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Middle East calling

Numerous challenges last year led to soft ticket sales in the Gulf countries, but there’s a well of untapped potential out there, says Dubai Arena's Thomas Ovesen

05 Apr 2018

Thomas Ovesen, AEG Ogden

Twenty-seventeen proved to be a challenging year, with most Gulf state (GCC) economies hit by a lower-than-anticipated oil price. Dwindling government-underwritten construction and infrastructure projects led to lay-offs for many expats, a softening of the consumer market and, eventually, a weak entertainment ticket market.

VAT (5% initially) being introduced in some GCC markets from the beginning of this year also put a dampener on the “festivities” that should have been our 2017 live entertainment business.

But, out at the 25,000-capacity Autism Rocks Arena on the outskirts of Dubai, 117Live had an owner spend a significant amount of money building the open-air venue, staging shows with the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Bryan Adams, Bebe Rexha, Justin Bieber, Gorillaz, Stormzy, Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran and Elton John. However, it was decided not to serve alcohol on-site, removing not only something local audiences expect, but an element crucial for event feasibility.

Across the city, the long-running Dubai International Jazz Festival and now regular RedFestDXB events ran, but had challenging ticket sales.

F&B has become the current main revenue stream for the industry

The strong brunch business in town meant several club venues were able to upgrade capacity and service, becoming either all-day beach and pool clubs, or – as is the case with White and Base – localised 1,500–2,000-capacity ‘superclubs’ with artist budgets way beyond what similar bookings would warrant for conventional concert promotions.

F&B has certainly become the current main revenue stream for the industry, at least concerning the 21+ punters – easily on a par with, if not exceeding, that of admission and ticket sales.

But it’s not all bling and bottle service. Dubai Opera in only its second year of existence continues to roll out an impressive roster of own promotions, defying the soft ticket market. This leaves few weekend nights available for third-party bookings and challenges local promoters and even wannabe promoters to step-up and put on their own shows in the limited number of relevant, local venues.

Here at the Dubai Arena, we have taken note of the soft market but, inspired by the likes of Dubai Opera, the up-for-a-fight club scene and a few tenacious local promoters, we are taking a strategic approach to promoting our own events when we open in 2019.

Additionally, and in parallel, we want to use the amazing arena facility and its many configuration options to help bring down the current prohibitive cost of show productions and promotions.

We have a huge untapped market catering for specific audience segments beyond Westerners

We also need to programme for the growing number of residents and inbound tourists expected in the years leading up to the Dubai-hosted Expo2020. Smart programming and event curation will be key to growing the regional live events business over the coming years.

Compared with other markets there is still a low volume of locally grown and based stars, performers and produced shows to promote, or of a quality permitting us to consider taking them on. However, we have a huge untapped market catering for specific audience segments beyond the Westerners who already have a very attractive annual line-up of top-level performers and shows visiting the region. From K-pop and French-language music to esports, gaming events, comedy, UFC, WWE, interactive exhibitions, and new ‘con’-style events covering pop culture, comics, beauty, fashion, fitness, health and food, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of what can be promoted here.

Such events will also form part of what we hope to see at the new Dubai Arena, as well as rolled out across the regional markets in the upcoming seasons.

We haven’t even started on sports and associated event formats. Watch this space as we head towards finally becoming an ’emerged’ market.


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