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Israel’s Concert Business Stops for War. What Comes After?

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In the wake of the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history, as well as the prospect of a deadly, drawn-out war against Hamas in Gaza, the country’s fast-growing concert business has hardly been at the top of anyone’s mind.

So far, the only big show to be cancelled was the sold-out Bruno Mars concert scheduled for Oct. 7 in Tel Aviv. But concerts and festivals now face a pause as Israel mourns its dead, including the more than 250 people who died at the Supernova Sukkot festival in the Oct. 7 attack. For however long the war in Gaza takes, it is unlikely that many major international acts will play Tel Aviv out of security concerns, worries about the optics of taking a side on a controversial issue, and the fact that so many potential concertgoers will be fighting or working in the military. However, the country’s entertainment market is expected to make a quick recovery once hostilities end thanks to companies like Bluestone Entertainment, which has made considerable progress modernizing Israel’s concert industry over the past six years.

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Up until the Oct. 7 attack, security issues didn’t even make the top five challenges facing the Israeli concert business, sources tell Billboard. Bigger issues include a lack of touring infrastructure, geographic isolation, routing difficulties, limits on potential artist earnings and the Boycott Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement that pushes artists not to play in the Jewish state.

Until 2017, the only modern ticketing platform in Israel was the German company CTS Eventim, which dominates Europe but isn’t as well known to U.S. touring artists and managers. Israel also lacks a major venue for large acts, meaning most touring artists have to rely on 5,000-7,000 capacity amphitheaters — which can make it difficult to make money due to the high travel costs required to visit the country. Travel also complicates logistics, since it’s easy to fly into Israel but, until 2020, it was hard to fly on from there. Since then, flights have been added to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the next major concert market, as well as an international flight hub.

The 2014 formation of Bluestone Entertainment, as well as its 2017 purchase by Live Nation, modernized the country’s touring infrastructure and earned it a stamp of approval from the concert giant as one of 29 markets where Live Nation maintains offices and on-the-ground staff. Leading the company today is CEO Guy Besar, a 46-year-old native of Israel’s Rishon Lezion who got his start working at student events for the city’s College of Management Academic Studies, along with co-founders Shay Mor Yosef and Gadi Veinrib. Music manager Guy Oseary, whose clients include Madonna and, until recently, U2, is the fourth co-founder of Bluestone.

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Bluestone has been successful in pushing back against BDS activist groups like the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and artists like Roger Waters, who convinced Elvis Costello, Devendra Banhart and Gorillaz to cancel planned visits to the country in 2010. Oseary has worked with artist managers to develop a communications and messaging strategy before announcing shows in the country.

Bluestone also played a key role in bringing Ticketmaster to Israel as part of its 2017 joint venture with Live Nation and has focused its efforts on modernizing and bringing shows to HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv, an urban park and summer concert destination that can host concerts for up to 70,000 attendees per night. That led to a $6.7 million gross for Guns N’ Roses‘ June 5 concert at HaYarkon, $6.6 million for Imagine Dragons on Aug. 29 and a whopping $11.7 million for two Maroon 5 concerts in May 2022.

Those seven-and-eight-figure grosses have helped offset the expenses associated with performing in Israel, while a 2020 agreement with the UAE and Bahrain known as the Abraham Accords has led to the normalization of relations between the three countries. The treaty, negotiated by the Trump administration, also allows air travel between the three countries via Saudi Arabian airspace. That means that once in the UAE, touring shows can easily fly to markets like Malaysia, Singapore and much of Southeast Asia.

Bluestone was reportedly on track to generate $75 million in 2023, a number that will likely drop following the cancellation of Mars’ Oct. 7 concert. But it will likely still be up nearly 50% percent from 2022 when the company brought in $46 million. As for the security threat that caused the cancellation, sources say that despite the surprising nature of the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel deploys significant resources to securing events and large crowds and note that concert promoters in the country feel extremely confident in their ability to secure A-list artists and visitors for concerts.

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