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High Stakes In Lowlands: The Dutch Business Is Firing On All Cylinders – Pollstar News


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What this business is all about: sending the crowd into a rapture, like here at Lowlands Festival 2018. (Photo by Bart Heemskerk)

At this point in time, you may be sick of reading any more superlatives describing how well this business has been doing since the great return of 2022. If so, you’ll be disappointed to hear that this inaugural Dutch Focus continues along those exact same lines. After all, why should the live entertainment avalanche that swept over the world in 2023 stop at the Netherlands, this important node in any European touring plans?

Scrolling through the Pollstar Boxoffice for some of the buildings on the Dutch venue circuit reveals sell-outs across the board in 2023, from Swedish newcomer Isak Danielson selling out the 350-cap Kleine Zaal at Amsterdam’s Paradiso ($4,926 gross); to Young Gun Silver Fox selling out the famous venue’s 1,500-cap main auditorium ($50,924); to Luke Combs selling all available 5,400 tickets to his Oct. 7 AFAS Live show ($238,668); to Madonna’s two sold-out nights at Ziggo Dome (32,104 tickets, $6,383,730 gross); to Coldplay’s four sold-out concerts at the imposing Johan Cruijff Arena playing to a combined 217,609 fans, earning $30,322,573 in the process.

The country’s largest stadium hosted an incredible 15 concerts over the summer. Beyoncé was one of them, selling 97,657 tickets for her June 17 and 18 concerts ($12,817,577 gross). Kim Bloem, one of the managing directors and head promoter at Mojo Concerts, which promoted both Madonna and Beyoncé, said audience demand wasn’t letting up. “We’ve announced some 20 shows in the last two weeks, and they are doing extremely well. I read a couple of months ago about people not buying houses, cars and other big, expensive things right now. But they still want to go out, maybe even more than ever. It’s not just with the big blockbusters that tickets are flying out, but also in the 500 to 1,500-capacity rooms. What I’m hearing from the clubs is that people are spending less money on drinks and [merch, etc.], indicating that they are making choices. But the tickets are flying out. In these past two weeks, in particular, demand felt amplified, and that’s a great state to be in.”

North Sea Jazz Festival Day Two
Jill Scott performs on stage at North Sea Jazz on July 8, 2023, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. (Photo by Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns)

Wouter de Wilde, head promoter and COO at Greenhouse Talent, which promoted approximately 500 shows in 2023, including the aforementioned Paradiso shows, as well as two concerts by Rammstein on Groningen’s Stadspark in front of 110,000, said, “It has, of course, been challenging with rising costs for pretty much everything, and with the constant pressure on our team, due to all [the well-known] challenges. But overall, we are very happy that we are at full speed again, and we also see that the market is strong, and we even believe in more growth for our business in 2024.”

Other highlights from Greenhouse Talent’s 2023 include Zuiderpark Live, a series of shows at the Zuiderpark open-air theater in The Hague, as well as successes with a good few domestic acts. “The success of this shows us that not only stadium business is doing great at the moment,” said de Wilde, but acknowledged, “we do see that small club shows can struggle, as so much focus in the market goes out to the bigger shows.”

Next year will bring a pretty significant milestone for Greenhouse Talent, which is the largest independent promoter and booking agency in Benelux: “In July,” said de Wilde, “we are promoting Taylor Swift in the Netherlands. These will be our first shows at the Johan Cruijff Arena – after these shows, we will have officially promoted in all stadiums and venues in The Netherlands.” 

Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome counted more than 1.2 million visitors in 2023, at events that included concerts by The Prodigy, Iron Maiden, Wu-Tang Clan and Peter Gabriel, as well as multiple nights by Hans Zimmer and Post Malone. All sold out at their various seated and standing capacities. Lana Del Rey’s show on July 4 went on sale four days before the event and sold out in no time, according to Ziggo Dome’s head of events, Jacobine Talsma, who said, “The demand for dates remains high, touring artists on the one hand, and dates for local productions on the other. The 2024 calendar is quickly filling up, and we are already placing multiple options for dates in 2025.”

Ziggo Dome is loved by fans and artists alike for its impeccable acoustics and intimate feel despite its capacity for 17,000 people. Talking about her business philosophy, Talsma said, “We strive to facilitate the ultimate experience for artists and fans. Ziggo Dome is designed for live music – good sight lines, perfect acoustics, comfortable chairs and plenty of catering facilities. Together, these aspects create an optimum enjoyment of the show. Everything we do has to serve two audiences: the fan and the artist with its management and crew.” Diana Ross enjoyed her Oct. 12 performance at the venue so much that she returned for an encore despite already having changed from her magnificent gala dress into a tracksuit backstage.

LAND OF THE DANCE: Dutch DJ and producer Robbert van de Corput, also known as Hardwell, at Ziggo Dome during his worldwide comeback tour “Rebels Never Die,” after a three-year stage absence in Amsterdam on Dec. 3, 2022. (Photo by Ramon Van Flyment ANP / AFP / Getty Images)

Louise Smit, a board member at European logistics giant Pieter Smit Trucking & Nightliner, said the company expanded its fleet to 325 trucks to meet the requirements in 2023, which saw growth in both the festivals and stadium tours. She also observed that “inflation has quite an impact on the smaller-cap shows since they are not able to raise ticket prices like the popular stadium acts that sell out the minute they go on sale. However, their costs for staff and resources went up, as well.”

For artists touring the grassroots circuit, Pieter Smit offers “a big fleet of smaller vehicles that are more affordable.” Overall, Smit said, “The industry in the Netherlands is running smoothly,” with the usual “hiccups [that] always happen and are part of the deal.”

To stay sharp in today’s fast-changing economy, Smit said, “Data has proven to be more important than ever before. You need to make the right decisions at the right time based on the right information. And given the speed everything moves with nowadays, you need the information sooner rather than later.”

One of the reasons this business has been able to celebrate such an incredible 2023 is that the supply chain is mostly up and running again. Providing almost all arena shows in the Netherlands, as well as almost all festivals and stadiums, with barriers is the team at Dutch Barrier Services. Senior account manager Stanley Jilesen said that operations ran smoothly again after a bumpy restart period post-COVID. “To be honest,” he said, “it all went back to normal really, really fast. The only real challenge was the crew. Lots of people left the business and didn’t come back. But we managed the first season after COVID and built a new team with some great guys! The good thing was the clients needed to make money again, and the artist had to do the same. So there was a lot of work. Festivals added an extra day and more stadium shows – it all meant more work for us!”

Eurovision Song Contest 2021 Grand Final
A worldwide touring sensation is born on May 22, 2021, live on stage at the Rotterdam Ahoy in Måneskin, who won the 65th Eurovision Song Contest that year and has since been racking up an impressive Pollstar Boxoffice history. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)

Demand for barriers is not likely to slow down anytime soon either. “Security and safety requirements are getting more strict. So, more barriers are needed, which is, of course, good for our business. But we like to think with the client, how to make it as easy and cost-efficient for them. We work together with crowd control specialists, the festival and stadium show promoters. They all know our product, and if a special piece or material is needed, we will manufacture it for them. If they have a certain problem to create a layout, we will together come up with a safe solution. And with having our own factory in-house, it’s very easy and fast to produce whatever is needed.” He’s not worried that shows could eventually get too big to handle. “It is more of a government license issue. Once the license is granted, and the client wants to do the show, we will do everything possible to get it done.”

Dutch Barrier Services also supplies virtually every major festival in The Netherlands with its products. One of the country’s biggest is Pinkpop, which has been around for more than half a century and enjoys a reputation for bringing the biggest names in music to Landgraaf each year. Like so many others, Pinkpop had to sit out 2020 and 2021, which made the 2022 return all the more special. “It was a very emotional edition, not just because we saw how much people had been craving to go out and have fun after two years without the festival, but also because it was the first edition since Jan [Smeets] stepped back after 50 years [at the helm],” said Festival Manager Niek Murray. This year’s edition was headlined by P!nk, Robbie Williams and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and next year, it will be Måneskin, Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran.

Touching on the two ways to offset rising costs – raising ticket prices and increasing the festival’s capacity – Muray said, “We’re talking with our local government to see if we can do something about the capacity, but it’s not something that will be done in the next few years. And, of course, more capacity cannot come at a loss of service for our visitors. The ticket price is discussed every year; we have to go up, but we want to keep the increase to a minimum. We want to be a festival for everyone.”

At the same time, he continued, “We want to be able to celebrate the next 50 years, as well, so our festival has to be healthy. Of course, it all started in a pure spirit of togetherness, and it’s very important for us to have that atmosphere at the festival. But, at the end of the day, our accountant wants to have everything paid for. It’s a difficult line to walk when everything is getting more expensive. Two years ago, we introduced our Wilhelmina Sky Deck ticket, which comes with a lot of perks and is limited to 600. We introduced glamping two years ago, very late for a festival our size. People are willing to buy those premium tickets, which gives you more room to keep the normal tickets priced reasonably.”

Murray wasn’t too worried about working something out, as he explained, “In July, I will have been working for Pinkpop for 20 years. Ever since I started, everything has been getting more expensive each year, and people have been discussing what to do about it at Eurosonic and ILMC. Since we are still here, I think that we will be doing that over the next 10 years, as well.”

And, on a more serious note, he added, “Because we have the name and the biggest names on the lineup, we are in a good position to make it work and be successful. That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly hard work to make a good program each year. But it’s the smaller festivals, and those with more or less the same kind of lineup, that may be struggling because people will make a choice.”

His team’s job will be to guide Pinkpop through the next 50 years after the first 50 were coined by the vision of founder Jan Smeets. “It’s about making progress without forgetting where we come from,” said Murray. “It’s about playing with what we built up in the past 50 years, and what we have in store for the next 50 years. And I’m very proud to work for the festival alongside a team of young people doing great things still.”

Beyoncé performs onstage during the “Renaissance World Tour” at Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on June 18. (Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Parkwood)

With Smeets’ departure, Pinkpop has become part of Mojo Concerts, which already held a 49% stake in the event during Smeet’s tenure. It also owns festival brands Down The Rabbit Hole, Lowlands and North Sea Jazz Festival, which are all selling well for 2024. Mojo also promoted Bruce Springsteen in The Netherlands, who, aside from an open-air show in Landgraaf, also performed at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff Arena twice this year. Counting just the open-air and stadium concerts, of which Mojo promoted a total of 19 this year, selling between 50,000 and 60,000 tickets on average, and excluding festivals, the company sold about a million tickets just in the summer period between June and August. Looking ahead, Bloem said, “The overall touring load is manageable in the sense that we don’t have 19 stadium shows and open-air shows like we did in 2023. But it’s still going to be a big year. It’s really, really difficult to get even one available date in the busy touring periods. The number of stadium acts that are touring is, of course, lower than in 2023. But you have many arena and theater shows coming up. This business has been experiencing growth for as long as I can remember, if not on the stadium level, then on the arena level.”

Bloem is also one of the programmers of North Sea Jazz Festival, which takes place in and around another iconic Dutch venue, the Rotterdam Ahoy, which welcomes some 2.3 million visitors each year.

More than 50 years since opening in 1971, “live entertainment is thriving more than ever,” according to the building’s head of entertainment and sports, Arnaud Hordijk. In addition to its 16,500-capacity main hall, the Ahoy just opened “a new state-of-the-art arena,” dubbed the RTM Stage, offering a maximum capacity of 7,842 (standing plus balconies), “packed with facilities making it the perfect stage for concerts, comedy, theatre and inspiring speakers. Provided with sublime sightlines, excellent acoustics, and its own identity with striking LED strings in the walls.”

In addition to a packed 2024, including shows by Tom Odell, Jason Derulo, Hans Zimmer, The Smashing Pumpkins, Cirque du Soleil and much more, Trance legend Armin van Buuren’s own festival, A State Of Trance,” will set up shop at Rotterdam Ahoy for the next five years. “As this year draws to a close,” he concluded, “we look back with pride, especially on the successful editions of festivals, shows, and concerts at Rotterdam Ahoy. Looking ahead to 2024, we remain optimistic. Of course, we keep a watchful eye on economic developments. What remains evident is the tremendous demand for the concerts and shows we host.”

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