The changing “business” of mega festivals

Evenko/Groupe CH’s reaction to the unveiling of the Parc Jean-Drapeau Master Plan is predictable and in itself illustrates some of the issues associated with the event industry. Most of these issues were present before the pandemic and have been better documented by international research. The pandemic only exacerbated them and added a layer of urgency. It is important to keep this in mind to fully understand the situation.

Posted on Apr 25, 2021

Julie Belanger

Julie Belanger
The author has over 20 years of professional experience in the event and cultural sector*

Since the early 2000s, mega events have grown exponentially across the planet. Coachella, EDC, Summerfest, Rock in Rio, Glastonbury, Electric Zoo, Burning Man, etc. In Montreal, our mega event is Osheaga. They offer the advantage of all in one: hundreds of artists gathered in one place, a ton of shows in a few days with a single ticket and a branding strong.

If, from 2000 to 2015, the industry saw an extraordinary proliferation of major events across the planet, it has since consolidated. In 2018, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) sounded the alarm in Britain by pointing out that Live Nation owns more than 25% of all major festivals in the UK. Quebec has also experienced a wave of integration. Moreover, since 2019, Live Nation has become a 49% shareholder in the CH Group entity, combining the activities of evenko and Spectra. At the time of the announcement, François Legault’s government said it was “concerned” with this transaction.

In Montreal, this merger has been extremely important since 2016. For example, Groupe CH, through its various entities, now owns Osheaga, the Just for Laughs Festival, the Francos de Montréal, the Festival international de jazz de Montréal, Zoofest, îleSoniq, Heavy Mtl, Mondial des Jeux, Montréal en lumière, Lasso and others, without forgetting the Montreal Canadiens, of course. All of these major events in Quebec are grouped together within one organization, the Regroupement of major international events (RÉMI). Of RÉMI’s 31 members, 15 events take place in Montreal and of these 15 Montreal members, Groupe CH owns five events/organizations, or 33% of Montreal’s membership. One might wonder about the impact of such concentration on the cultural environment.


View of Espace 67 at Parc Jean-Drapeau, which aims to accommodate a large number of festival spectators

Around the world, mega festivals seem to have reached their peak and some have dropped since 2018, mainly due to the significant growth of their costs and the standardization of their programming. There is now a new trend in international events: small independent events that offer a more appropriate experience, more specialized programming and allow festival attendees to have a particular intimacy with the artists. Small intimate events allow festival travelers to live a unique experience in an unusual place, a moment that cannot be reproduced on a large scale. Even Osheaga was no exception when the organization announced this week the desire to have six stages in total and not a massive event space.

In other words, three years after its construction, the new “Espace 67” no longer meets the event needs of the event and the CH Group.

It would certainly be tempting, over the next few years, to point out the pandemic or a new master plan at Parc Jean-Drapeau to try to explain the decline in popularity of some mega events, but it’s important to remember that industry events are always and is constantly in constant evolution, and a more intimate experience in areas with strong symbolism can be an undeniable advantage. Almost 16 years ago, Osheaga was gone. Things are changing, changing, as are the tastes of celebrations from here and elsewhere. This is the evolution and the desire of Montrealers to reclaim their green spaces, build sustainable and accessible infrastructure that reflects the very thoughtful 2020-2030 master plan for Parc Jean-Drapeau.

* Julie Bélanger currently holds the position of chief of staff to the mayor of the Sud-Ouest borough and president of the executive committee. He writes this text in a personal capacity.

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