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NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan on the UK arena business

The Birmingham-based company's ticketing and arenas boss details the sector's mixed fortunes since returning to action last year

By James Hanley on 23 Feb 2022

WMMB board member Guy Dunstan (NEC Group)

Guy Dunstan

NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan says the high rate of no-shows at concerts is continuing to cause uncertainty for the UK’s arena business.

Promoters reported the typical level of no-shows to be around 25-35% – rising up to 50% in extreme cases – when touring first returned from the Covid-19 shutdown last autumn. While numbers have stabilised to nearer 15%, the knock-on effects remain significant.

Dunstan is MD, ticketing and arenas for the Birmingham-based NEC Group, which manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,685-cap Resorts World Arena and 15,800-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, plus national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

“No-shows have been a big issue for us since coming back to business late last summer,” Dunstan tells IQ. “We’ve seen good levels of attendance and minimal no-shows for events that have gone on sale more recently, but we’re seeing a bigger impact on shows that have rescheduled two or three times. It tends to increase the more times the show has been rescheduled, and the longer ago the show was originally scheduled to be.”

Dunstan points out that, pre-pandemic, no-show rates at the venues hovered closer to 5%.

“It was always within that range,” he adds. “But we’re now measuring it on a show-by-show basis and trying to build up as much insight and looking at the trends to see whether it is mainly linked to the shows that have moved dates, rather than to do with customer confidence, because we’ve had shows that have gone on sale since last summer where both the attendance and the level of no-shows have been back to normal levels.

“We’re seeing on average, around about 15% no-shows on rescheduled dates and that has a big impact for venues because our business model’s based on food and beverage spend, merchandise spend, car parking spend… And so 15% of customers not coming into a venue is a significant hit on our expected revenues.

“The level of business is looking good over the next 12 to 18 months”

“We have to be prepared for every ticket holder turning up. We can’t start thinking, ‘We’ll reduce our costs by 15% and reduce our staff by 15%’ because we’ve got to make sure we are geared up for everybody turning up. So it’s a real challenge for us in this current climate, but I think as we start getting through all those rescheduled shows, it will get back to normal levels.”

Utilita Arena has concerts coming up with the likes of Stormzy, Royal Blood, Sam Fender, Dua Lipa, Celine Dion, The Script, Alicia Keys and Billie Eilish, while Resorts World Arena will welcome Stereophonics, Little Mix, Years & Years, Alice Cooper + The Cult, Frankie Valli + The Four Seasons, Pet Shop Boys and Kings of Leon, among others.

“There are shows that are not selling as well as we would expect them to, but others are absolutely flying,” notes Dunstan, a former National Arenas Association chair. “From December into early January, some shows lost momentum in ticket sales because of Omicron. The A-list artists are all selling out and doing really well, but the mid-tier isn’t selling that well, although we have seen some mid-tier artists doing better than they’ve done before, and others not as well. We’re all trying to work out what the level of business is going to be and it’s almost like starting again, because there have been some very strange trends.

“In December, January and even into February we saw a much lower level of on-sales than we would normally see in that period and I think that is because of Omicron. When we got into December, the industry sat tight and waited to see how Omicron was going to play out, so a lot of tour plans were put on hold. But we’re starting to see a lot of shows now planned to go on sale in March, which is encouraging and hopefully starts getting us back on track.”

He concludes: “Like other venues,  we’re doing our budgeting and planning strategy for the next three years and it’s quite a difficult exercise, with so many anomalies being thrown at us. But positively, the level of business is looking good over the next 12 to 18 months so I think the bounce back is going be prolonged as everybody catches up. There are a lot of pencils going in for ’23 and even for ’24 as well, so a lot of promoters and artists are looking longer term in terms of their touring plans because it is going to be very busy over the next couple of years.”


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