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Eventbrite's CEO says live event companies will have to pivot to life after the coronavirus as people delay returning to packed stadiums and concerts

Julia Hartz Eventbrite_Stefan Wieland
  • Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz believes that the coronavirus pandemic will push many live events to shift to outdoor venues or new formats that combine virtual and in-person gatherings.
  • Large events that are usually held at packed stadiums and arenas are probably the least likely to return to normal anytime soon, according to Hartz.
  • Small independent venues are likely to struggle the most from the pandemic, says Hartz, since those venues often thrive on smaller, intimate performances and may not have the flexibility to move outdoors. 
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Before social distancing measures and lockdown orders were implemented across the United States throughout March and April, there was another telltale sign that the coronavirus was about to disrupt daily life in the US: the cancellation of major events.
Big technology conferences like Mobile World Congress, Google I/O, and Facebook's F8, the latter of which are usually held in the April and May timeframe, were canceled in February or early March. It wasn't long before major festivals and global events like South by Southwest, Burning Man, and even the 2020 Olympics were canceled or postponed shortly thereafter.
Now, as states begin to gradually reopen reopen restaurants and retail stores under restrictions across the country, one big question that remains is: What will large events look like when they eventually return?
Julia Hartz, the CEO and co-founder Eventbrite, doesn't think big events that call for packed stadiums will return anytime soon.
"Consumers are not going to want to flock back to really crowded large-format events for quite some time," Hartz said. "I would say that's the farthest out that we would see in terms of consumer confidence."
But in the meantime, she does believe that event organizers will come up with creative ways to hold concerts, festivals, and other gatherings in a way that's safe. That will likely come down to three major trends over the coming months: a shift to outdoor events where it's easier to maintain social distancing, more hybrid events that combine online and in-person elements, and more virtual events.
"It's just interesting to see how promoters and organizers are already leading the way and thinking about new ways that people can gather in person," she said.
Take the Beanstalk Music & Mountains Festival in Colorado, for example. That festival, which takes place on June 26 and 27, is now being held as a drive-in concert.
There are also a slew of high-profile virtual events coming up in the next few weeks, such as Questlove's Potluck, a star-studded virtual dinner party hosted by the musician that will benefit America's Food Fund. Lady Gaga, Korean pop band BTS, and the Obamas are set to appear at a virtual graduation event for the class of 2020 hosted on YouTube on June 6.
"I think that you'll just see a ton of innovation happening by way of how people are accessing experiences and how creators are bringing people together to connect in real life about the things they're passionate for," said Hartz.
Small music venues are likely to struggle the most with this shift compared to other forms of live entertainment, like sporting events, which can be filmed in arenas without the live audience. But independent music venues, which thrive on bringing people together in a more intimate setting to enjoy music and other performances, may not have the flexibility to shift outdoors, says Hartz.
Music venues already appear to be struggling to grapple with the ramifications of the coronavirus. Venue owners in cities like New York, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, and Charlotte, North Carolina have been turning to GoFundMe campaigns for support from their respective communities, according to reports from Gothamist and Spectrum News New York 1.
"I think those venues are going to be particularly challenged to find the right model to bring people back together," said Hartz. "It kind of goes case by case, whether you have an option to serve alcohol outside or have an outdoor space. But you know, not every independent venue has that and they're at great risk."
But overall, Hartz is confident that the current situation will give way to creative new formats for both live and virtual events.
"It will be very interesting I think over the next two years to see what types of live experiences are born from this era," she said. "After the global pandemic [of 1918] we saw the Roaring Twenties. So I think there's a big likelihood that after we get through this, there will be sort of our own Roaring Twenties if you will."
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