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AIF publishes Festival Forecast report outlining trends and challenges in the independent festival sector

By | Published on Wednesday 7 June 2023


The UK’s Association Of Independent Festivals has published a Festival Forecast report which sets out trends and challenges within the independent festival sector. The aim is to now track those trends and challenges each year by making this an annual document.

Based on a recent survey of its members, the trade group estimates that “AIF festivals are on course to make a collective gross revenue of £195 million this year, with a gross expenditure of £177 million”. And those events will “attract a total audience of 3.3 million in 2023 … and will spend £36 million on music talent”.

Talking of the music talent, 74% of AIF members have female headliners on their bill, though only 15% having a 50/50 male/female headliner split. Which confirms that there remains work to be done when it comes to line-up diversity, especially at the headliner level, though the new report will be a useful way of tracking what is being achieved within the independent sector.

Meanwhile, back in the money domain, “AIF members’ economic contribution to the music sector and supply chain is equivalent to almost 50% of all grassroots music venues combined”. And, the report confirms, “margins are tight” for festival promoters and “risk is now very high”.

Which brings us to the challenges, and the campaigns AIF will pursue in the next year to help its members tackle said challenges.

That includes, the report tells us, “continued lobbying for a VAT reduction from 20% to 5% for festivals in the face of rising supply chain costs; and public facing campaigns for government support for young audiences affected by the cost of living crisis and COVID closures”.

Commenting on the new report and the plans to publish a similar study on an annual basis, AIF CEO John Rostron says: “As the number of festivals joining AIF grows, we wanted to better understand the collective impact and the collective issues that our festivals share”.

“The AIF Festival Forecast is an important snapshot of where we are as an association of events at this time”, he adds. “It will inform our work over the coming months, and support policy makers and the wider sector in better understanding the vital role AIF festivals play in the music ecosystem”.

Beyond the new report, Rostron has also been commenting this week on quite how independence should be defined in the context of independent festivals. That question was raised following the news that Superstruct has just acquired a majority stake in two more UK festivals.

In a report yesterday, events industry website Access All Areas notes that the still rather acquisitive Superstruct – set up by Creamfields founder James Barton and backed by US private equity firm Providence – is now a significant player in the UK festival market.

“Superstruct now owns more than a dozen major UK music festivals and nearly 90 worldwide”, it adds. So does that mean that festivals that are majority owned by the company – many of which are AIF members – can still be considered independent?

Yes, says Rostron: “Superstruct is a big player in the festival market but small fry in the live music ecosystem as a whole compared to Live Nation and AEG”.

“When it comes to ownership”, he adds, “our major concern is those big vertically integrated global players that not only own major festivals but also venues, concert promoters, ticketing agencies, secondary ticketing agencies, management, labels, and have an interest that really gets deep into the music ecosystem”.

Confirming that the Superstruct festivals still meet AIF’s definition of independent, he goes on: “The difficulties our members face is with companies that have that wide integration across the sector and have the ability to make an artist an offer that means they can’t work with another promoter; they have to sell tickets to this ticketing company or have to play in these venues”.

“Those kinds of relationships move towards monopoly”, he concludes, “they create a stranglehold whether deliberate or not, and that impacts our members in a way that somebody owning more than one festival, or a number of festivals, doesn’t”.

So there you go. Meanwhile, you can access the Festival Forecast report here.