“Every employee worldwide will be impacted in one form or another,” said AEG CEO Dan Beckerman in a staff memo Monday.
AEG, the global concert promoter and entertainment facility manager, instituted its deepest staff cuts in the company’s history Monday, laying off 15% of its workforce, furloughing more than 100 employees across multiple divisions at the company and instituting 20–50% pay cuts.
“Every employee worldwide will be impacted in one form or another,” AEG chief executive Dan Beckerman wrote in a somber note to employees in advance of Monday’s layoffs. “It is an agonizing decision, but sadly, a necessary one.”
The cuts are emblematic of the human toll that the coronavirus pandemic and statewide stay-at-home orders have had on the live events and entertainment industry, with approximately 45,000 full time employees furloughed or laid off and another 300,000—400,000 part-time and freelance employees out of work this summer, according to numbers compiled by Billboard.
“It is clear now that live events with fans will not resume for many months and likely not until sometime in 2021” Beckerman wrote, the latest sign that executives at the global promotion giant owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz has mostly given up on a 2020 comeback for concerts.
It’s also unlikely rescheduled events will take place this year, starting with Coachella, which won’t be returning in October as originally hoped, Billboard has learned. Officials with Goldenvoice are still trying to determine whether the two-weekend, 125,000-person-per-day festival will make a limited-capacity return in April 2021 or a larger, higher capacity comeback in October 2021. About 40% of ticket buyers have requested refunds for this year’s festival and AEG officials think they could probably pull off the festival in April at 60% capacity, but are holding off on making a final rescheduling decision until there is more clarity on the pandemic’s overall trajectory.
Touring shows are also expected to make a slow return at a reduced capacity, and while the promoter doesn’t have a start date yet, according to the most optimistic projections live shows could return to the company’s clubs, theaters and arenas either mid-way through the fourth quarter of 2020 or early next year. Once a time table is in place, AEG can then work to bring furloughed employees back and begin what many believe will be a long and slow recovery.
“When we are able to reopen, it will take time until we see our fans, partners and sponsors fully return,” Beckerman said. “This means that our revenues will continue to be significantly impacted for an extended period.”
Thinking concerts would be nearly impossible to stage during a pandemic, AEG had planned to peg its return to until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, but in late May the company began to shift course and believe that social distancing at concerts could work. Lower capacity shows could mean substantially less revenue and require renegotiations with artists and vendors, but AEG officials are buoyed by early reports that fan demand for concerts seems to be holding steady. Refund rates for arena shows have been at about 20% and only about 10–15% of fans have requested refunds for shows at clubs and theaters, a source at AEG tells Billboard. While viewership of streaming performances has outpaced most expectations and generated significant merchandise sales for artists like Sturgill Simpson and the Dropkick Murphys and raised millions for charity.
But all of AEG’s mitigation efforts can’t come close to matching pre-pandemic revenues and after holding out longer than its chief rival Live Nation and most of the talent agencies they do business with, AEG instituted what it hopes will be its only round of major cuts this year. For furloughed employees, Beckerman wrote he is “committed to re-evaluating the circumstances in 90 days,” but warned “there is a good chance that we will need to extend these current actions through the end of the calendar year.”
“It is our responsibility as a management team to protect our company and make sure that we are positioned for long-term success, and we are focused on this critical objective,” Beckerman wrote. “The world is slowly re-opening, and our industry will re-open later and more slowly than most. As a result, our organization and workforce have to adapt and evolve to meet the demands, challenges and economic circumstances we are likely to face when we emerge from this crisis.”