The commenter TheTruthHurts makes some remarks on this post here about the pretty dismal turnouts at the Live Nation BT Live events in Victoria Park.
Regular readers will remember the fuss about these events and how, in the words of several Tower Hamlets councillors, Live Nation, one of the world’s biggest event promoters, “bullied” the borough’s Town Hall into some “frightening” indemnity clauses.
I wrote about Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s decision to unilaterally hire out Victoria Park last November. I think parts of that post are worth a re-read here:
Over the past few days a couple of executive decisions taken by Mayor Lutfur Rahman have caught the eye. I’ll deal with his version of Educational Maintenance Allowance in another post but for the moment, let’s look at his news for Victoria Park.
On October 20, he signed off a deal with events organiser Live Nation to run gigs in Victoria Park during the Olympics next year. The decision document (it’s well worth a read) reveals much longer than anticipated negotiations with Live Nation over the past year and that there remains a significant degree of uncertainty about what will happen.
However, what we do know is this:
Live Nation, with the blessing of the council, will cordon off with giant hoardings a large section of the park for six weeks next summer
In the week prior to the Opening Ceremony on July 27, Live Nation are looking at staging three “commercial gigs” (ie you buy tickets) each with a 30,000 capacity. The report raises some doubt over whether these will actually take place, however.
On each day from from July 27 until the closing ceremony on August 12, there will be “free to access” gigs/screens/events that will be licensed from noon until 12.30am. These events will be ticketed but they will be free. There will be a capacity of 30,000 people at any one time. The council has negotiated a daily allocation of 4,000 tickets for Tower Hamlets residents who will have to pay a £3.50 booking fee for a maximum of four each.
Live Nation estimate 1.2million visitors to their Victoria Park events during the Games.
The gigs and events will be aimed at “young people, families and sport” (note that older people who have paid taxes all their lives don’t seem to be welcome, they’ll just have to endure the noise – welcome to One Tower Hamlets). There will be an allocation of tickets for athletes.
Tower Hamlets council, the GLA and Live Nation will each contribute £100,000 for “the programme content”.
The council admits the impact of the park will be “significant” but it boasts that it has secured a good deal for residents. Well, what is that deal? It had hoped to charge a venue hire fee of £600,000, according to the document, but that seems to have been over-optimistic. It appears that Live Nation has negotiated that down to £442,285, which is about £10,000 a day for the six week period that an area of the park will be closed off. The fee is equivalent to 36pence for each of the 1.2million people expected to attend.
The small print is also worrying. The council has secured an £80,000 refundable deposit from Live Nation as a bond to clear the mess and damage to the park, but in return the council has agreed to agreed to indemnify Live Nation up to £20million if certain clauses are breached.
This is a staggering sum, so what is the main clause they’re worried about? Answer, the unauthorised issuing of press releases by the council. The argument is that if the council goes ahead with its own publicity that could damage the worldwide reputation of Live Nation’s artistes. Clearly, Live Nation has been reading about Takki Sulaiman, the council’s hapless “communications chief”, on this blog.
Although I’ve complained here before about the council using the park as a cash cow, I think the Olympics has to be the exception. Vicky Park, which is only a 15 minute walk from the main stadium at most (depending on routes will be open) will be the centre for Games entertainment. I just hope that they provide something that caters for everyone not just the Lovebox crowd.
Essentially, the council allowed itself to be gagged.
So, what has been the reality of the Live Nation/Lovebox experience? Friends of mine who went to the first night as the Olympics Opening Ceremony took place said it was busy but with shambolic queues outside. They also said the sound system was pretty terrible.
I went myself last Sunday and was shocked at how few people who were there.
It was a real shame in some ways. The big wheel is excellent and probably just about worth the £7 fee for adults. The stage was perfectly intimate for a high school band from Chicago playing to 30 odd spectators and the big screens are also good when there is a major event on: it was great watching Liz Armitstead get her cycling silver with a crowd of about 100 people…
But that’s where the positives end. The park itself looked as drab and poor as I have seen it and the weather has not helped teh large mud patches left since Lovebox.
Getting into the event was also shambolic and pretty disgraceful. Although there seemed to be only a few hundred people inside when we arrived, we had to wait 30 minutes for the pleasure of airport style security checks. I understand the small risk of a deadly knife attack but is it really necessary to treat grandparents and small children as potential criminals?
Remember, Live Nation sold these free events to the council on the promise that it would be aimed at young people and families. Well, on the Sunday afternoon I went, family after family who turned up with picnics had all their food confiscated at the gates. Even packets of crisps were snatched and chucked away. People were rightly furious. Clearly, there is no such thing as a free lunch when Live Nation are in town.
So without food, parents would surely be able to feast themselves inside on a dazzlingly diverse range of food that reflected the heritage of Tower Hamlets? Surely, Shiraj Haque had managed to persuade Lutfur Rahman to set up curry stalls and the like?
Er, no: just the usual sorry-looking festival food outlets selling fried chicken, burgers, hog roasts, noodles and pizza.
I asked Tower Hamlets Council whether, during their negotiations with Live Nation, they had asked for any locally sourced food to be sold. “That was part of our negotiations,” a spokeswoman said. ie They asked, but were told to get real. You see, this is where Live Nation hoped it would be making its return.
I also asked the council for attendance figures. Their first response on Thursday was: “20,000 on the first night…we were pleased attendances doubled yesterday.” What were the actual figures, I asked again. Oh, we can’t tell you, it’s Live Nation’s event – ask them. ie We can’t say anything that might be construed as negative because we’ll be sued.
So I asked Live Nation. Spokeswoman number one said 20,000 on the opening night and an average of 8,000 a day thereafter. Again, I asked for the daily breakdown. “That’s the only number we have,” she said. So when I said that an average can only be worked out by having the daily breakdowns, her boss, a very senior dude within Live Nation, called me.
He eventually read them out:
July 27 – 18,814
July 28 – 14,759
July 29 – 8,039
July 30 – 8,169
July 31 – 7,031
Aug 1 – 8,235
Aug 2 – 10,462
Note, these are total daily attendance figures, not the peak crowds at any one time. As you can see, they are a little more than 10 per cent of what the council and Live Nation were expecting.
I then pressed the senior guy from Live Nation on the question of food confiscation: quite categorically he told me that that was beyond their control, that they had to adhere to Locog’s rules (Locog run the Olympic Games). That’s funny, I said, because I’ve been going into the Olympic Park every day with sandwiches and packets of crisps and not once have they been taken, even by the G4S guards. So he went away and came back a few minutes later and said their rules have now been relaxed, that families can now take in–wait for this–Mars bars, crisps and sweets!
What about sandwiches and other picnic items, I asked? No can do, he said, Locog rules…yeah, right.
There are a few interesting aspects about all this: one is that Tower Hamlets need to consider very carefully when dealing with these big promoters. In this case, I suspect it’s all been a failure and the promise of a share of the profits will never materialise.
Instead of whoring itself for a simple hire fee, the council should have ensured its residents and taxpayers received a better deal; it should have forced Live Nation to include more diverse and healthier food. That would also have had the bonus of enhancing the atmosphere in the park.
To be fair some of poor attendances are probably a result of the unexpected London ghost town effect and the temperamental weather hasn’t helped, but I also suspect that word of mouth about the rip-off entrapment exercise has got round.
What have been your experiences?
UPDATE – Monday, August 6, 1.50pm
In response to a comment made by ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ below, I thought I’d take another quick peep at the Live Nation mega festival during my run in Victoria Park earlier. Again, outside the gates, there were several families eating sandwiches that they were forbidden to take in.
Watching people go through security made my heart sink: because they don’t actually have x-ray machines, the bag searches are all done by hand. The look on one elderly woman’s face as a guard went through every single section of her handbag, asking questions about various items, was quite pitiful.
Apparently, it was busier inside yesterday, but today it looked as dreadful as the last time I went. There must have been a few hundred people in there at most. When one of the bands was playing, there were six people watching.
But to answer the question from ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ I asked every food stall where they and their companies were from. When I asked one of the girls at the Hog Roast stall if she was from Tower Hamlets, I could have been speaking a foreign language. “What’s that?” she said. I told her it was where she was now. “I haven’t got a clue where I am now. We just go wherever we’re told–we’re from Stoke-on-Trent.”
Next door, the Noodles stall said they were from south-east London. A bit further along, the Fish and Chips stall said they were from Bromley in Kent, while the Paella man said they were from Stevenage in Hertfordshire. The burger stalls are all from Cardiff.
Not one of the stalls was from Tower Hamlets and that has to be a failure on the part of the council.
But here’s another thing: while the council is gagged from criticising Live Nation, its partners are free to condemn Tower Hamlets. All of the stall holder are furious with the council. “They deserve a slap,” one woman told me. “They’ve not bothered to advertise one bit. They’ve just left us to sink. It’s been terrible. We’ll never come back here again.”
To me, that’s good news, but the control Tower Hamlets has had over this has been frightening. My other half had a decent suggestion: if these events were meant to be for young people, families and sport, why didn’t they organise some kind of sporting competition for kids each day? That would have given it a theme and a sense of purpose. Instead, when there are no interesting Olympic events taking place, people just wander around very bored and looking for something to do.
And one other discovery from my trip today. Remember this?
Well, the reason Boris was the first to try the Zip Wire in the park last Wednesday was because it hadn’t been signed off by the Health and Safety people until the day before. They had had serious problems during the tests when testers complained of sore necks due to the high speed at which they were breaking. The reason for this, I was told, was because the tower was too high and the trajectory too steep. To fix it, they had to lower the tower by taking out a couple of levels…which is why the Mayor of London found himself dangling like a doughnut.