Canceled by COVID: Closures Leave Event Companies, Venue Owners and Nonprofits Scrambling
Updated: May 6
Mar 15, 2020
Over the past few days, workers at Events United have been setting up a 2,400-square-foot studio at the company’s headquarters in Derry.
It’s equipped with a massive high-resolution video screen — 40 feet long by 12 feet high — where clients can create the look of a big room event and stream it live to their patrons or customers.
With most public events getting canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, owner Tim Messina had to come up with something fast. This is usually the busiest time of the year for his event production company. Now he’s trying to figure out how to stay in business.
He hopes the answer is virtual events.
“We have all the cameras and everything to do a live stream. And we have all the equipment to make that work, and we can do it really well,” Messina said Thursday. “We do it for almost every event we go to anyway. So we can take the key people who were going to be on stage and have them come to a safe and clean environment and do their event virtually.”
It’s either that or do nothing until large group gatherings are declared safe to resume. The shutdowns are reverberating throughout the event industry, including venues, vendors and nonprofits that rely on fundraising events to cover their operating costs. New Hampshire venues that have announced temporary closures included the Palace Theatre in Manchester, the Lebanon Opera House, the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, the Colonial Theatre in Keene and Tupelo Music Hall in Derry.
Messina knows the virtual stage can’t replace all the work his company lost — $500,000 in bookings virtually overnight — but he’s innovating as fast as he can. He’s already had to lay off four of his 16 full-time employees and cut everyone else’s pay, including his own.
“And we might have to do more drastic cuts if this continues for much longer,” he said “The problem is no one has any foreseeable time frame for when this is going to end.”
Messina has owned Events United for a decade. About 70 percent of the visual and audio production company’s business is centered in the Northeast, including work at churches, rock concerts, theaters, weddings and corporate events. The first client to cancel was a FIRST Robotics Competition event in New York.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in any industry — where it rapidly declines so fast to the point of essentially extinction,” he said. “Every event is canceled.”
Well, nearly all of them. The company is booked to work at an outdoor music festival in Florida next week. They’ve been calling the organizers daily for updates.
“We’re holding off until the very last second in case it cancels,” Messina said. “Honestly, it’s kind of a good thing because flights are getting cheaper by the day.”
Tupelo Music Hall taking a break
Tupelo Music Hall owner Scott Hayward sent an email to customers early last week announcing the steps the Derry venue was taking to keep the concert experience safe for customers and how it would continue to present shows at the hall, which has a capacity of 700.
But as the week unfolded, circumstances changed — so much so that three times he had a new message ready for the the company’s Facebook page that became outdated before he had a chance to post it.
On Thursday, Live Nation Entertainment and AEG Presents, the two largest promotion companies in the country, announced they were halting all touring acts and festivals at least through March, a move that shocked the entire industry. Acts still on the road through other promoters are facing new holes in their schedules as venues shut their doors by state edict.
As of Friday, Hayward’s plan was to carry on with Tupelo’s weekend schedule. But after Sunday’s Dave Mason appearance, the theater will be taking a break for awhile as Hayward scrambles to reschedule shows. He recorded a video Friday at Messina’s studio in Londonderry to share with customers.
“I don’t think people understand what people who sell tickets for a living are up against,” said Hayward, who has 40 employees. “People in Massachusetts, where the governor steps in, or Maine or New York or New Jersey or these other places, they almost have it easier because the governor has come in and said, ‘Look you’re not going to do this. That’s that.’ But now they have a force majeure to change their contracts. We don’t have that in New Hampshire. I have no legal basis to cancel a show.”
Tupelo, like other concert venues, operates on a cash-flow basis.
“When you’ve got a $20,000 deposit on a show, and you’re in an industry that’s falling apart, people are trying to grab as much money as they can to survive for an unlimited amount of time,” Hayward said. “It’s a very scary place to be.”
Hayward hopes most of his customers will opt to wait for the shows to be rescheduled or take a credit and choose a different concert rather than demand refunds now, which would make the transition period for the business more painful.
”The money we have out there in advance ticket sales, we haven’t spent,” Hayward said. “We will be one of the businesses that will be able to weather this storm, but it’s going to hurt like hell.”
Skipping breakfast for now
Until a few days ago, Diane Fitzpatrick was expecting to be getting up extra early April 21, when the Boys & Girls Club was scheduled to host its annual Foundation of Friends Breakfast.
The 18th annual event has been rescheduled for June 3 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Manchester.
“On Tuesday, I met with key board members, and we had a discussion about keeping people safe,” said Fitzpatrick, the nonprofit’s chief executive. “We only have one major fundraiser a year. … We didn’t want to risk not having another outstanding event.”
Fitzpatrick said she was feeling some angst last week as the club worked on rescheduling, especially because they were working with a pretty narrow time window.
“Our fiscal year closes out June 30. Our operating budget really relies on this event. There’s a lot at risk here,” she said.
The club has stocked up on disinfectant cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer — “Purell is my new scent,” Fitzpatrick said — and following the ever-changing Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
On Friday, Fitzpatrick was scheduled to meet with officials from the city health department, school district and other social service agencies that serve children.
“The kids are doing really well. They’re happy. The parents, I can see some angst,” Fitzpatrick said. “My biggest concern is if we got to an epidemic in this region, and we are forced to close our doors, my parents need us, my kids need us.”
Original Article: www.unionleader.com