Skip to main content

The State of the Live Events Industry with Evolve’s CEO Robert Huskey

The State of the Live Events Industry with Evolve’s CEO Robert Huskey

January 16, 2024
January 16, 2024

COVID-19’s impact on the live event industry is difficult to overstate. 2020 and 2021 left the industry decimated, with some claiming it would never recover. Fortunately, that isn’t what happened.

2022 saw record breaking profits, injecting desperately needed capital and opportunity. 2023 saw a correction, and many now wonder what to expect going forward. Read on to hear what Evolve CEO Robert Huskey says on the lessons of 2023 and the state of the industry going into 2024.

The Impact of the 2022 ‘Gold Rush’

Despite initial pessimism, 2022 was a record setting year. People, it turned out, very much wanted to gather together. Many key factors supported this desire; COVID vaccinations became widely accessible throughout 2021, case counts and hospitalizations dropped measurably, and many companies still had access to significant cashflows.

This, combined with pressure from vendors enforcing ‘use it or lose it’ policies which threatened to keep deposits or nullify long term contracts, led to a large number of companies dedicating resources to quickly produce large events. As Huskey put it, “If you didn’t have your biggest year in 2022 then you didn’t plan accordingly coming out of the pandemic.”

However, this spike must be understood within its context- it was a reaction to a unique set of forces, not a bellwether of what to expect going forward.

Understanding the Lessons of 2023

At first glance, 2023 could be read with deep concern. The industry saw a 10-15% decrease from 2022, while labor costs have climbed upward. But, as with the record-setting profits of the previous year, these need to be understood within the proper context.

The vendor pressures and increased cash reserves coming out of the pandemic had run their course. Recession concerns permeated every industry, causing many to cut non-critical budgets, which often includes live events. Even with these headwinds, the result is that 2023 closely mirrored the spending seen in 2019. As Huskey puts it, “Recession fears are nothing new. They come and go, and you just have to plan for it.”

The increase in labor costs is a thornier challenge. Many operators left the industry during the pandemic, and those who managed to stick around were in a position to negotiate a higher wage for their time, causing an overall day rate increase of as high as 25%. It’s the reality of supply and demand.

Those higher wages will attract new talent to our industry, which will come in at more affordable rates. The same supply and demand that pushed rates upward will reintroduce the stratification based on skill and time.

In the short term, though, the impacts are still very real. Event stagers are more likely to push for local operators over traveling them to save money. Many companies will need to have their technicians perform multiple positions to reduce costs. They’re also giving up money they would normally put towards equipment to cover the cost of labor without inflating their budgets further. This obviously causes a squeeze that can be felt across the industry, but this should only be temporary.

Looking to 2024: What Technology Will be in High Demand?

Rather than a new popular technology, Huskey believes the ability to execute well with existing products is what will drive demand. “It’s a bit tricky to predict because there are only so many things you can do with a video projector, LED wall, or cameras. You can talk resolution, HD to a 4K or 8K show. But at this point, the naked eye can’t really tell the difference between 8K and 4K,” Huskey says.

These days clients want a big visual wow factor, and most companies can accommodate that. The margin comes from being able to do the same things faster, easier, and most important, dependably. This can reduce stress on operators, create stronger relationships with clients, and provide a longer more profitable lifespan for equipment.

Looking to 2024: Strategies for Success in the Live Events Industry

When asked what the live events industry should be doing differently, Huskey says, “I mainly wish that AV event stagers would push back a little more and tell their end clients their 2019 budgets or 2022 budgets are no longer valid due to inflation. I wish they’d recognize what they bring to the table and charge accordingly for it.”

Huskey believes the people who organize, plan, and execute an event should be prioritizing doing 10 high quality shows a year, rather than 100 average shows. The shift this industry needs to see is live event staging companies bidding to win based on their confidence to make a client visualize what you’re able to do – not based on the lowest price.

Key to this, however, is the ability to execute cleanly and consistently. As mentioned previously, long term success is unlikely to be found while focusing on the ‘next big thing’.

When asked about the impact of the election in 2024, Huskey adds, “Election years aren’t record setting in the live events industry. Since no one knows who’s going to win or how it will impact their business, spending gets more conservative.”

Given Evolve’s tenure in the live events space, we’ve seen that every four years there is a slight decrease during an election. Unless you’re doing election events for candidates, a slow down is completely normal.

Looking to 2024: Advice for People Entering the Live Events Industry

If you’re joining the live events industry in 2024, Huskey’s number one piece of advice is to pick a discipline and focus on it.

“If you’re going to do audio, do audio. Get audio gigs that give you learning opportunities. Dedicate time to deepening your understanding of the technology,” Huskey shares.

Consider investing in courses taught by industry experts when you’re ready to upskill. He also encourages newer operators to consider taking gigs that might not pay the best but expose you to different versions or environments to help you build your skillset. The industry is built around professionals. Being exceptional at what you do will help you stand out.

Evolve’s Evolution: Employee Ownership

We are incredibly proud to share that, in partnership with the Evolve Estate, we implemented a stock ownership program in 2023. Evolve employees now own a 49% share of the company, giving them not just a piece of the company’s financial success, but a voice in the company’s future. At Evolve we understand that our success is directly tied to the talent that provides tirelessly for our clients, and we can think of no better way to honor our founder Tyler’s legacy than to entrust our future into those same hands.

“Being able to provide it in its utmost perfect condition and support it with the best technical minds in the industry to back up the technology — that’s what we do at Evolve.”