The new beach festival Live is Live in Zeebrugge is the first major performance of FKP Scorpio in our country. The company behind Best Kept Secret wants to conquer up to a quarter of the Belgian concert market. “Live Nation is no longer uncontourable here.”
One scene, no side program, the kitchen with the Dutch best kept secret and the sound of waves crashing in the background. That is the formula for Live Is Live, from Friday to Sunday on the beach in Zeebrugge. Musically, the new summer festival targets a different target group every day. On Friday, the rock bands Wilco, dEUS and headliner The National, age indie heroes, will be programmed. On Saturday, the focus is on fans of Dutch pop such as Bazart, Tourist LeMC or BLØF. On Sunday, British pop band Duran Duran will lure eighties nostalgics to the widest strip of sand at the height of the North Sea.
Live Is Live is the first major test in our country for the originally German concert promoter FKP Scorpio, which is about to enter its tenth European market with Belgium. In July, two shows by British superstar Ed Sheeran will follow at King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels. In the next concert season, there will be around forty shows on the calendar for Belgians and international actors such as Snoop Dogg, Pavement, Fleet Foxes and Eros Ramazzotti. “And it counts,” says Jan Digneffe, who heads the Belgian Scorpion’s office and worked for 15 years as a booking agent for Live Nation Belgium, the Werchter organizer Herman Schueremans’ concert company.
Live Nation does not make it easy for us. It puts pressure on our partners in Belgium not to work with us.
FKP Scorpio Belgium has been around since January 2020, but due to the pandemic it was a matter of grinding teeth until now. “Corona was a frustrating period that the market has not yet recovered from,” says Digneffe. The war in Ukraine and inflation are still making ticket buyers hesitant. He notes this in the pre-sale of Live Is Live. ‘We had aimed higher than where we end up. We are happy if we can set up our festival well and the bands and audience go home with a good feeling. This is an investment story anyway. ‘
First to Sweden
“I’m no different,” says Folkert Koopmans, the Dutch founder of FKP Scorpio. The first part of the company name represents its name. “It happens more often that a first major event in a new market does not turn out well. Sweden was the first country we tried after Germany. We took over a bankrupt festival organizer there. I thought: I want to make it just as successful. It failed. And look: this summer we’re going to have festivals and ten big stadium shows. ‘
The Dutch CEO does not say how much Scorpio’s head office in Hamburg is investing in the new Belgian office. ‘Because it makes no sense. It is always necessary to adjust, especially now, because the market has taken crazy leaps since the corona and Ukraine crisis. Every day we look at what works and what does not work. Large stadium shows are extremely important in our business model, more so than festivals. Such shows provide oxygen for the smaller concerts and festivals. In this calendar year, we are confident in that area with Ed Sheeran. If we do not have a stadium in Belgium for a year, it can get a little harder and we have to adjust. But even then we continue. “
The 58-year-old Dutchman, who was born in France and has lived in Germany almost all his life, founded the FKP Scorpio in 1990 in Hamburg. The descendant of an agricultural family from East Frisia began in the mid – eighties to book bands for a number of music clubs. ‘I’m a music lover who comes from farmers,’ he says with a laugh.
Scorpio quickly made a name for itself in Germany in the 1990s as the organizer of the twin festivals Hurricane and Southside. In addition to being a concert organizer, the company is a permanent booking agent for international rock stars such as Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and The National in most European countries.
Revenue 2019: 250 million euros (of which 100 million in Germany).
Expected revenue: 390 million euros.
Active in ten countries: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland and Belgium.
Shareholders: CST Eventim (50.2%), Folkert Koopmans (44.6%) and Dieter Semmelmann (5.2%)
Most famous festivals: Hurricane and Southside in Germany, best kept secret and Indian Summer in Holland.
Most famous artists: Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, James Blunt, Phoebe Bridgers, The National, George Ezra.
In Germany, Scorpio is as strong as the listed American concert giant Live Nation. Market share is always a bit of a guesswork in the concert industry. ‘It can be assumed that we control about a third of the market in Germany,’ says the Dutchman. Over the past ten years, foreign expansion has taken place via Scandinavia. After northern Europe, Scorpio came to Holland about ten years ago. The concert company is the driving force behind Indian Summer and the very popular best kept secret among Belgians. What was the deciding factor in coming to Belgium? Koopmans: ‘Due to the large monopoly of Live Nations, more and more organizers in Belgium wanted to work with another major player. The first contacts with Jan showed that we share the same vision. ‘
America vs Europe
Digneffe: ‘I feel a more personal, European mentality at Scorpio. How do you want to do business? How do you relate to artists? How do you handle your ticket buyers, how do you communicate with them? How do you build careers for bands? It’s partly about humanity and ethics. Live Nation Belgium comes from a number of Belgian promoters led by Herman Schueremans. In recent years, I have increasingly felt the hand of the U.S. headquarters. I feel much more comfortable with this way of working. When I talk to my colleagues in Germany or the Netherlands, we are much faster on the same wavelength. ‘
Koopmans: ‘The big difference is that we are event driven and not stock driven† Their main motivation is to make shareholders happy. I’m not saying we are not preoccupied with market share, but the concert or festival comes first for us. As a shareholder, I am satisfied if the audience and artists are too. ‘
At the same time, Scorpio wants to play a significant role in the Belgian concert landscape. ‘We do not have to be the biggest, but 20 to 25 percent of the market can be the ambition,’ says Koopmans. “Based on the growth of our other markets, I can not see why it should be impossible. Every year we get a little bigger everywhere. Nowhere does it happen by itself. It usually takes several years. Two years in one country, seven or ten in others. ‘
‘Helping the Dutch at Belgian festivals’
FKP Scorpio is struggling with a shortage of staff at its festivals and major tours. “Many good people have gone permanently because after almost two years without income, they realized that a nine-to-five job is better for the balance between work and private life than tearing down a stage in the middle of the night,” says Jan Digneffe. Director of Belgium. ‘Our Dutch office is of gold value in that area: a phone call and everyone is ready.’
Founder Folkert Koopmans: ‘It’s a shame, but fortunately most artists understand that it’s not the promoter’s fault. We have to bite at the head of the whole sector. In Munich, we had too little crew for the Rolling Stones to set up and tear down. How do you solve it? Transfer, but it does not always help either ‘.
‘I am aware that it will be a tough task. Live Nation is much stronger for you than in the other European countries where Scorpio is active. On top of that, they do not make it easy for us by putting pressure on our partners not to work with us. For example, by refusing our bands at their festivals, or forcing concert halls not to program Scorpio bands – otherwise they will not be able to get artists from them next time. From a business and competitive point of view, I can understand that. But what does that mean for the public? Scorpio places Live Nation acts at its festivals across Europe. ‘
For Live Is Live, Scorpio avoided that rock by getting bands like The National, Wilco and dEUS from foreign agents. It’s unusual. Almost all foreign artists with a bit of fame are bought in our country through Live Nation Belgium’s booking office. “It can certainly be different,” Digneffe says. ‘Live Nation is no longer uncontourable in our country.’
Live Is Live, from 17 to 19 June on the beach in Zeebrugge. Info and tickets liveislive.be