In the beginning, the event procurement process was nonexistent. Until, according to Harvey Goldsmith CBE, “A bunch of bean counters were brought in to say, hang on, can you evaluate the process? And then the procurement business started. This immediately knocked out smaller, innovative start-up companies who wouldn’t have a chance of getting into the procurement process.”
Legendary music promoter Goldsmith has staged countless major events – not least Live Aid – but procurement has not evolved much since this “big bang” moment when the process was first established.
“So, you would end up with the same two or three companies basically doing everything and unfortunately that’s pretty much true today,” he told delegates at the Event Production Show in London on 27 February.
“If you look at the companies that are out there producing major events, it’s the same companies. You’ll see the same people go from Olympics to the Millennium to New Year’s Eve at the Eye, to Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup – it’s a club of clubs!
“It’s unfair, it doesn’t let innovation in and it doesn’t let new creative ideas or people in, which is a problem. We need a procession of new people coming in.”
Goldsmith was joined on the panel by Simon Hughes, Vice President of the Business Visits and Events Partnership. “We don’t engage with people in procurement enough and they don’t engage with us enough. We need to have that conversation much more frequently," he said. "It does a huge amount of damage for startups and creativity, which are the key drivers for what you do.”
On the question of how innovative companies can get involved in major events, Goldsmith said: “You have to think in a different way. You’ve either got to team up with a company that is capable of jumping the hurdle of procurement, or package people together and come up with something that’s so different they have to take notice. It is a difficult issue today.”
One of the issues is the lack of a clearly defined route into a career in the live events industry. “The event entertainment business is a very insular industry, which strangely enough doesn’t encourage outsiders. There is no degree you can take to become a booking agent,” Goldsmith said.
“We are constantly asked how to break through into the business. The only way you can break through is to push yourself through. Before I did my first gig, I went into a shop I bought a little Vox amp to get backstage into gigs!
“The only companies that have got involved are the ones who have the confidence to push themselves through. You’ve got to have the confidence to find ways to get over the hurdles.”
Goldsmith said procurement processes do not favour UK companies. “As much I do believe that, as much as we have the best entertainment music talent in the UK, we also have the best behind-the-scenes talent by a long mile – so why do have to employ Americans and Australians to do our big events when there are companies in the UK and can do it better? The hurdles are different. It’s a very odd process and some terrible mistakes have taken place.”
He cited the London Olympic Stadium as an example of just such a mistake.
“One of the legacies of the Olympics is that there is a big stadium in Stratford that went through hell on wheels because of a complete, total, utter screw-up from the Mayor who did not knowing what he was talking about, to a current Mayor inheriting a bill of £200m more than should have been spent, and the most mismanaged process of operation I’ve ever seen in my life.
“There are lots of screw ups that go on and get buried. Everyone raves about the Silver Jubilee; if anyone cares to dig down deep enough and look at the economics you will find that financially they are disasters because they didn’t do the process properly and went to the same old teams.”
Financial disaster is one thing, but safety issues are quite another, and this is just one area where the sports and entertainment event sectors can learn from each other.
“We have seen the recent trial of those dreadful events in Sheffield,” said Goldsmith. “I remember many years ago doing my first ever concert at St James’ Park with Bruce Springsteen and refusing orders from the police, who were about to arrest me, to let the doors open, because I had walked around the exits and discovered that three quarters of them were padlocked.
“I went back to the management and said, why are these gates locked? They said, that’s what we do for a football match. I said, I don’t care what you do for football – there’s going to be 50,000 people standing outside this stadium until you unlock the gates. I can’t imagine what would have happened if there had been a problem there. But that’s what they used to do – their attitude for football was very different.
“We have to have the same environment for sport as we do for entertainment, because they are visitor attractions and the same rules must apply.
“It’s quite strange because, until very recently sport events were looked upon as something was pure and sport-driven. What many sports forgot is that they are also entertainment, and if they are attracting a crowd, the same values go in sport as they do in music. There may be a band on stage – it’s no different from seeing your hero racing. You’ve got to give the customer the experience of high quality and therefore the rules we go by in entertainment remain the same.”
It’s not just sports and entertainment that can learn from one another; there needs to be more learning for business events, said Hughes.
“We had a decade of sport where we targeted specific major world sporting events and we were very successful at that. Perhaps we should be doing that more in the festival world, in the entertainment world and in the business events world – looking at the way UK sport has used major events as a vehicle for driving the UK into a competitive position and attracting new events to the UK.
“Let’s target the kind of things that we could bid to bring into the UK; or build on the events we are doing here and make them more international. Sports bids have been phenomenally well organized, that’s where there is great success and learning for bidding for other major international events.”