In the ever-changing landscape of life in the time of COVID-19, Michael Strickland, chair and founder of Bandit Lites, has been on the front lines working hard to make sure our industry survives as best as possible. He has been working tirelessly, listening to people who are struggling, working directly with politicians, and wants to do all he can to help companies and individuals stay afloat and stay in the entertainment design and technology arena. Live Design talks with Strickland on his recent activities to help the industry-at-large.
Live Design: Can you tell us about all the various hats you are wearing these days?
Michael Strickland: My current focus is four-fold: Make sure leaders know we exist and will not be at work for six to 14 weeks; I am pushing for another 16-28 weeks of PPP for our industry; I am pushing to extend the original eight-week PPP window to 12 weeks; I am pushing to move the 75% of PPP to 50% being spent on payroll.
I also am now pushing the need for COVID Liability Exemption. This is on the forefront of a huge number of people’s conversation, but it has, as we know, become a political football. I am also pushing for additional funding of three more tranches of PPP (additional money).
Getting this additional funding must be job one for all of us in Live Entertainment. At this point, the odds are long, but we must try. The letter I sent out for people to send to the congresspeople and senators is hitting them in the thousands now, and it is making a difference.
Most people in Live Entertainment are running out of money now, with no real significant income on the horizon for at least another eight weeks.
I have shifted to 14 hour plus days of doing just this, talking and communicating. I am gathering people, ideas and concepts. I work daily with the political leaders to establish our position and our needs as an industry. I am great friends with senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn as well as congressman Trey Hollingsworth. I also know congressman Hal Rogers. I work daily with them on all the legislation as a voice for live entertainment. I have their cell phones and communicate directly, no staffer. The challenge is that virtually every industry in the world feels the same way. I do believe we sit alone with the “all or nothing” proposition for return to work. We must have large crowds to work. None of us can survive in a muted fashion.
I will spend the next week getting today’s message out. Then, I move to a “we must open now” message. That is, of course, if the medical condition is correct. This must be done safely, and under the correct conditions, but we must reopen as long as the virus tracks downward.
I am in daily contact with NFL, NCAA, NASCAR, Live Nation, and AEG people. Everyone is planning and hoping to live and work with crowds by the fall. They also have no crowd plans. Jimmy Haslam, the Cleveland Browns owner, is a good friend. Bruton Smith, owner of eight NASCAR tracks is a good friend. I grew up in college sports and know large numbers of people in that world and we work with Live Nation and AEG regularly. Thus, I have a wide knowledge of what they are all thinking.
So, with my medical, political and business contacts, I am very well informed. My goal is to spend every day communicating and learning, in order to assist our industry to get to work as soon as safely possible. The fact they don’t even know we are here must first be overcome. From there, we move to safe opening, as soon as is possible. We must all, alone and as a unit, and push this messaging for the next eight weeks at a minimum.
LD: What has been happening at Bandit since the industry closed down?
MS: Bandit has kept 100% of our staff on at full pay and benefits. The Knoxville operation never stopped delivering goods and service for installations around the world. The sales team, led by Chris Barbee, has remained at 100%. The other offices were all shuttered for four to six weeks, but everyone was fully paid. We worked in Knoxville and Nashville on new construction and expansion. Nashville saw us deliver a new Technical Services Division facility as well as a new block of offices for the Nashville sales team. The live show team returned to work and began cleaning and repairing everything that we own. Slowly, many small one-offs began to occur, and these continue. Roth Edwards, Jake Tickle, and Mark Steinwachs led the Nashville construction projects. Bandit implemented all of the proper and necessary protocols to insure the staff is 100% healthy and safe. Everyone is checked each morning to assure no infection. Every evening all people are sent an e-mail check list that reminds them to check themselves and assure they are safe to return to work. To date, not one Bandit staff or a family member has been diagnosed with COVID-19. We are fully engaged in all offices delivering sales, one offs, prepping a few tours and doing maintenance.
LD: Where can people turn for financial help?
MS: The SBA still has over 100 Billion for PPP Loans. Freelance people can access PPP as well. The SBA also has EIDL Loans available. There are countless other alternatives one can find through Google!
LD: What does the future hold? How has this been a game-changer for the industry?
MS: As I stated previously, I believe our industry will have a very clear picture June 30. There will be either a large ill population, or there will not. If the population is not wildly infected after all of the social unrest and protesting, most will probably believe it is safe to have large crowds at events. If there are mass infections, we are probably pushed off months before we can have crowds. I believe that Disney, Universal, and other large theme parks have spent millions of dollars and consulted the wisest minds in the world prior to opening. They will all be open in late June, early July. I feel that is a very good indicator for live events, as I do not believe those entities would open if they had information and data telling them it might not be safe. From wearing my medical hat, and talking daily to people in that world, I do believe we will be in a place to safely reopen slowly in July. It all depends on where the virus is June 30.
This has been a huge game-changer for our industry as no one could have imagined something that would have taken us to zero income in 24 hours. A viral pandemic is just that. The gas shortage, 9/11, the 2008 market crash and so many other things slowed us, but did not stop us. This stopped us.
Forward looking, the US and indeed most places on earth are now aware and better prepared to face another infection situation. We are most likely 50 to 70% where we need to be now to face this type event again. We came from almost zero % prepared to where we are. In order to safely reopen we must overcome four conditions: The Economic, Social, Medical, and Political. The Economic condition demands we open now. The social condition is more than 50% open now. The medical condition is improving daily, but school is still out on that. The political condition is varied from local to local. South Dakota is wide open, and New Your City is shut down. Everyone else is in between. Until we arrive at a political consensus, opening will be hard. For Live Entertainment to flourish and survive, we simply must have large crowds. When we can do that is and will be the $64,000 question!