BER21: The future of art, sports and culture in the region

NEC Group

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 4 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021, Connected Places: Foundations for Growth

Click here to read the Review.

At the time of writing, we are 15 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a period that has seen the arts, sports and culture scene in our great city decimated. At least for a time. For many, 2020 went by in an anxious blur, a constant battle of government updates and new restrictions for businesses. 2021 has continued to be exceptionally challenging for many but none more so than the events industry. We closed our doors at the end of March 2020 for the first time since opening and for a year had no events. Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, operations have remained limited with social distancing making most events economically unviable. As a result, our revenues to-date are near zero.

Restrictions have simply not permitted events to be held on a viable basis for a majority of 2020/2021. For companies like us, with minimal levels of activity, we were also unable to make use of the Government’s Job Support Scheme. This, together with our sector’s inability to access the £1.57 billion culture support package, added to what became an unsustainable position, resulting in the loss of nearly half of our permanent staff in early 2021. This was an extremely difficult period for everyone. At the NEC Group we recognise that the quality, expertise and commitment of our staff is our greatest asset so losing so many great people was heartbreaking.

Following independent lobbying, with industry peers and organisations such as GBCC, May 17th 2021 provided us with a glimpse of hope - the first step towards a return to business for the Group, with events of up to 1000 permitted in our venues subject to social distancing guidelines. The events industry has been committed to working with the Government to ensure a swift delivery of the Event Research Programme’s (ERP) pilot events and has stood ready to establish protocols based upon the information and guidance they provide. Our CEO, Paul Thandi, has played an integral role on the Events Research Programme Steering Committee advocating for our £70 million industry and pushing its influence on GDP – something that as an employee of the Group and behalf of our entire industry and the City of Birmingham, I am extremely grateful for.  

The updated guidance for events and attractions as a result for the ERP’s findings, was released on 14th July 2021. In response, we have further developed our comprehensive NEC Group Venue Protect into a three-part framework: Safe-Clean-Inclusive. With the UK transitioning from regulations to personal accountability, requirements for social distancing and the wearing of face coverings have changed. However, we want to continue providing reassurance on the measures that we have in place to keep everyone safe. We are committed to providing COVID-safe spaces and rebuilding visitor confidence and in collaboration with organisers and promoters.

So, what does the future currently look like? Our research indicates that 91% of exhibition visitors would likely return to the same show - higher than the 87% level that we saw in our previous visitor research before the impact of COVID-19. We also found 90-95% of NEC Group’s arena customers have held onto their tickets for rescheduled event dates, which is great news considering peoples’ anxiety over transmission rates. This correlates with positive findings from the live music industry, venues and entertainment body LIVE: Over 75% of fans are ready to go and see live music now and 73% of fans have already bought new tickets*.

The progression to Stage 4 of the Government’s roadmap marks the welcome and long-awaited return to full operations for all our venue businesses, ticketing business and our award-winning Amadeus hospitality business. As with many arts, sports and cultural institutions across the region, the NEC Group is a strong, strategic economic asset that is part of a wider industry integral to long-term economic recovery. With the interest we are experiencing from visitors and the demand to return from organisers and promoters, we remain very optimistic about the future.

There is a huge appetite in the marketplace for entertainment and business events and we couldn’t be happier to invite more of our customers, visitors, suppliers and partners back through the doors of our world class venues. There will always be a demand for great live experiences, and we, along with the rest of the travel, hospitality, leisure and live events sectors, look forward to entertaining, educating and hosting our audiences once again.

*LIVE’s #ReviveLive Music National survey of 25,000 live music fans, May 2021.