UK Arenas Urged To Consider Small Venue Levy

27 March 2024 | 11:54 am | Mary Varvaris

Earlier this year, Music Venue Trust highlighted a crisis striking UK grassroots venues. 125 spaces abandoned live music, and half of them closed entirely in 2023.

DMA'S at O2 Academy Brixton

DMA'S at O2 Academy Brixton (Credit: Shane Benson)

UK charity Music Venue Trust is calling for arenas to impose a £1 ($1.93 AUD) levy on concert tickets to assist small venues – especially grassroots venues – as they face a “crisis”.

In January, Music Venue Trust issued a report stating that 125 venues abandoned live music, and half of them closed entirely in 2023. The organisation cited raised costs, including an average 37.5% rent increase, and claimed that grassroots venues are “significantly underfunded” via the BBC.

Calls from figures in the music industry to Music Venue Trust increased by 38% while the crisis has raged on, as smaller venues lost £137,501 ($265,767.43 AUD) over the past year. According to the charity’s estimates, 35% of grassroots venues closed in the last 20 years.

Earlier this month, Music Venue Trust uploaded an edited version of this year’s Glastonbury poster and erased all the artists who got their starts in grassroots venues. Only 13 artists remained on the poster.

However, as The Music’s Cyclone Wehner pointed out, two of the DJs listed – Honey Dijon and DJ Spen – got their start in underground clubs, making the poster look even direr.

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Music Venue Trust founder Mark Davyd has called for the £1 levy on arena venues before UK MPs this week, so smaller venues can “take risks with their programming and really give artists the first step on the ladder they need,” per Music Week.

Davyd added, “One of the biggest concerns, frankly, is that artists can't afford to tour. With the lengths of tours we are seeing, it’s not just that venues aren’t there to play in; it’s also that venues are standing empty when they could be putting on bands because bands cannot afford to put on the show.”

John Drury, the chair of the National Arenas Association (NAA) and Vice President and General Manager at OVO Arena Wembley said of the levy idea: “The reality of a pound a ticket [levy] for us, given that many of our venues are managed on behalf of private landlords, city councils and charitable trusts, the impact would be something like a 20% cut in our EBITDA [profit]. So, it’s not a few grains of sand; it’s quite significant.”

NAA members favour the proclaimed “Enter Shikari model”, which saw the rockers donate £1 from each ticket to the Music Venue Trust on their recent UK tour.

“I felt it was a gesture. We thought it was the right thing to do because it was the first time a band had come into Wembley with that mindset of, ‘We’re going to donate money to the MVT,’” Drury said. We’re already close to the MVT, and we have an ongoing relationship.”

Davyd doesn’t necessarily believe that artist-led donations to grassroots venues are the solution. “We’re going to hear a lot that the artists need to make this decision because we have the example of Enter Shikari,” Davyd said in an address to MPs.

“The reality is that in our industry, the artist is not always consulted on every levy. The reality is that, in fact, promoters and venues may frequently try to construct a model that is profitable around a tour, in which the artist does not know about the transaction fee, or the fulfilment fee of the restoration levy, or the print-your-ticket-at-home charge.”

With TikTok users finding fame quicker and without performing at grassroots venues, Davyd argued that those spaces are essential so burgeoning stars can have a “sustainable career”.