Korean boyband BTS announce concert in Saudi Arabia, as human rights groups continue to pressure artists to cancel appearances in the country
Sign up for IQ Index
The latest industry news to your inbox.
Ovesen, formerly based in Dubai, is tasked with turning the historic Saudi capital of Diriyah into "the Middle East's newest and most exciting entertainment destination"
By Jon Chapple on 21 May 2019
Experienced promoter Thomas Ovesen, most recently of AEG Ogden/Dubai Arena, has joined Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) as director of entertainment.
Ovesen (pictured) exited Dubai Arena (now Coca-Cola Arena) in January to return to promoting independently. Prior to joining the Dubai Arena project, he was CEO of Dubai-based promoter 117 Live, after jumping ship from rival outfit Done Events in late 2015.
DGDA, an initiative of the increasingly culturally minded Saudi government, aims to redevelop the ruins at Diriyah – the original home of the house of Saud and starting point of the Saudi state, on the outskirts of the current capital, Riyadh – into an “internationally renowned gathering place with world-class experiences and family friendly entertainment”.
It launched in 2017 and hired its first CEO, hospitality industry veteran Jerry Inzerillo, last July.
Ovesen’s responsibilities at DGDA will involve “conceptualising, organising and executing entertainment activities in line with DGDA’s strategic vision”, according to the authority, “leveraging his international expertise to promote local and international talent.”
“I truly believe he is the best person to lead DGDA’s entertainment programming”
Alongside Inzerillo and the rest of the DGDA team, it is hoped Ovesen’s efforts will transform Diriyah into “the Middle East’s newest and most exciting entertainment destination”.
“Thomas brings a wealth of experience to Saudi Arabia from his decades in the entertainment sector working with some of the biggest names in global entertainment,” comments Inzerillo.
“We worked together on the launch of the Atlantis Hotel Palm Dubai, and I truly believe he is the best person to lead DGDA’s entertainment programming, as he brings to life incredible events that will show visitors from all over the world what Diriyah has to offer.”
After decades of concerts being banned as haram, or sinful, in the conservative Islamic kingdom, Saudi Arabia in 2017 launched Vision 2030, an ambitious initiative, spearheaded by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, to develop a domestic media and entertainment industry.
In September 2017, the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) – the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector – announced a US$2.7 billion fund with which it hopes to attract international partners, and said in February 2018 that Saudi Arabia would host 5,000 shows in 2017, including “some of the biggest names in global music”.
“This is a great time to come to the kingdom as it drives new entertainment programming into the capital”
The GEA’s plans were thrown into disarray in October, with World Wrestling Entertainment and several other Western entertainment companies moving to sever their ties with Saudi Arabia following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
However, relations between the kingdom and the West appear to have since largely stabilised, with incoming US ambassador praising the initiative as “breathtaking” and suggesting Iran “needs a Vision 2030”.
Commenting on his move to Saudi Arabia, Ovesen comments: “This is a great time to come to the kingdom as it drives new entertainment programming into the capital. Entertainment is a key component of the experiences that keep a destination exciting, and in Diriyah we will be developing an offering of activities suitable for the whole family, from ticketed live shows to public outdoor experiences.
“I look forward to being part of Diriyah’s emergence as a global gathering place recognised for pioneering lifestyle, culture and live entertainment.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.