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The O2’s Steve Sayer on arena’s ‘fantastic’ return

The London venue's VP and GM tells IQ the complex is back on track for a stellar 2022/23 after briefly closing due to storm damage

By James Hanley on 02 Mar 2022

ILMC speaker spotlight: Steve Sayer, the O2 Arena (venues)

Steve Sayer

The O2’s Steve Sayer is tipping 2023 to be an even bigger year for live music as the business edges back towards normality following the Covid shutdown.

The 20,000-cap, AEG-operated London venue, which hosted the UK’s annual BRIT Awards on 8 February, reopened last Friday with a concert by UB40 featuring Ali Campbell after being closed for a week due to damage caused by Storm Eunice.

And despite the industry enduring a slightly slow start to Q1 due to the spread of the Omicron variant, the arena’s VP and GM tells IQ it is now all systems go.

“The BRITs was really the kickstart for us at The O2,” says Sayer, who succeeded John Langford in the role in 2018. “A week or so later, we were naturally concerned about whether the impact [of the storm damage] was going to go on longer than we thought, but it’s just getting busier and busier from here on in.

“We’re getting back to what The O2 has done for many years, which is six or seven shows a week, back-to-back, for the next few weeks. Dave doing two shows this week has been fantastic – a London artist coming through and headlining his first two shows at The O2 was a major milestone – but we’ve got many more to come.”

Superstar artists set to play the venue in the coming months include Stormzy, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Queen + Adam Lambert and Alicia Keys, while Justin Bieber, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and Shawn Mendes are already announced for next year.

“A lot of rescheduled events from the last couple of years have dropped into this year, but we’ve got new shows getting announced all the time and Q4 looks strong,” says Sayer. “It’s been difficult getting dates, not just at The O2, but across the board, and we’ve also got a lot of content already lined up for 2023.

“I think 2023 is probably going to be a bigger year than 2022. We all thought that ’22 would be the record year and the recovery year, and I still think it’ll be a really strong year in terms of the event count and the calibre of the artists playing. But hopefully, from here on in, we’re looking at 18 to 24 months of really strong, bumper content.”

On 18 February, an estimated 1,000 people were evacuated from the Greenwich complex, which also boasts the Up at The O2 attraction, the Icon Outlet shopping centre, a cinema and the 2,800-cap Indigo at The O2, after one of the worst storms to hit the UK in decades ripped a hole in the venue’s iconic roof.

Two shows by Dave set for 21-22 February were rescheduled for the following week but, despite initial concerns, all other gigs in the main arena have been able to proceed as planned.

“We’re in the events business and the one thing we’re great at is keeping the show on the road”

“It was a huge relief to be back up and running after various lockdowns and the impact of that on the arena for the best part of two years,” reflects Sayer. “So to then get the call that part of the tent had torn in the wind wasn’t the best news to get on a Friday,” says Sayer. “At that point, we really didn’t know how long it was going to take, but it was a monumental team effort.

“We had to move on our feet for the first 24 to 36 hours to really understand what it was we were dealing with. But by the Sunday, we were confident that we would be at least partially open within a week if we could create a safe passage for fans using Entrance H, because it was around that area where the roof has been damaged.”

He continues: “We brought in a number of construction experts and structural engineer expertise right away and worked to make the site safe and get back open within just under a week, which was an incredible achievement and a massive tonic for us all.

“There was always going to be speculation that it could be longer and we took a lot of calls from a number of very worried promoters and agents asking, ‘What’s happening with our show? Can you confirm it’s definitely going ahead?’ And we were able to reassure all of those clients quite quickly that it wouldn’t be a long closure, because the arena hasn’t been impacted at all, we just needed to create that safe passage. Fans coming to the Dave shows on Monday and Tuesday experienced that for the first time and it worked pretty well.

“We got a lot of messages of support from across the industry – and some practical support from Dave’s team, who actually had to move two other shows to accommodate moving the two shows at The O2, so I’d like to place on record my thanks to everybody involved in that.”

Other upcoming events over the next couple of weeks include Simply Red (2-3 March), The Lumineers (4 March), Davido (5 March) and the return of the Country to Country festival (11-13 March).

“Fundamentally, we’re in the events business and the one thing we’re great at is keeping the show on the road,” adds Sayer. “After the past couple of years, it was imperative that we did that and everybody at The O2 pulled together to make happen.”


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