Concert Business Faces Security Challenges After Manchester Attack
The house lights had just come on when the chaos began. At 10:33 p.m., moments after Ariana Grande finished her final song at the United Kingdom’s Manchester Arena, a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device in the foyer of the 21,000-capacity venue, just as fans were flooding toward the exits. Twenty-two people died, including an 8-year-old girl, and 59 were injured, in what the city’s chief constable, Ian Hopkins, called “the most horrific incident we have had to face in Greater Manchester.”
Grande, who escaped the blast unharmed along with her touring team, wrote on Twitter that she was “broken.” Two days later, the singer’s management canceled her upcoming shows in London, Belgium, Poland, Germany and Switzerland and also suspended the remainder of her Dangerous Woman Tour, which had already grossed $24.5 million in North America over 30 nearly sold-out dates, according to Billboard Boxscore.
The May 22 bombing was the second terrorist attack on a major music venue in a European city in less than two years. On Nov. 13, 2015, terrorists stormed Le Bataclan theater in Paris during an Eagles of Death Metal concert, killing 89 people in an attack that also involved multiple locations around the city.
“Once again, we try to make sense of a senseless act of violence,” wrote Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group chairman/CEO, in a memo to his staff on May 23. (Grande is signed to UMG through Republic; a UMG executive died in the Bataclan attack.) “The fact that such an unspeakable act can be committed at a place where innocent people — including so many young people — come together peacefully to enjoy music reflects a level of evil beyond comprehension.”
For some, the Manchester bombing seemed to hit closer to home than the attack in Paris, or even the June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, perhaps because so many people could imagine themselves or their children in the audience.
Grande, a 23-year-old former Nickelodeon star, appeals to a young demographic, and many attendees in Manchester had been dropped off or accompanied by parents. That reality fueled extensive TV coverage of the tragedy, with networks replaying heartbreaking interviews with parents who came to pick up their children, only to be met with confusion and turmoil. The three major U.S. cable news stations that covered the aftermath of the attack live — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — averaged between 6 million and 7 million viewers between 7 p.m. and midnight EST, according to Nielsen data.
“It’s an isolated incident in another part of the world,” says Steve Kirsner, vp booking at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., which hosted Grande’s March 27 show. “But it’s one of those things that keeps you up at night.”
The Manchester Arena, run by SMG Europe, is the second-highest-grossing venue in the United Kingdom and the fourth-highest in the world, and it is highly regarded within the touring industry. “SMG is a very good company; this isn’t…