Friday, October 8, 2021

The Covid Effect: How do you insure your tour/festival? Marillion solved it.

Marillion with Friends from the Orchestra, Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Marillion and Friends from the Orchestra, Southend, UK, 2019

If you've experienced the frustration of paying for a ticket to a concert or festival since the pandemic began - and then had it cancelled, or postponed, you've probably lost money. Unrefundable tickets aside, there's hotel bookings, travel plans, days off work that you weren't able to readjust, etc. etc. etc. From a fan's perspective it's upsetting - especially if it's for a band you've hoped to see live for years, and have no clue if you'll get the chance again. But it isn't likely to bankrupt you.

Imagine the costs involved for the musicians and their management. Upfront costs booking/reserving venues, lighting equipment and sound engineers, and everything involved in the logistics. It all costs a fortune to set up - with a lot of expenses that must be paid before the performers sell a single ticket or play a single concert. And if a show is cancelled, it's not just refunded tickets and logistical costs that must still be paid, but also loss of the all-important merch sales that make up so much of musician's income since streaming decimated the value of their music revenue. 

In the past, touring bands and festivals have been able to arrange insurance just-in-case something happens - it was a low risk for insurance companies to underwrite. Then COVID. And now, with the world gradually starting to open up again, it's difficult, unimaginabley expensive, or even totally impossible, to obtain this essential insurance.

Bands are touring; bands are taking all precautions - full vaccination, "bubbles" for the band, no meet-and-greets - but we're seeing tours affected by the virus on a daily basis. Musicians or their touring team testing positive and having to miss a few dates (Korn, Corey Taylor, From Ashes to New, Genesis - the list goes on) before returning to their scheduled dates. Festivals have been rewriting their lineups with great flexibility (Aftershock, Louder Than Life). Entire tours cancelled or delayed due to other health reasons where the pandemic has played a part, or simply because the time doesn't feel right or the risk of cancellation is too great (My Chemical Romance, Ministry, Faith No More). How can musicans survive financially if they must take on the entire burden of the cost of touring without insurance?

Marillion - crowdsourcing pioneers - and their manager Lucy Jordache came up with a solution. Their Light as the End of the Tunnel tour kicks off in November, but was impossible to insure. This week, they launched the aptly-named Lightsavers campaign: fans pledge money and act as a crowd-insurance fund, indemnifying the losses if the concerts are affected by COVID. The money is going into escrow: if all goes as expected and the tour rocks around the UK without a problem, then the fans receive their pledges back. If the money is needed to pay unavoidable costs due to a COVID issue, then Marillion uses the pledge account to pay.

All pledgers receive something in return (in addition to feeling good about helping the band out and making sure the tour goes ahead). Depending on the pledge amount there are gifts ranging from seeing your name in a tour program to a personal meeting with the band through Zoom. 

Guess what? The highest-price pledges sold out within hours. And within 24 hours, the band were well on their way to raising their target amount. It seems to be working, incredibly well.

Marillion with Friends from the Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London
Marillion at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 2019

Is this the tour insurance model for the future? Marillion have an incredibly loyal and global fan base, some of whom have pledged to the Lightsavers fund without a hope of travelling to the UK for this tour. It is going to work for this band. Whether it's a sustainable long-term model, and one that can be adopted by other musicians or festival organizers - or rather, if it really should be how bands must procure insurance from now on - has yet to be seen.

Maybe it's time to displace the New Kings of banking and insurance. Maybe this is one step in the right direction.

Full details of the Lightsavers campaign - and how to participate: Marillion Lightsavers

Marillion tour dates: Marillion Light at the End of the Tunnel tour

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