraderie made the decision to furlough a portion of our workforce all the more difficult. I assure you, however, that this decision was arrived at with great consideration and care. Without a doubt, this is the hardest decision I have faced in my tenure leading this great organization but it is one I feel is necessary to protect the future of our company.”
The company assured employees the furloughs are temporary, and that they expect to bring the workforce back in full once conditions allow live performances to resume. The payroll suspensions take effect May 1, after which those affected will continue to have health benefits, with the company paying both employee and employer insurance premiums; workers will also receive a 1-2-week payout of earned time off. Sources say no further employee cuts are anticipated.
Billboard first broke news of the furloughs on Wednesday.
The possibility had been broached more than two weeks ago, in parent company Live Nation’s April 13 filing with the SEC, which said the company was looking to cut $500 million in costs this year through measures that would also include reducing contractors, renegotiating rent, and paring back other discretionary spending.
“We are entirely focused on getting back to business as soon as it is safe and sensible to do so, and in turn, protecting your job for the future,” Smith told furloughed employees in his letter. “We will continue to evaluate the situation and begin bringing back employees as soon as circumstances permit us to do so.” After a long list of details about benefits and filing for unemployment insurance, he said “nothing about this is easy” and signed off urging employees to “be well and stay safe.”
The move came on the heels of a letter sent to staff of the parent company Live nation on Monday by chairman/CEO Michael Rapino, detailing ticket refund policies, a perpetual source of fan controversy since the pandemic began. In that memo, Rapino gave specific figures for the amount of cancellations that have rocked Ticketmaster (which handles ticketing for many events beyond those promoted by Live Nation itself).
Rapino said that “to date there are 50,000 events that have been canceled, postponed or rescheduled globally on the TM Platform.” He further said that “60% of the over 50,000 events that have been canceled, postponed and rescheduled globally on the TM Platform have been authorized for refunds — and we have already returned over $400 million to fans.”
The concert industry is facing untold months ahead with no concerts and no income. Although some states are looking at opening up faster than others, most touring isn’t likely to resume until all the big cities are back in business. California governor Gavin Newsom made it clear Tuesday that that would not happening any time soon in the biggest state in the country, as he grouped concerts and sporting events together in a fourth and final phase of reopening that he said would only be permitted in the instance of either a vaccine or some other form of mass immunity.