When and How Could Live Events Return?

It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds – In what capacity could live events return in 2021? We break down the latest industry updates and discuss what’s next.

What’s Changed Since Last Summer?

Quite a lot. We last assessed the situation in August, with ‘What’s Next For Music Venues?’. This was a cautiously optimistic period. Bars & restaurants were open and small, social-distanced events were taking place. We were “Enjoying Summer Safely” and “Eating Out to Help Out”. Day-to-day life had made an improvement.

Sadly, the situation took a turn for the worse. We’ve since had two more national lockdowns and countless lives irrevocably damaged by the pandemic, both directly and indirectly. As bleak as the things look right now, most of us are quietly confident that 2021 will be a better year.

Why? Because of a critical development that could restore the world to normality: a vaccine. Not just one vaccine in fact, several. This is an immense achievement of global co-operation and despite concerns over new virus strains, will be prove to be an absolute game-changer.

Let’s bring this back down to the ground: what does this mean for businesses, and particularly the live events sector? We’ll start by looking at when live events could return.

When Could Live Events Return?

Much of this depends on the vaccination programme. Only once the most vulnerable are protected could we see a ‘return to normality’ . The rollout has been a great success so far. More than 12 million people have received their first jab at time of writing. The government’s goal is to offer the entire UK adult population a vaccine by autumn.

So live events could return around September, if everything goes as planned. But one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is that it’s difficult to plan ahead. It’s an ever-changing scenario, and there’s a number of factors that could cause this target to be pushed back – namely, the impact of new COVID-19 variants.

In an ideal world, live events would return as soon as possible. The industry is on its knees. It’s been nearly a year since venues and nightclubs could open and operate on a consistent basis. According to the NTIA (Night Time Industries Association), 80% of nightclubs won’t make it past February. The situation is just as dire for festivals, many of which haven’t ran since the summer of 2019. Confidence within the live events industry is shaky at best. Especially after Glastonbury, one of the UK’s most enduring festivals, announced it will not take place this year.

Countless venues, nightclubs and festivals missed out on the Cultural Recovery Fund. £1.57 billion sounds like plenty to go around, until you realise it’s shared with museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas and heritage sites. But the live events industry doesn’t just need handouts. They need a clear roadmap from the government, and an investigation into the possibility of live events before autumn. This preliminary date would mean missing out on the all-important summer season, which this year could be make-or-break for many businesses in the industry.

Now we’re going to explore which key factors could influence how live events run in 2021.

Rapid Testing

New developments in rapid testing could be a potential lifesaver for live events and festivals in particular. A diagnostics firm in Derby just announced its producing 20 million rapid tests for the government. These tests are being offered to workplaces with more than 50 employees and can produce results in just 30 minutes. They’re being rolled out to key industries where employees can’t work from home, such as transportation. But it’s not a far reach to imagine they’ll be available for ‘non-essential’ sectors such as live events in the near future.

Rapid tests would allow festivals to vet their attendees upon arrival, temporarily quarantining them until the results come in. With a test time of 30 minutes, this could work for other events as well. Concert-goers already expect long queues that snake around the venue prior to doors opening. It’s safe to assume they wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer if it meant the return of live shows.

Social Distancing

Even with a rapid testing system on entry, we expect social distancing to play a part in the live events experience. It’s an issue that concerns many indoor venues, especially those with capacities in the low hundreds. Many events simply wouldn’t be viable with social distancing restrictions in place. What’s needed is a certain level of support from the government that could partially replace the revenue lost to enforced restrictions. This could be in the form of VAT exemptions or lower business rates. We need to hammer home how important these institutions are to the country, both in cultural and economic terms.

On a more positive note, it’s already been proven that outdoor events can be successfully run with social distancing in place. Let’s not forget the Virgin Money Unity Arena, which spread 2,500 fans across 500 spaced-out platforms.

The Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle upon Tyne.

From personal experience the E1MA team know what’s possible. We worked with Greenwich Comedy Festival, who moved their 2020 edition to the lawns of Greenwich Maritime Museum. The carefully spaced outdoor seating arrangement has replaced the Big Tops of previous years, and was a tremendous success. With staggered entry times and a drinks-to-your-seat service, the festival was a shining example of how events can be held during the pandemic.

Greenwich Comedy Festival 2020.


Harnessing the power of our technological age will be paramount if live events are to return. After a disastrous start, the NHS Track & Trace App has been greatly improved – checking into venues is now seamless. E-tickets will become the absolute standard, with the days of the traditional box office numbered.

Even minor details like cashless bars and merchandise stalls will become almost mandatory to decrease the risk of transmission. There is talk of new technology being implemented into venues, such as misting disinfection systems and UV air filtration. It could ultimately be technology that saves this intrinsically offline experience of attending live events.

Concluding Words

The mood of the live events industry very much reflects that of the nation – a mixture of concern and optimism. There are still a number of pressing issues that need to be addressed in the short-term. Vaccinating a significant portion of the general public would open up a lot more opportunities for all sectors, including live events. We need a roadmap that outlines the path the industry will have to take, including what safety measures will be required. Rapid testing has the potential to change everything, but doesn’t go hand-in-hand with social distancing.

What we’re trying to get across here is that everything is still up in the air. However, we remain confident that 2021 will see the return of the large-scale live events that bring joy to countless fans up and down the country.

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