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Inside The O2’s ‘year of two halves’

VP and general manager Steve Sayer tells IQ about the London venue's plans for the year ahead following a strong finish to 2022

By James Hanley on 22 Dec 2022

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

Steve Sayer


image © Luke Dyson

The O2’s Steve Sayer has reflected on a “year of two halves” for the London venue in a new interview with IQ.

The 21,000-cap arena is finishing 2022 strongly following a difficult first few months, initially due to the spread of the Omicron variant and then damage caused by Storm Eunice, which caused it to close for a week in February.

“Overall, we’re really happy with the year and we’re ending on a high,” notes Sayer, The O2’s VP and general manager. “We’ve had some incredible shows but it was only 10 months ago that we were dealing with the storm ripping into the tent. We were just coming out of Covid wave number four or five with a lot of new team members and contractors, so it was a challenging start to the year.”

The venue, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, recovered to host a string of triumphant shows by the likes of Dua Lipa, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, Rod Stewart, Lewis Capaldi, Travis Scott, Diana Ross, Little Mix and a 10-night stint by Queen + Adam Lambert.

“I think the recovery from Covid is going to take a little bit longer than we all anticipated… It’s just the aftermath that we’re now dealing with”

“By the time we got to Queen + Adam Lambert for those 10 shows in June, Diana Ross, which was another highlight, and Billie Eilish and the Overheated climate conference, I said to the team that it felt like we were getting back into our groove – and we’ve kicked on since that point,” adds Sayer.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated coming out of the global pandemic into the economic environment that we find ourselves in, so there are plenty of headwinds. We have some challenges around the cost base that are no different to any other venue and we’re working hard to figure out how we can mitigate that, so there’s still a little bit of uncertainty ahead. But then when I look at the diary, I think it’s going to be a solid year.”

Shows lined up for 2023 include Panic! at the Disco, George Ezra, Lizzo, Tom Grennan, Michael Buble, Elton John, Sam Smith, Paramore, Maroon 5, Kiss and Iron Maiden, among others, along with a monthly residency by comedian Peter Kay that stretches all the way to 2025.

“In terms of the number of shows that are already confirmed or strong pencils, we’re exactly where we need to be,” says Sayer. “I think the recovery from Covid is going to take a little bit longer than we all anticipated. I think the C-word is pretty much done, it’s just the aftermath that we’re now dealing with.

“We know that there is still a lot of pent-up demand from the fan for tickets. Some shows are doing incredibly well and there are one or two shows that perhaps aren’t doing quite as well as they would have done in normal times, but that might be a function of ticket price and cost of living, but what we have seen is that when fans are coming into The O2, they’re still spending money.

“What I take confidence from is that at times of recession, in recent memory, it tends to be that sport and music is the stuff that people don’t want to give up on. So I feel reasonably confident, but of course we have questions about how next year will play out.”

“We’re planning to deliver a net zero show. If we can prove the model for a single night, I’m pretty sure we can scale it up and replicate it over the medium and long term”

Sayer also discusses the knock-on effects of Eilish’s multi-day climate festival Overheated, which coincided with the singer’s six-night residency at the venue. The O2 implemented various changes within the arena to reduce single use plastic, promote a plant-based menu, and better enable customers to make informed and responsible choices.

“It’s been a real catalyst for us and has stimulated at least one if not two conversations with artist management about shows next year where the act has a particular leaning towards climate activism and the climate agenda,” reveals Sayer. “Whilst we probably won’t repeat the Overheated model, we’re planning to deliver a net zero show. If we can prove the model for a single night, I’m pretty sure we can scale it up and replicate it over the medium and long term.”

Last week, The O2 became the first arena in England to achieve its Greener Arena certification thanks to its sustainability practices and commitments.

“We’ve reduced the amount of meat we’re serving around the campus with out catering partner Levy UK & Ireland, and have been developing a Green Rider,” adds Sayer. “We appointed Jamal [Chalabi] and A Greener Festival to work with us on that and turn all of those learnings from the shows we’ve been running where the artist had a real leaning towards doing the right thing when it comes to sustainability.

“We’ve brought in an energy manager and AEG Europe is soon to be appointing a director of sustainability, who will support The O2 in 2023 and give us some additional expertise in terms of building our plans. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think both of those hires are going to be key for us.”

“We’re going to be improving our premium spaces… Our new super-club lounge concept on level 3 is going to be the best place to watch a show”

Having served as a transformative force in the venues sector ever since opening in 2007, Sayer is adamant The O2 is not about to rest on its laurels.

“It’s just about not being complacent,” he explains. “We’re going to be improving our premium spaces; we’re removing 12 suites and putting a new super-club lounge concept on level 3, which will have an incredible view of stage and is going to be the best place to watch a show.

“We’re planning a number of investments to ensure that our back of house areas are renovated and brought up to an even better standard. We’re investing in the fan experience – introducing kiosk ordering in some of our busy bar areas to try and reduce the queues – and are also planning to introduce  frictionless payment kiosks in a couple of areas. We invested in Evolv Express security scanning technology earlier this year, which continues to keep everybody safe but also ensures that fans get into the building a lot quicker.”

Sayer continues: “We’re also upgrading our Wi-Fi over the next six months and rolling out 5G across the venue because, while we don’t want fans to spend all their time on their phones, we know they want to put stuff on their social media channels and we want to give them the best experience to do that.”

 


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