In mid-March, as cities and states began to ban large gatherings throughout the country due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic, event production professionals saw the most prolific months of their business disappear in a matter of days. Some optimistic organizers have postponed festival and other event dates to later in the year, but many industry professionals have needed to find ways to supplement their incomes until large gatherings begin occurring again. Those professionals have turned to offering their services and expertise to the healthcare industry that is seeking additional help to fight the global crisis.
“These people in our industry possess every skill set necessary to build this stuff and build it quickly and build it effectively,” says vp of event production company LNKBOX Matt Hyman, who is spearheading a new response group Production 4 Health. “Instead of cities using their personnel or the National Guard or hospitals themselves, let them focus on what they need to be focused on which is public health. We can come in and take these things off their plate.”
LNKBOX has worked with major events and festivals across the country including Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Bonnaroo and experiences for sports teams like the National Football League’s Denver Broncos. Hyman and his colleagues at LNKBOX launched Production 4 Health last week with the mission of connecting event industry professionals with positions in healthcare entities that need supplemental building facilities, shipping goods, waste management, tenting, permitting and other services.
“We can come in and build these cities for you because that’s literally what we do. These people travel around the country, they get things around, they build them, they run them, they take them down, they go on to the next place and they do it all over again,” says Hyman, who has already seen several hundred production professionals sign up for the ‘match-making’ service.
He adds: “Our brothers and sisters in the production world are losing everything. Everyday that goes by, the likelihood of them going out of business increases. So if we can find a way to get these people an opportunity to fight another day, why wouldn’t we do it?”
“I lost about 90% of my work about a month ago. I worked Okeechobee Festival [March 5-8] with the LNKBOX team and pretty much right after that was the cut off for a lot of the big festivals and other projects that I was working on,” says WA Event Management owner Warner Anderson, who turned to frequent collaborator LNKBOX to help organize Production 4 Health. “We got flooded the first day that we launched. I sent it out to my network and I had quite a few responses from people who were desperate to be involved on any level where they could help out. They do want to work again and they want to have some financial stability and that’s not something we can guarantee, but what we can do is try to provide an outlet for them.”
Experience production company Choura Events saw a similar opportunity to pivot after it finished construction on tennis tournament PNB Paribas Open in Indian Wells just miles from Polo Fields in Indio, California where Coachella and Stagecoach are held. According to Choura Events owner Ryan Choura, on Friday, March 6, the company went from finishing one of its most intricate builds at the tournament that welcomes close to 500,000 people annually to having the event canceled by Sunday.
“Our crews were devastated that they spent 90-120 days building a beautiful event and before a single person even walked in it was all cancelled,” Choura tells Billboard. “By Monday, we were fully geared with an updated dek that we were sending to hospitals.”
Since Choura Events realized they needed to approach healthcare entities to garner business during the pandemic, they have already built 10 emergency/hospital extensions, as well as testing sites in Southern California.
“I have been pushing for government agencies to not just utilize our company, but utilize any event company. Event people are the best people to respond because we are creating an experience, like you would be for an event, but instead of entertainment value we are doing it for patients,” says Choura, whose company has worked on major festivals for AEG, Insomniac and more for over a decade. “It has brought me so much satisfaction to watch, not just the company pivot, but people aren’t just sitting at home. They are working on something positive and impactful.”
As of Monday, three major event production companies (George P. Johnson, Exploring and Czarnowski) announced a coalition of production companies to offer engineering and support service solutions in the fight against COVID-19 called Live For Life. In just two weeks, the founding companies built a coalition of more than 90 previously-competing entities to band together to offer the healthcare businesses assistance with building structures, making face masks, plexiglass plates to be used in front of check out counters, signage, temperature controlled storage, mobile containers and more.
“Our goal is to help and to keep some of the people working that are in our industry because it is being hugely disrupted,” says George P. Johnson CEO Chris Meyer. “Some of our coalition members have already done some work. One of the coalition members helped build out the hospital rooms at Javits [Center in New York]. We are absolutely seeing the outreach and the interest on both sides.”
The coalition has agreed to share best practices with each other on complying with jurisdictional guidelines and translating their expertise for the healthcare industry. The members have also agreed to do all the work at cost during the pandemic.
The live event industry’s pivot is a result of the uncertainty around how long the pandemic will impact the large events and in response to what could be a continued need down the line from government and private agencies working to combat the virus.
“Some of the needs that are being defined for the longer term by organizations like FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) would require structures and facilities in many cities. That would require many agencies to be part of the consortium to solve the need,” Meyer tells Billboard. “Organizations like that are exploring what things they will need down the road.”
While many in the live event industry will pivot their expertise to healthcare until the large gathering bans are lifted, Choura sees the move as a bandaid for a group of professionals that will continue to face issues going forward.
“I think the event industry initially thought this was going to be a way to save their business. I don’t believe that. I think the event industry will never be the same. It couldn’t be,” says Choura. “To say that people are going to gather the same would be like saying you’re going to board an airplane the same after 9-11. We need to start innovating now so we can educate our customers on what coming back is going to look like.”