Live performances becoming a hot ticket in China after Covid-19

Since various performances and live shows resumed at the start of the year, big stars have headed back on the road again and competition for tickets has become fierce.


Pop singer Wu Bai sings at a concert in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on Sept 23. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

November 29, 2023

BEIJING – The concert sector’s reemergence after the epidemic is helping to stimulate economic growth. Wang Xu reports from Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

In May, when Taiwan rock band Mayday announced concerts on the Chinese mainland, some 300,000 tickets completely sold out within a mere five seconds across all booking platforms. That not only illustrated the band’s great popularity but also indicated a high level of demand that highlighted the rebirth of China’s live concert market.

“I refreshed the ticketing website nonstop, but every time I clicked to purchase, it was already sold out,” said Jia Jun, a student at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

Jia added that he had tried every venue where the band was playing, but the results were the same.

He wasn’t the only one who had a hard time getting a ticket. It became a common experience among fans, with topics such as “Mayday ticket frenzy” and “Who got Mayday tickets?” trending for several weeks on social media.

Data from the Damai ticketing site shows that more than 1 million people were interested in attending Mayday’s concerts in Shenzhen. However, the three shows, on July 7, 8 and 9, could only provide a maximum of 144,000 seats, meaning only 14 people out of every 100 who applied would have the opportunity to attend.

Those who couldn’t get tickets found another way to celebrate the return of the band to the tech hub — by singing along in areas outside the open-air stadium.

“I know that there are many fans outside who can’t enjoy the concert with us in the venue. When we performed here last time, we never expected we would have to wait more than 1,000 days to return and meet you again,” said Ashin, Mayday’s lead singer, during one of the Shenzhen concerts. “Let’s be quiet for a second to listen to their (the fans outside) voices.”

COVID-19 delivered a severe blow to China’s live performance industry for the past three years, as large groups of people were strongly discouraged by strict social distancing regulations.

Nearly 9,000 shows were canceled or suspended in the first three months of last year, when the country was affected by the third wave of the outbreak, according to the China Performances Industry Association.

Competition rising

However, since various performances and live shows resumed at the start of the year, big stars have headed back on the road again and competition for tickets has become fierce.

Shenzhen witnessed the largest concert boom in recent years.

“Venues are already fully booked till early next year,” said Zhou Baomin, director of the Culture, Radio, Television, Tourism and Sports Bureau of Nanshan district, where the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center is located. “The concert market has been much better this year.”

In fact, approximately 38 pop music concerts will have been held in the city from March to the end of the year, ranking Shenzhen third among mainland cities, behind Shanghai and Guangzhou, also in Guangdong, which are number one and two respectively.

Considering its proximity to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, which is only a 60-minute drive away, the concert boom in Shenzhen had already solidified the city’s reputation as a thriving music and entertainment hub.

“Everyone’s enthusiasm for attending concerts has been unleashed after three years of COVID-19. Many people who had not planned to watch live concerts are now affected by social media publicity and friends, and have joined the rush to grab tickets,” said Chen Yu, CEO of a booking agency in Hong Kong.

Chen added that as in-person concerts appear to be in strong recovery mode, the “concert economy” has become a buzzword for the culture and tourism industry.

Data from Meituan, one of China’s largest online retail companies, shows that during the Mayday concerts in Shenzhen, sales of alcoholic beverages in the surrounding area doubled from the usual numbers. Beer and wine were the most popular, with sales rising by 120 percent and 167 percent, respectively. Outside the venue, orders for sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and other products rose by 90 percent, while fan sales doubled and sales of Yakult also rose twofold.

The inventory of related products in nearby warehouses sold out two hours before the concert started, and emergency stock replenishment was needed to meet the subsequent demand.

Feng Rao, director of the Mafengwo Tourism Research Institute in Beijing, said that experiencing the local culture, visiting popular attractions and enjoying local cuisine during performance intervals are popular activities among young people, boosting the use of local transportation, accommodations, dining and shopping.

“I have come to Shenzhen for the pop concerts several times this year because of an incredible experience I don’t want to miss,” said Li Xiaolan from Pingtan, Fujian province.

“The city has become a hot spot for concerts, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see my favorite artists perform live. The energy and excitement in the air are palpable, and being surrounded by fellow fans who share the same passion is truly exhilarating.”

Related sectors booming

Lin Jialin, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the economic ripple effect of the concert boom is evident in the retail and hospitality industries. Meanwhile, Shenzhen’s concert economy is attracting tourists from other cities and provinces, further stimulating the growth of the accommodations, transportation and catering businesses.

“Shenzhen, with its rapidly growing population and relatively young demographic, has become a hot spot for concertgoers, and the surge in attendance is not only benefiting the entertainment industry but also having a positive impact on various sectors of the local economy,” Lin said.

She said cities that understand and respond to the needs of young people can gain a comparative advantage in the development of cultural tourism and in the competitive landscape of the new business model of “concerts plus retail”.

“Shenzhen’s concert boom is a testament to its resilience and ability to adapt to changing consumer demand, making it a vibrant and dynamic city in the cultural and entertainment sectors,” she said.

In 2020, when President Xi Jinping met with representatives and experts in education, culture, health and sports at a symposium in Beijing, he said, “We should continue to put social benefits first, unify social benefits with economic benefits, deepen reform of the cultural system, improve planning and policies for the cultural industry, and constantly expand the supply of high-quality cultural products.”

Zhou from Nanshan said Shenzhen’s focus on the cultural and tourism sectors, and its positive approach to meeting the material and cultural needs of its population, has positioned the city as a leading destination for concerts and live events so as to deliver the results for Xi’s requirements.

“By catering to the preferences of young people and continuously expanding the supply of high-quality cultural products, Shenzhen is strengthening its position as an international consumption center city and also driving economic development,” he said.

“We hope the performance market will not only bring direct economic benefits, but also improve the visibility of the city and showcase its favorable business environment to attract more tourists and potential investors.”

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