At each of the shows on his current North American tour, K-pop artist Eric Nam shakes hands, hugs and poses for photos with up to 200 fans who have purchased meet-and-greet packages. But as fears of the coronavirus outbreak continue to mount, he’s now implementing a strict “no-touching” rule — for his own safety, as well as that of his fans.
“Obviously, there is a lot of concern,” says his manager and brother, Eddie Nam of EN Management. “But we didn’t want to take away the entire experience. So now, people are taking photos in front of him.”
With the global count of confirmed coronavirus cases now soaring past 125,000, according to the World Health Organization, dozens of artists have canceled tour dates in an effort to reduce contagion. This afternoon (March 12), Billboard reported that Live Nation and AEG are preparing to pause all tours globally. But artists who are soldiering on face another problem: How to safely approach fan interactions.
Meet-and-greets have become an increasingly prevalent option for touring acts as artists, agents and managers continue to grapple with how to price tickets and VIP experiences for fans. But now, many acts are calling off meet-and-greets altogether. KISS, for one, temporarily canceled the practice on the band’s multi-year End of the Road farewell tour, with tentative plans to resume those interactions on April 24 in San Salvador.
At its tour dates in Nottingham, England, and Cardiff, Wales, this week, The Script begged fans not to wait for them outside the venue. “Venue security are telling us we can’t go outside due to the Corona virus [sic],” band members wrote on Twitter. “Please don’t stay in the cold, we’ll see U all again soon.”
And on March 4, Universal Music Group Germany canceled a Niall Horan fan meet-and-greet in Cologne two days before it was to happen. “Unfortunately, the event was canceled due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus,” reads an email (translated to English) that the label sent attendees, who had won their tickets through a competition, on March 2.
“The saddest thing about it is that one day after our meet-and-greet was supposed to happen, there was still a secret session in London with Niall which wasn’t canceled,” German fan Aylin Scheussler, who was supposed to attend, told Billboard in a Twitter message. “I have been a fan since [I was] nine years [old], so you can imagine how heartbreaking it is.”
Depending on whether ticket holders are entitled to refunds, artists who cancel meet-and-greets might be forfeiting a hefty chunk of their touring income. KISS refunded all canceled meet-and-greet tickets purchased from their official website, a customer service representative confirmed — that’s $4,000 a pop for the highest VIP tier, which included a private backstage meet-and-greet after watching the whole show from the pit.
And things get even more expensive on the secondary market. A VIP package for Lady Gaga’s Enigma Las Vegas residency in April, which includes a meet-and-greet and personal photo with the star, is going for $6,600 per person on StubHub. And tickets to meet “a member of” Mötley Crüe while at the band’s Philadelphia show in August cost $6,000 each on StubHub.
Want to snap a photo with Justin Bieber while attending his Changes Tour date in Salt Lake City in June? Single tickets are slightly more affordable, starting at $1,499 on Ticketmaster. The highest-tier meet-and-greet package for Billie Eilish’s April date at Los Angeles’ The Forum costs $3,502 per ticket on Ticketmaster.
Eddie Nam says that his brother is offering full refunds for any fans who feel uncomfortable attending the concert due to the threat of the coronavirus: “He wants fans to be safe.” The refund offer extends to meet-and-greet ticket-holders, who ponied up $150 each to take one photo with Eric in addition to gaining general admission entrance to the show.
And while Eric has yet to cancel a gig on his 30-date tour in North America and Latin America due to coronavirus, Eddie says the team is prepared to do so pending advice from promoters, venues and local officials. “It’s never really ‘this show must go on,’ like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street,” he says. “We’re monitoring and making sure, ‘Are we good?’”
Coronavirus is impacting meet-and-greets across industries, too. WWE is reportedly implementing a “no-touching” policy at all its fan meet-and-greet events with wrestlers, and wrestling stars like Sasha Banks and the boxer Floyd Mayweather have been pictured greeting fans in latex gloves. Earlier this month, the National College Players Association urged all colleges and the N.C.A.A. to cancel events that put players in close contact with the public, including, of course, meet-and-greets.
Despite a spate of tour, festival and conference cancellations, though, at least some artists are still meeting face-to-face with fans on the road. Prince Royce’s ALTER EGO Tour continues on to The Forum in Inglewood, California, Thursday night, where fans with VIP packages will meet the Dominican star backstage for a photo, party and toast before the show.
And Highly Suspect frontman Johnny Stevens says the rock band is doing everything it can to keep meeting fans while touring the U.K.
“We are here for the fans, to provide distraction from fear,” he says. “I enjoy going right into the middle of the audience and embracing our fans. If we let fear win, then we have already died. Wash your hands and come play.”