Outdoor events business “on the brink” due to coronavirus, says industry association

"Events are one pay cheque away from going out of business"

The National Outdoor Events Association (NOEA) has warned that the festival and events industry is “on the brink” after the 2020 summer season was halted by COVID-19.

Research conducted across NOEA’s membership of 480 event-based companies revealed the average loss to event businesses is £539,431 with over half suffering losses of £100,000 or more, according to Music Week.

Three quarters of the companies surveyed have utilised the staff furlough scheme, while more than 65% are planning redundancies, and 51% of have said they will last until the end of 2020 without further support.


“These events are one pay cheque away from going out of business,” said NOEA president Tom Clements. “If they can get them, government grants will get businesses through the next few months, but without any confidence on a September return, the vast portion of the festival season will be gone or at best stagnant until March/April next year.”

He continued: “If there are no events, these companies will desperately need more financial support. If not, they will go out of business. Creating events brands is difficult. To produce the next Reading, Leeds or TRNSMT takes years as well as a genuine incentive to do so. If these events go, they won’t be coming back any time soon.”

Leeds Festival. CREDIT: Getty Images

The UK outdoor events industry employs in the region of 590,000 people. Of that number, Clements said the industry could lose between a fifth and a quarter of that number, which he called “devastating.”

“These are creative people who have helped shape the events industry into the rich source of entertainment, culture, civic pride, employment and business stimulus it is today. We can’t afford to lose them out of the industry,” he said.

NME spoke to a number of UK festival organisers last month, who were not optimistic about the prospect of running mass gatherings with social distancing measures in place – as well the chances of any festivals being possible before 2021.


Isle Of Wight Festival boss and music agent John Giddings said he saw little hope for the rest of the 2020 festival calendar – raising the question, “Will artists, crews and customers even be able to travel?”

“You might release people out of lockdown, but do they want to congregate with a load of other people before a vaccine?” he said. “And do they have any money to buy a ticket? A lot of people are out of work and would rather buy food. It’s a frightening scenario.”

Secret Garden Party festival 2011
Secret Garden Party Festival. CREDIT: Getty Images

Describing social distancing at music festivals as “almost impossible,” Steve Heap, the General Secretary of The Association of Festival Organisers said that logistical issues would be present at both small and large events. “Even at a two or three stage event – can you imagine an audience of 10,000 people standing six feet apart? It’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Earlier this month, the government announced a new Culture Commissioner and recovery taskforce to investigate ways for the UK’s entertainment industries to survive and bounce back from the COVID crisis. A subgroup was then set up to focus on recreation and leisure, featuring members of bodies including the Music Venue Trust (MVT) and the Association Of Independent Festivals (AIF).

AIF CEO Paul Reed told NME that with 92% of festival businesses at risk of collapse under refund requests and redundancies of 59% redundancies expected across the sector between September and February, information on how the easing of lockdown was likely to play out was needed urgently.

“It’s incredibly difficult for festival organisers to do any planning without high level guidance from the government,” he said. “We need some parameters and some timelines. It’s difficult to not look around Europe and draw comparisons in France, Germany and parts of Scandinavia where they’ve said there will be no festivals or large gatherings until the end of August or September.

“The UK seems to have more of a nudging strategy where we only know what’s happening for the next two to three weeks. If you’re making large-scale decisions, you can’t do that in a few weeks. It’s not viable on a financial or logistical level. That’s why festivals as late as September and October are cancelling, because there’s so much uncertainty.”

He continued: “The industry can work with the government to come up with some solutions, but we need to know what parameters we’re working in so we can plan for a safe and viable 2021.”

NOEA added that it has given its backing to a plan put forward by Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn called ‘The Full Capacity Plan’, which proposes to incentivise more testing through events, enabling them to go ahead without the need for social distancing.

“We’re 100% behind these proposals, it allows events to be a solution, not a threat, and a chance to kick start our industry and save some of the outstanding businesses that are currently at risk,” said Clements.