Nikki McNeill's music PR agency, whose roster includes Sziget, Lowlands, ADE and Exit, celebrates a decade in 2017
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After overseeing redevelopments, multiple naming deals and countless events, the NEC Group Arenas managing director tells IQ what he's learned after a decade at the top
By IQ on 08 Dec 2017
Phil Mead’s first memorable gig experience was witnessing Bob Dylan play at the then-NEC Arena in Birmingham. Fast forward 36 years, and he’s recently celebrated ten years as MD of arenas for the NEC Group.
Having transformed the business in his time with the group, Mead has overseen two redevelopments, multiple naming rights partners, and has seen new attractions built and hosted countless events, paving the way for NEC Group’s arenas to become premier destinations on touring routes. We caught up with the man himself to discover what he’s learned during a decade at the top…
1. It’s a team effort
The first lesson was learnt well before Mead arrived at the NEC, in his first venue job at a 1,500-seat entertainment and sports centre, where he quickly realised one of the most important components of arena management. “Everyone, from the rigger, the stage builder and the steward to the event manager, the marketer and the box office assistant, are all equally important, and only when working in harmony can great events be delivered. Moreover, those on the front line generally have better ideas to improve the offer than you – so listen!”
2 & 3. When you see a market opportunity, verify it with consumer research – and seize it
Shortly after joining NEC Group, Mead saw an opportunity to transform the venue box office into a national ticket agency predicated on a market entry that took venue box-office customer service levels into the agency business. Market research through consumer focus groups not only validated this premise, but they also came up with the name The Ticket Factory.
“Out of the eight names put forward to the focus groups my preferred choice came seventh! The Ticket Factory was the clear favourite by all the focus groups, so there is lesson three: you may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned.” The Ticket Factory was launched just nine months after Mead’s arrival at NEC Group.
“You may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned”
4. Take advantage of new business models
After ticketing, the next big step was to recognise that despite a strong market position, the NEC Arena needed a transformation to enhance the customer experience beyond the show itself.
“Local authority funding of the scale required based on economic or cultural benefit alone was no longer the order of the day as the public purse tightened. Neither was it viable to increase venue rentals for promoters to such an extent that £29 million could be paid back. We therefore turned to a combination of the sponsorship market (as this took a step change after O2’s deal with the Dome in London), plus faith in enhanced revenues from food and beverage and hospitality if the right quality offer was presented.” Both paid off, and in 2009, the LG Arena (now Genting Arena) was born, with every aspect of the venue seriously improved.
The same philosophy was applied to create the Barclaycard Arena where £26m of funding was a viable investment to be paid back from improved profitability primarily from retail catering, hospitality and sponsorship. Mead believes that not only do you have to look towards new business models to raise funding, but also have faith that the quality of offer will drive revenues well beyond previous arena spend per head.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74: