It will likely be next year before bigger concerts, touring acts and shows return to Brandon.
Talent agencies in conversation with Keystone Centre general manager Jeff Schumacher have indicated that’s how long the pause in touring will be.
“On that call, they’re talking about not even looking until the spring, unless there’s some major change and you start to see a lot more reopenings,” Schumacher said. “Even if you’re looking at the bigger family shows, the entire concert world, everyone’s very skittish right now. … Everybody’s wondering when is going to be the time to take the risk of putting together even a small tour.”
The best-case scenario, he added, is that short tours might resume by late winter, and musicians will play smaller venues than they typically would.
Schumacher said no one really wants to be the first tour to try things out in a post-COVID world and have something go wrong. It will be likely that venues driving performers’ returning to the road rather than the performers or agents.
As the Sun reported earlier this month, the venue is expecting a loss of approximately $2.1 million from event cancellations connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Keystone Centre will be asking the city and the province for financial help in the future.
“We didn’t feel it was right to really push too hard to have conversations with any government entity at the moment because they’ve been dealing with the pandemic,” Schumacher said about not having discussed finances in-depth with governments yet. “It’s not really the time to say ‘Hey, you need to focus on the Keystone Centre at this moment’ when you’re worried about what is the backup plan for temporary hospitals.”
Also speaking to the Sun on Thursday, Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium board chair and city councillor (University) Shaun Cameron said the facility is estimating a six-figure loss related to the pandemic.
Cameron said the auditorium is part of a larger group of venues currently talking with the federal government about financial assistance.
“The WMCA as an entity itself is going to have to have discussions with all three levels of government to hopefully come back in a better place and host shows again once we’re post-COVID.”
When asked if the loss could be fatal to the facility, Cameron said the WMCA has done everything it can to save costs since the pandemic started and said the community would be worse off without entities like it.
“We’re going to be very proactive in making sure we’re part of any recovery phase and be able to bounce back stronger than before.”
While Phase 2 of Manitoba’s reopening plan allows for some team sports to resume, Schumacher said those facilities at the Keystone Centre will remain closed for the summer. He also said sports such as minor hockey and curling are typically run at a loss for the venue.
With larger concerts on hold, the Keystone Centre might be able to bring smaller-scale events such as Wheat Kings games back in the fall. However, attendance will likely be constrained by physical distancing between patrons. Schumacher believes World Wrestling Entertainment might be one of the first organizations to start touring again.
Part of Phase 2 is allowing larger indoor gathering sizes up to a maximum of 50 people, but that’s not a lot for a facility that can host 3,000 people for a concert or up to 5,000 people for a Wheat Kings game. Lower attendance at events will also mean taking a hit in concessions sales.
“When we see these small bumps in group sizes, it’s really, obviously, not going to do much for us other than give us a nice feeling that things are moving along,” Schumacher said.
In North Carolina, the governor issued an exemption on group sizes for graduations, allowing venues to open for ceremonies, he said. A venue there has been working out safe practices for allowing in guests for these ceremonies in groups of 2,000 in a 7,000-seat venue as a sort of test case to prove that it can be done safely.
Measures being tested in North Carolina include only seating people in every third seat, restricting what entrances people can come inside through, limiting what bathrooms are open, not selling food and drinks and taking patrons’ temperatures before they enter.
That venue has staff using backpack sanitizer sprayers, Schumacher said, who walk around twice a day to sanitize everything. He said the Keystone has ordered some of these for itself.
In the meantime, the Keystone Centre might start hosting more outdoor events after a large concrete slab is installed on the grounds.