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Even with vaccine news, venues are struggling

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By Samuel Orazem EBS Contributor

It has now been over nine months since every event we planned to attend were cancelled. For a while, with cases of COVID-19 exploding across the U.S. and health officials claiming no end in sight, it seemed futile to hope for the return of large-scale events in the near future—that is, up until just a few weeks ago. The recent news about a handful of effective vaccines being approved or entering final stages of trials is a small piece of good news for the struggling events industry. However, the timeline is still unclear and the world of events might still look very different upon their return.

Live Nation and AEG are two of the largest players in the live events industry and have publicly stated back in August that they expect concerts to return at scale in 2021. In November, just as news about the efficacy of various vaccines came pouring in, Live Nation moved their prediction of outdoor events returning to next summer. This news came just before the U.S. case numbers began to spike again, but no revisions to this estimate have been released.

There is a reason that Live Nation specifically noted summer of next year. The consensus among experts is that full deployment of the vaccine will not come until later in 2021 and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has stated be believes that it will be second or third quarter before things truly start coming back to normal. This is a ray of hope for our many local, Montana venues that are outdoor if Live Nation and Dr. Fauci’s statements about the summer prove true.

The flipside is things are still not looking great for many smaller, independent venues. A few months into the pandemic, the Nation Independent Venues Association pushed for the Save Our Stages Act which would have given venues across the U.S. a lifeline during shutdowns. Their initial warning was that many independent venues, including those across Montana, were at risk of shutting their doors by year’s end. 

However, due to stalls in broader relief negotiations, Save Our Stages has still not passed but NIVA has made some substantive progress. They have launched the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund which provides support through private philanthropy to venues at risk of imminent closure. This small step is likely all the aid many venues can expect with federal relief expiring within a month.

It is not only small, 500-person rooms that are independent—NIVA’s largest member has a capacity of 18,000. Many of the tickets you buy through sites like Ticketmaster are for independent venues who pay a commission for access to artists, not just the ones that you get handed from a quaint box office. If relief negotiations resume after the congressional recess, Save Our Stages has the sponsors needed to pass. If it does not, local favorites like the Rialto and 18 other Montana stages will have to continue to fight tooth and nail to stay afloat with a significant or total loss in revenue.

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