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Co-op Live’s Gary Roden on changing the arena game

The general manager of the new 23,500-cap Manchester venue speaks to IQ about its plans to "distort" the UK touring model

By James Hanley on 26 Oct 2023

Gary Roden, Co-op Live

Gary Roden

Co-op Live boss Gary Roden has spoken to IQ about the mission to make the new Manchester venue the “biggest and best arena in Europe”.

A joint venture between Oak View Group (OVG) and City Football Group (CFG), the 23,500-cap development will become the UK’s largest arena when it launches at Etihad Campus, the site of Manchester City FC’s Etihad Stadium in Eastlands, in April 2024. Harry Styles has also invested in the project.

Roden joined Co-op Live as general manager six months ago, taking charge of the strategic and operational delivery, after over eight years at Ticketmaster UK, latterly as SVP of client development and commercial. Roden credits OVG CEO Tim Leiweke’s influence on the arena’s groundbreaking “music-first” design.

“You can expect a building that’s very forward-thinking – that’s what Tim is all about,” says Roden. “Tim is always in the future and he’s put a big stake in Manchester because he firmly believes in it, along with our partner City Football Group. The plan is to build this incredible space in the north that is of the same scale you would expect from a capital city. It’s definitely got the Tim touch to it, put it that way.”

“Manchester is the UK’s second biggest music market by a significant distance”

He continues: “Tim Leiweke’s key focus was that he wanted it to be Europe’s biggest nightclub and the venue’s got a lot more going on for the fan to engage with before, during and after the event.

“The thing that is surprising people the most is how big, yet intimate it is, and that’s because the floor has been designed as a standing music floor and then the seats have been built around that. A lot of the legacy arenas in the UK are built around ice rinks, so they have a smaller footprint on the floor and it leads to the seats being a much steeper angle. But everyone’s going to be a lot closer to the artist on average here than they would be in an equivalent venue.

“We’re also very confident that from a sound perspective, the artist is going to be incredibly happy with what we deliver for them. I just can’t wait for that first big, loud gig to kick in; it’s going to be amazing.”

With concerts by Olivia Rodrigo (two dates), Keane, Take That (seven), Elbow, Eric Clapton, Barry Manilow, Smashing Pumpkins & Weezer, James, Liam Gallagher (four), Jonas Brothers, Niall Horan and Simply Red announced so far, Co-op Live’s opening season is rapidly taking shape. The headline act for its first night is still to be confirmed, however.

“We’ve got to go through a cycle of test events – which we think are going to be in April – and then the first official event will be in late April, so we’re in the final throes of working that out,” Roden tells IQ. “At the moment, we’re looking at 35 shows in the first two-and-a-bit months, so it’s a very significant opening period.

“Arenas usually go quiet in May/June because everyone turns their attention to festival season, so the fact we’re going to be doing up to 40 shows in that window is is huge and we’ve still got some big multi-night announcements to come. It might be quite late before we confirm the first show, but the options we’ve got at the moment are really exciting. Unfortunately that’s all I can say at this point!”

“We want to create residencies in Manchester and distort the model so that, if something big comes to the UK, it just doesn’t sit in London”

While Co-op Live will go head-to-head with ASM Global’s long-established 21,000-cap AO Arena in Manchester, Roden says the goal is to “grow the overall pie” for live music in the city.

“We decided on Manchester on the basis that it is the UK’s second biggest music market by a significant distance after London,” he says. “And if you’re looking to build a new facility, then London’s got two [arenas], Birmingham’s got two, etc. I also think that people up north in general just love live music, and we see that in the stats. So I think there’s definitely room for us in Manchester.”

Roden is optimistic the residency model showcased by local heroes Take That’s seven-night stand will become more commonplace at the venue, potentially leading to longer UK tours for global superstars.

“The idea and the mission is to be the biggest and best arena in Europe, and secondly, to bring more global talent to Manchester – that is ultimately the focus,” he insists. “Our model is based on bringing in international and UK artists to Manchester and sit there for longer. Manchester has now got seven Take That [shows] and London’s only got six, and that’s a massive step forward for us.

“Hopefully in the next three months or so as we start to move towards opening, you’ll get to see what we mean by that in terms of what we’re trying to deliver. We want to create residencies in Manchester and distort the model so that, if something big comes to the UK, it just doesn’t sit in London, it comes to Manchester and sits up north longer.”

“The scene is vibrant and we’re looking forward to taking it up an extra notch”

Moreover, he notes the venue appears to be a draw in its own right.

“Tottenham Hotspur found that the talk about the quality of their new stadium led to a lot of people going to the first thing that they just to experience what it’s like, and I think we’re in similar territory,” he says. “A venue of this scale and size hasn’t been built in the UK since The O2, so it’s a big thing for live entertainment and a lot of people are keen to see it.

“The stats are crazy at the moment: 30% of people are travelling more than 100 km to see the first 10 acts we announced and 50% are coming more than 50km, so it’s not just a local thing, which we’re incredibly excited about because it proves out what we always thought this would be – a northern powerhouse of a venue for live entertainment indoors.”

OVG says Co-op Live, which is a partner for ILMC 36, has been designed “with sustainability at its core”, and will use electricity for everything from air-source heat pumps for heating and domestic hot water through to cooling and catering, without any gas supply serving the site. It will become the UK’s first all-electric arena upon its opening and has pledged to support Manchester City Council’s target of becoming net zero carbon by 2038.

“[Sustainability] has fed into every single aspect of it,” adds Roden. “With where we are in the world right now, you have to build any infrastructure project responsibly, with sustainability in mind – never mind a large entertainment building. The artists demand it and the fans demand it now as well, so that’s what we’ve got to deliver.”

Referencing the wider UK arena sector, Roden concludes: “The level of competition is high, but it needs to be because the demand is there. Live was always strong leading into Covid, but post-Covid that ability to enjoy something in a live environment has really captured the public’s imagination and they definitely crave live experiences.

“The arena industry, in general, is in great shape. Competition is high, which ultimately helps fans and artists because it means people have to invest more in their buildings. There are new facilities being talked about and people are looking to invest in the infrastructure to make it better, so the scene is vibrant and we’re looking forward to taking it up an extra notch.”


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