Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Manchester Attack Puts Concert Industry Further on the Defensive

  • Paris tragedy added $15,000 a day to festival costs in France
  • Location, timing of bombing point to changing needs for venues

The suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena last week is forcing operators of large public venues to reassess their security measures and contemplate higher spending as they try to keep visitors safe without taking all the fun out of going to a concert or big event.

The attack, which killed 22 people as concertgoers were filing out of an Ariana Grande show, was reminiscent of the tragedy in Paris less than two years ago, when gunmen opened fire at a rock concert at the Bataclan club. France has been in a state of emergency ever since that November 2015 incident, and the average safety cost for festivals in the country has climbed by about 13,613 euros ($15,000) a day in 2016, according to the National Center for Song, Variety and Jazz. Those costs represent about 2.7 percent of total festival budgets, the group said.

The Manchester bombing was different from previous incidents because of the sophistication of planning involved, said Michael Downing, former deputy chief for counter-terrorism of the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigators have said the bomber, who died in the attack, probably had help. Downing pointed to the location of the attack that occurred between the arena’s exit and a train station, the timing of the bomb just as the concert was ending, and the fact that Grande’s fan base is largely made up of women and girls.

“Manchester was a new watermark in the stadium/arena industry,” said Downing, who’s now an executive vice president for Prevent Advisors, a unit of Oak View Group that works with sports teams and event facilities. “It’s a wake-up call to say no security plan can be developed in final form. You have to keep up with the evolving threat.”

More Security

Concert venues should take steps to enhance security throughout an event, not just at the beginning when crowds are entering and being screened, Downing said. And they need to maintain a close relationship with law enforcement, which can provide resources to help, he said. Military reinforcements will defend potential targets across the U.K., Prime Minister Theresa May said last week, while the French interior minister passed along safety instructions to event organizers.

In addition to concerns about the welfare of fans, the concert industry has significant financial interest at stake in ensuring people feel safe going to see a show. The top 100 tours worldwide generated $4 billion to $5 billion a year in revenue from 2011 to 2016, according to Pollstar. The Manchester bombing occurred at the beginning of the summer concert season, when the highest concentration of stadium tours and large-scale music festivals are occurring.

The May 22 attack was particularly upsetting because Grande, a former child actress, is most popular among young listeners. The dead included an 8-year-old girl.

“It scares people; it’s not good for the music industry, it’s not good for enjoying life,” Jesus Lopez, chairman of Universal Music Latin America and Iberia, said in an interview. “They attack society at this moment of joy, not in the moment you are working or fighting.”

Grande Pledge

Grande canceled seven stops on her tour after the attack, granting refunds, and on Friday she pledged on Twitter to return to Manchester for a benefit concert to raise money for victims. In 30 dates in North America, Grande had already grossed $24.5 million, according to Billboard.

Most other major events are continuing as planned, especially in the U.S., where the Department of Homeland Security said there are no known threats against venues. The pop group Take That and ’70s rock legends Kiss postponed their shows at Manchester Arena, but metal pioneers Iron Maiden proceeded with concerts at London’s O2 Arena. Shawn Mendes, Blink-182, Radiohead and Kings of Leon have kept their scheduled dates in the U.K. in the coming weeks.

Safe Tours

“Artists will be talking to their managers. The managers, promoters, organizers will all be having meetings. This is way beyond anything they’ve ever had to talk about. They’ll come together and make sure their tours are seen to be as safe as anything,” said Tony Michaelides, a former music promoter who worked with REM, U2, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. “They will have to be seen to be doing something. If you go to a gig and don’t see a policeman, believe me, that will be all over social media.”

Temporary Impact

Any effect on the live music business will be temporary, according to Amy Yong, an analyst with Macquarie. Yong compared the recent attacks at concerts to the situation the movie business found itself in after a couple shootings at theaters. Moviegoing may have dipped briefly, but the violence had no long-term effect.

After sinking initially after the attack, shares of Live Nation Inc., the promoter of the Ariana Grande Tour, have recovered and are up less than 1 percent. Live Nation and AEG, the two biggest managers of concert venues, declined to comment.

“People forget; most people realize they have to live their life,” Yong said. Venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ Staples Center have stepped up security in recent days, but the same thing happened after the attack at the Bataclan club in Paris.

Glasgow’s SSE Hydro arena said last week visitors may be subject to bag searches and full-body searches, and the size of bags will be limited. In London, O2 Arena and SSE Wembley Arena asked guests to show up early for enhanced security checks.

To keep up with new threats, venues may need to consider even more advanced measures, such as anti-drone technology, dogs that can sniff the vapor trails left by people wearing explosives, and sophisticated screening systems, said Downing, the former LAPD official. That, plus training for employees, costs money, but it’s worth it and it’s not exorbitant, he said.

“You don’t want a prison environment, or an environment that makes everyone nervous,” he said. “You still want it to be joyful and fun, but there’s a balance to it.”

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