Sat | Mar 28, 2020

Events companies hurting

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2020 | 12:32 AM
Carnival revellers participate in the Road March in Arpil 2019. Carnival this year has been postponed to about October 2020. Its indicative of the business fallout that events companies have been facing as Jamaica fights the spread of the coronavirus.
Carnival revellers participate in the Road March in Arpil 2019. Carnival this year has been postponed to about October 2020. Its indicative of the business fallout that events companies have been facing as Jamaica fights the spread of the coronavirus.

Production companies that provide lights, stage and sound for major or minor events say they are haemorrhaging cash amid postponements of activities as Jamaicans hunker down to weather the coronavirus.

Three of the key players in the sector, each of which have staked their claim in different segments of the entertainment industry, are Sparkles Entertainment, Spotlight, and listed company Main Event Entertainment Group.

Partner at Spotlight Productions Jodi Shaw says her company has been providing stage, sound, lighting and special effects for the hotel industry for over 20 years, but that everything has come to a full stop.

“For the hotel sector, as it is, there is simply no business coming in; as far as local events and parties are concerned, promoters are unable to get their permits,” Shaw told the Financial Gleaner.

“We think it’s a necessary sacrifice that we all have to make in the interest of our country. Nevertheless it is a hard blow especially for our contractors that work with us, the riggers, technicians, operators and programmers are all affected and it is worse when you consider the socio-economic background of some persons where they have to work to put food on the table,” Shaw said.

Spotlight has about eight permanent staff with another 25 contractors for gigs depending on the type of production.

Nothing to do

The set-up is along the same lines for Sparkles. Managing Director Robert Wong says his 15 permanent staff and 25 contractors have had nothing to do, since the phones stopped ringing two weeks ago.

“It’s zero,” he said of the amount of business coming. “The phone is not ringing and nobody is booking or having events because they know they cannot get a permit,” Wong said.

Shaw notes that the only time her phones ring is when “clients are talking about cancellations.”

The events market was already going through changes before the coronavirus epidemic.

Sparkles’ business has been coming mainly from small to medium-sized events in recent times, according to Wong, due to a loss of sponsorship dollars.

Typically, the company has five to six events to stage on a weekend, he said, adding that any one of those events might bring in anywhere between $300,000 and $2 million, depending on the scope of the production.

For Spotlight, which provides services for at least two hotel chains that Shaw preferred not to name, the company is trying to look past the COVID-19 pandemic and is polishing up its equipment in readiness for when the gigs begin rolling in again.

“Most of our clients are long-standing and we know that when they call to cancel it is not isolated to just us; nor is it anything personal.

We try to work it out in the best interest of maintaining the business further down the line and doing the best we can with this situation,” she said.

During the downtime, core staff is doing maintenance, doing the accounts and preparing for when normal times return.

Abiding by government directives

At Sparkles, Wong says he is abiding by Government directives while being mindful of the welfare of staff, who in some cases have been with his company for more than 20 years.

“In keeping with the guidelines, we have said if you are non-essential staff, then stay at home.

They are all being paid until we can’t afford to go any further, then we take another step.

They didn’t ask for this and we have to stand by them,” Wong said.

Main Event, which as a listed company is careful about its public statements, says there was a lot to digest about unfolding events in his sector.

Otherwise, CEO Solomon Sharpe’s promised comment after discussion with the company’s board did not materialise.

Its last financial year, ending October 2019, was a good one for the company, which grew annual revenue by $400 million to $1.8 billion.

But its costs also grew, leading to just a narrow profit gain, which rose from $$94.6 million to $97.3 million.

Wong is looking forward to later this year. One of the biggest calendar events, Carnival, which usually happens at Easter time, has been pushed back to October.

“ … While there are a lot of cancellations, there are also a lot of postponements and we’re looking towards the time when the authorities give the all-clear signal,” he said.

“We think the latter part of the year is going to be very hectic and we’re gearing for that.”

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com