With Live Nation's recent launch in Israel, Adam Woods learns that optimism for the future is driving investment both in the Mediterranean and the Gulf states
Sign up for IQ Index
The latest industry news to your inbox.
Promoters from Live Nation, Flash Entertainment and T.O.P. Entertainment discuss the rapidly growing UAE touring market
By IQ on 14 Apr 2023
The live market in the Gulf, historically centred on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, toiled for years to achieve wider recognition and a spot on the schedules of passing artists. But there is a real momentum to the region now, with experienced promoters, world-class indoor arenas and, in Saudi Arabia, a neighbour with serious money to spend.
“Historically, the reliance on greenfield sites and their associated costs were a big limitation for commercially sustainable shows,” says James Craven, Live Nation president Middle East. “But as more purpose-built venues open-up across the region, the hard ticket business really becomes more viable.”
The opening up of Saudi, combined with the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, are also big news for the UAE’s live business, given their implications for regional touring. But credit must go to promoters such as Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Flash Entertainment, Dubai’s T.O.P. Entertainment (stands for Thomas Ovesen Presents) and the local Live Nation branch for pulling the market through the lean years.
Ovesen recently returned to promoting across the region after a spell with Saudi’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and in addition to a sell-out with 50 Cent at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai in September, T.O.P. staged José Carreras in November, with Chinese star Jackson Wang coming up in February 2023.
“We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events”
It is a fact of life in the Middle East that state buying power, rather than ticket-buying clout, is often a key factor in drawing talent to the region. “If you look at it from afar, it looks extremely busy with all the top artists, but a lot of it is driven by governments, whether that’s in Qatar, Saudi, or our friends down in Abu Dhabi,” says Ovesen.
Flash, which operates Etihad Park and the Etihad Arena on Yas Island, brought Usher, Dave, Swedish House Mafia, Kendrick Lamar, and Def Leppard out in November for its Yasalam After-Race Concert Series, tied to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Andrea Bocelli, Post Malone and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship hot on their heels.
“2022 was a strong year for us,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events. Probably not quite ’19 levels, but ’19 was obviously insane.”
Established since 2008, Flash has now added Dubai and Saudi offices to its Abu Dhabi base. “We are really focusing on that now,” says Lickrish. “We have always operated there, out of Abu Dhabi, but we just decided it was a good opportunity to get our branch offices staffed up.”
“The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business”
Live Nation, meanwhile, has staged Maroon 5, OneRepublic, and Westlife in Abu Dhabi this year, with Imagine Dragons, Blackpink, and Sting incoming, as well as a growing line in non-western events.
“The Middle East is an exciting place to be right now,” says Craven. “The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business. Comedy is also a key focus as we move into 2023,” he adds, noting the arrival of Pete Green, formerly of local promoters Done Events and GME Events, as head of comedy for the region.
Other promoters operating in the UAE include Blu Blood, which has brought Atif Islam and Il Divo in recent years, and South Asian specialist PME Entertainment, which has showcased Indian singers Arijit Singh and Jubin Nautiyal in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The Global Promoters Report is published in print, digitally, and all content is also available as a year-round resource on the IQ site. The Global Promoters Report includes key summaries of the major promoters working across 40+ markets, unique interviews and editorial on key trends and developments across the global live music business.
To access all content from the current Global Promoters Report, please click here.