How Live Nations’ core business strategy backfired – Billboard

Travis Scott urges his concert audiences to “rage” so that his Astroworld festival, which this year drew 50,000 fans to NRG Park in Houston, should be organized in a way that keeps attendees safe. But ScoreMore Shows, which produces and promotes the event, set it up in a way that several concert business sources say may have inadvertently contributed to the wave of audiences that resulted in 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries, and that parent company Live Nation rarely trains form for overseeing events organized by its subsidiaries that could have marked these issues before it was too late.


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The hands-off approach is by design. Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino operates the company with a decentralized management strategy that encourages promoters it acquires, such as ScoreMore, to run as independent entities, each responsible for its own revenue and expenses. It encourages the kind of aggressive booking strategies that keep the Live Nations event pipeline full of shows that generate Ticketmaster fees, sponsorships and other revenue. But it also means that the expertise of its most experienced staff is not always shared internally.

Rapino “sees promoters as entrepreneurs and sees no net gain in enforcing a consistent approach,” explained a former Live Nation director. “The dozens of regional and independent promoters acquired by Live Nation function more as a federation than a company with its strength drawn from its adaptation.”

In the wake of the November 5 tragedy, Live Nation and ScoreMore – an Austin-based company that the mega-promoter bought in 2018 and now essentially operates as a subsidiary – have been criticized for allegedly cutting corners on Astroworld, but they do ‘It actually seems to have reduced costs. In fact, the stage created for Scott’s performance at the festival cost $ 5 million, according to ScoreMore. The organizer also hired over 500 police officers plus another 700 security guards for the festival – more than is typical of an event of that size. At least part of the fault lies in the setup of the event, and although Live Nation has a host of experts in its ranks who could have seen potential problems, the company’s various divisions operate with considerable independence.

Sometimes it leaves them on their own. On the night of November 5, ScoreMore co-founder / CEO Sascha Stone good friend was at home with COVID-19, according to several sources, and when Astroworld went into chaos, the responsibility for stopping the show fell mainly on Brad Wavra, a veteran touring executive who industry sources say does not have much experience running festivals. (Wavra and ScoreMore did not respond to further requests for comment, and Live Nation declined to comment on the events on Astroworld in addition to public statements of sympathy.)

Astroworld presented acts on two stages: one for the other artists on the lineup and one for Scott, with the viewing area in front of Scott’s divided into four sections of four barricades. One ran perpendicular to the stage and halved the audience; the others were set up parallel to the stage: one right in front of it, one about halfway through the main viewing area and one in front of the video cameras at the end of that area. Such setups, which are common at regular admission festivals, are meant to protect fans close to the stage by limiting the number of people who can push into them.

However, unlike most festivals with potentially aggressive spectators, the area in front of Scott’s stage did not have barriers on the left and right. His stage was 200 feet long – more than three times the length of the main stage at Coachella – and as almost all the action took place in the middle, concertgoers thronged into the main viewing area from both sides, then pushed toward the center, according to several accounts. As the audience increase worsened, fans ended up being surrounded on three sides by barriers that were supposed to protect them. Even before Scott came on stage, the audience was so tightly packed that some fans began to jump over the barricades to escape a situation that some said already felt dangerous.

Then it got worse. Most festivals plan performances by great artists to overlap to disperse audiences, but Scott was scheduled to perform after all the other acts were finished. And when a countdown timer on the screen ticked off the minutes until his set began at. 21:06, what should have been a steady movement towards the viewing areas in front of his stage became a race. Fans streamed in from the open sides of the four main viewing areas, and the barriers on the other sides gave no way out. Some fans were lifted into the photographer to escape the infatuation. At 9:30 p.m., the Houston Fire Department heard radio calls about CPR being administered to concert-goers who had been caught in the wave, and an ambulance was driving through the crowd. Scott paused his performance and then told the audience he would “hear the ground shake.” Seven minutes later, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena declared a “mass accident”.

It is possible that an experienced concert company with a background in crowd management would have indicated that Astroworld’s setup had the potential to exacerbate crowding issues. However, it is not clear if such a person ever saw the design plans. The festival’s plan for backup medical treatment could also have been highlighted. Astroworld hired Paradocs, a private company that provides medical care at many festivals and major events, and the company had a plan to get backup from the fire department if it encountered a situation for which it did not have enough Paradocs employees or supplies. But the company provided the fire department with a list of employees’ cell phone numbers instead of one of its radios, and Peña told a news conference that staff were left behind trying to call for backup with cell phones – which can be notoriously unreliable in the midst of festival crowds.

How did it happen? With a value in excess of $ 26 billion, Live Nation has a wealth of resources as well as access to significant expertise from promoters at other companies it has acquired over the years, including Insomniac and C3 Presents, two of the world’s leading festival promoters. Like ScoreMore, the C3 is based in Austin, and it produces and promotes Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and, from 2020, Bonnaroo. During Live Nations’ normal operating procedure, sources say, however, ScoreMore would not have needed to talk to anyone at C3 about its plans for Astroworld.

“It’s very decentralized,” Rapino said of the company during a 2017 interview at Canadian Music Week. “What I love about what we do is that the Insomniac guys or the festival guys or the artist management department have all these different companies that we are partners in.” On the Live Nations website, one of its pitches to potential employees is: “We live for decentralization.” “We do not believe in bureaucracy and we do not demand synergy,” the page said. “We keep our business teams small because we trust our decentralized divisions know how to make the best decisions for their businesses in real time.”

When Stone Guttfreund was ill, the responsibility fell to the ground mainly to Wavra, who Stone Guttfreund helped sign Scott for a tour and festival deal with Live Nation in 2018, right after the company bought ScoreMore. This meant that the decision to stop the concert if it became uncertain fell on him, whether Scott wanted it or not. This had the potential to put Wavra in a difficult position because part of his job involves keeping Scott as a touring artist for Live Nation.

Wavra was the only full-time Live Nation director at Astroworld to be listed on the “Event Operation Plan.” The festival management on site consisted almost exclusively of contractors. Columbus, Ohio, the company B3 Risk Solutions, often hired by Live Nation promoter Insomniac to work on EDM events, including the Electric Daisy Carnival, did event and strategy planning. (B3 founder Seyth board member often works with Live Nation, but he was listed in the event schedule as an entrepreneur.) Veteran Houston concert promoter Brent Silberstein was employed as a freelance operations manager, and Joe Stallone, who has performed legal work for ScoreMore, is listed in the plan as one of the event’s seven leaders.

BWG Live, a Southern California-based production company co-founded by former Goldenvoice producers Leo Nitzberg and Meg Dieters, took care of the production work, designing the stage and managing the technical aspects of the performance. According to the event plan, a BWG employee, Emily Ockenden, was listed as the first person contacted by emergency authorities. (Ockenden would not comment.) There is no evidence that any of these leaders did anything wrong. But more executives at Live Nation have more experience running regular admission festivals.

Moments after Astroworld was declared a mass accident, the Houston Chief of Police announced Troy Finner spoke with the organizers at the event, and Finner said at a news conference on Nov. 8 that they agreed the show would continue for another half hour and then end at 6 p.m. 22.10. Later on November 8, a Houston police spokesman told Billboard that the decision on when to stop the show was made by Finner, who chose not to end it earlier out of concern that this could lead to riots.

So, at a Nov. 10 press conference – after photos surfaced of Houston police officers standing in the photographer taking pictures of Scott performing with Drake – Finner said his previous comments had been misunderstood and that he had asked the promoters to shut down the show. . He said they, not he, had the power to end the concert because the festival was being held on county property. Finner added that he did not believe the case warranted an independent inquiry.

Neither Wavra nor anyone else from ScoreMore or Live Nation has said anything about how the conversation with Finner went, and it is still unclear who made the decision to keep the show going after it was declared an incident of mass accidents, or the decision about when it should stop it. The information as it emerges will serve to ask a more important question: whether letting the show continue has exacerbated the tragedy.

The second question, which can only be answered in court, in one of the more than 170 lawsuits filed against various entities involved in organizing Astroworld, is who has the legal responsibility for what happened . And no matter how Live Nation is set up to function, one of the most likely answers points to the company.

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