Sydney will host the world's biggest concert of the COVID-19 era on November 28, when local band Ocean Alley plays before 6000 people at Qudos Bank Arena in a "test event" pushed through regulatory approval by its promoters.
TEG Live and Live Nation are co-promoting the show – and another at the same venue on December 5 headlined by Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning – as a break-even venture to kick-start the live entertainment economy.
"I've admired what the AFL and the NRL have been able to achieve in completing their seasons, so it was time to take our destiny into our own hands," said TEG chief executive Geoff Jones.
The events will be subsidised by the NSW government under its Great Southern Nights program, which will contribute to the extra COVID-safe costs of 1000 gigs across the state over the next month.
It is understood fierce lobbying went into making two such large indoor events happen while there is still some community transmission of COVID-19 in NSW.
TEG and Live Nation are both members of the powerful Live Entertainment Industry Forum, chaired by former Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland. Last month, LEIF released an EY report estimating that the number of full-time-equivalent jobs supported by the industry nationwide would fall from 122,000 in 2019 to just 43,000 by December if it could not play to full houses.
There will be far from full houses at the Ocean Alley and Bernard Fanning concerts, which are expected to quickly sell out their 6000 tickets apiece. The Qudos Bank Arena, which TEG leases from the government, crammed in more than 21,000 people for a Justin Timberlake concert in 2014.
However, Mr Jones hoped they would be a showcase for the industry's COVID-safe procedures, and he is inviting health authorities from interstate to send inspectors to the shows.
“These concerts are vital for our industry because they will show we can stage large-scale live concerts safely and that Australians have a huge pent-up demand to get out and share great live entertainment experiences with their friends and family,” he said.
"Without wanting to put the mocker on things, we've seen no problems with transmission at any of the major sporting events so far, so I think that's helped the government's confidence in agreeing to these shows."
As a next step, it is understood LEIF is lobbying for definitive criteria as to when it might be able to host full-capacity shows again – for instance, a certain number of consecutive days without local transmission of COVID-19.
The office of the NSW Minister for Tourism, Stuart Ayres, was contacted for comment on whether such criteria was being drafted with NSW Health.
In a statement, the minister acknowledged the knock-on economic impacts of allowing concerts to happen again.
"The NSW government is proud to be getting artists, roadies, venues, hospitality staff and tourism businesses back to work and we hope this heralds the safe return of major indoor arena events,” Mr Ayres said.
The impact of live entertainment's shutdown has been felt well beyond the sector itself. EY's report for LEIF estimates that in 2019, the "total economic output" of the industry was $36.4 billion, a figure arrived at by taking all the money spent on tickets and adding an estimate of what was spent on the surrounding infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants and transport.
That economic contribution would dwindle by almost two-thirds to $12.8 billion in 2020, EY said, without significant lifting of restrictions between now and Christmas.
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