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NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan’s 2023 arenas forecast

The Birmingham-based group's ticketing and arenas MD reflects on the past 12 months for the sector and shares his thoughts for the year ahead

By James Hanley on 29 Nov 2022

WMMB board member Guy Dunstan (NEC Group)

Guy Dunstan

NEC Group’s ticketing and arenas MD Guy Dunstan has reflected on the past 12 months for the business and offered his forecast for the year ahead in a new interview with IQ.

Birmingham-based NEC Group manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,700-cap Resorts World Arena and 16,118-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, as well as national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

The arenas have welcomed acts including Kasabian, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, N-Dubz, Kaiser Chiefs, Nightwish and Evanescence this month alone, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Olly Murs, Blink 182, Michael Bublé, Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Paramore lined up for 2023.

Overall, however, Dunstan describes the arena sector’s first full year since returning from the pandemic as “decent” rather than “stellar”, and expects 2023 to provide a similar story.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years”

“When we get to November, you have a good feel for how things are going to look next year and – in terms of what we’ve got confirmed, on sale and pencilled – I’m hoping we’re going to be where we’ve been this year,” he says. “We’ve hit the level of business that we expected. It’s not been a stellar year, but it’s been a decent year in terms of getting back to business. We’ve been hit hard in terms of increased costs right across the board, which obviously then snowballs into costs for consumers and playing venues in the arena market.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years. It hasn’t been as positive as that but it’s been good enough from a level of shows point of view and I think that will continue next year. I think it’s going to be good, but not spectacular.

Nevertheless, the venues have seen “unprecedented” demand for tickets for British comedian Peter Kay’s first stand-up arena tour in over a decade. The tour, which currently includes 16 Birmingham dates, begins next month and is scheduled to run until July 2025.

“It’s the highest demand we’ve ever seen for an onsale on our website, it was just through the roof,” says Dunstan. “We knew from previous experience with him that it would be really strong, but this was off the chart, absolutely amazing.”

Dunstan is further buoyed by the strong sales performances of recent and upcoming first-time arena headliners such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi, Machine Gun Kelly, Dave, Yungblud and Tom Grennan, as well as non-music productions like The Masked Singer Live, Disney on Ice, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Cirque du Soleil.

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging”

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging,” he adds. “The last month was a real litmus test based on the doom and gloom that we’d been hearing throughout the media. We get it that people’s incomes and costs have been squeezed on utilities and the last couple of months are where people were seeing their energy costs jump up significantly. But we’ve seen in previous recessions that people still want to come out and be entertained and hopefully that will continue.”

The former National Arenas Association chair also weighs in on the current volatility of the pound to dollar exchange rate and its impact on US acts coming to the UK.

“We might see a reduction in international acts over the next couple of years,” he surmises. “We’ve had some decent onsales with those acts from across the Atlantic, so I’m hoping that drives confidence but if we do see a slowdown, hopefully that gap can be filled by domestic acts and we still see the same levels of business.

“It is something we’re keeping an eye on, but right now the level of business is in line with what we were forecasting when we came back to business 12 months ago, so hopefully we’ll get to where we need to be.”


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