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Arena Market: Australia

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Australians’ appetite for concerts and a good time is renowned – and it’s on the money. With the pandemic a flicker in the distance, live entertainment has bounced back in a big way, as a stream of internationals and a-list local acts return to the arena circuit.

“The business in the current financial year is phenomenal,” says Tim Worton, group director, arenas, for venue management giant ASM Global (APAC).
International touring for the Brisbane-based venues group recommenced in July 2022 following a two-year hiatus, kicking off with Tyler, the Creator. It’s been “full throttle” ever since, remarks Worton, as the likes of Billie Eilish, Morgan Wallen, Backstreet Boys, Snoop Dogg, Dua Lipa, and homegrown heroes Tame Impala and The Kid LAROI played Australia’s big rooms.

The biggest of them all is Qudos Bank Arena, the 21,000-capacity space at Olympic Park in West Sydney; the most remote: the 16,000-capacity RAC Arena in Perth, which last year celebrated its tenth anniversary.

The current financial year’s business is nothing short of “prodigious,” explains Qudos Bank Arena general manager Steve Hevern. After reopening proper last July with a Gorillaz show, followed closely by Tyler, the Creator (two shows) and Chris Rock, the venue arena closed out 2022 with The Kid LAROI (two shows), and Monster Truck Mania (three shows).

The current financial year’s business is nothing short of “prodigious,” explains Qudos Bank Arena general manager Steve Hevern

The month of March 2023 was the “strongest month of event activity and visitations in the arena’s 24-year history,” notes Hevern, with, remarkably, just one dark day, as the team delivered 19 events in 29 days.

The next 12 months for the arena are shaping up to be “just as busy, with a solid level of calendar of content” despite a significant volume of shows going to stadiums, including Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, and Red Hot Chili Peppers – a welcome challenge for the concerts industry.

At Perth’s RAC Arena, business is “back to pre-pandemic levels,” says general manager Michael Scott, with the venue looking ahead to performances by Michael Bublé, Lizzo, blink-182, and family content Disney on Ice and Cirque du Soleil.

At Perth’s RAC Arena, business is “back to pre-pandemic levels,” says general manager Michael Scott

He hails UFC 284 as extraordinarily successful. “Not only did the event break several of the arena’s records – highest attended sporting and highest single-grossing event – it also broke the Australian record for highest-grossing ticketing revenue for an indoor arena.

“We’ve worked hard to be able to diversify the type of content that our venue can host. With the implementation of new drape lines, we can now cost-effectively accommodate events anywhere from 2,000 to 16,000. We’re looking forward to bringing these flexible reduced and expandable modes to the market and introducing additional live entertainment opportunities for fans.

“Recently, turnstiles have been installed at our entrances to streamline the entry process for our guests. We have several other facility improvements in the pipeline, including replacing our digital scoreboard; refurbishing our conventional 12- and 18-seat suites; and upgrading the venue’s lighting to a more environmentally friendly LED solution.

Additionally, the marketing team have begun rebuilding our website to enhance the user experience, given it’s a major communication tool for the venue and forms a crucial part in the event experience for the patrons.

“We are continuously recruiting to bring our staffing levels back to pre-Covid levels, and staff training goes hand in hand with that.”

“We are continuously recruiting to bring our staffing levels back to pre-Covid levels, and staff training goes hand in hand with that. Fortunately, ASM Global has implemented a new online training system, so we’re able to roll these courses out to support our new team members in an effective manner.

“Another challenge the industry is facing, which is a good problem to have, is that there is a concentrated amount of content competing for tour dates. Thankfully, we’ve been able to accommodate everything so far, but we’ve definitely seen a substantial increase in the booking activity.”

Each capital city boasts at least one arena that would appear on a touring itinerary. As the population expands, the satellite cities for the big three markets – Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane – are playing in the touring space.

Newcastle, some 120 km north of Sydney, is seeing an influx of people priced out of the famous city, and business at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre (NEC) is thriving.

The NEC will have “its strongest financial year result in a number of years,” according to general manager Luke Daniels

The NEC will have “its strongest financial year result in a number of years,” according to general manager Luke Daniels. Full-year 2024 is forecast to be “Just as fruitful. With a really strong calendar of concert, expo, and local community content set to continue.”

Despite being a regional venue, one that typically wouldn’t see the same level of international inventory as the capitals, the 7,500-cap NEC has recently hosted the Smashing Pumpkins, plus sell-out shows by Keith Urban and British comedian Jimmy Carr. Other shows include Michael Bublé and Disney on Ice.

Australia is no longer a rock nation. Every genre can find an audience here, with K-pop, country, and comedy all proving particularly strong at arena-level. Following successful runs by Stray Kids and Twice, ARIA Chart-toppers Blackpink will embark on their four-date Born Pink arena tour in June. US country star Morgan Wallen’s successful five-date ANZ arena tour for Frontier Touring in March translated to No. 1s on the national singles and albums charts. Country man Luke Combs’ forthcoming trek has sold so well at multiple venues, IQ has learned, that the show’s configuration has spread out from 180 to 360 degrees in a move to satisfy demand.

Perhaps ironically, the city that is missing out on arena dates is the nation’s capital, Canberra. The 5,200-capacity AIS Arena has remained closed since early 2020, initially as a result of the pandemic but then subsequently to allow for infrastructure works and upgrades to be completed. “We are in the initial stages of a refurbishment for the venue,” a rep says, “with the intention to be open again early in 2024.” The design phase is said to still be in progress.

Perhaps ironically, the city that is missing out on arena dates is the nation’s capital, Canberra.

Another work in progress that’s creating excitement in Australia’s live entertainment space is the 2032 Olympic Games, which will be hosted by Brisbane, the nation’s third most populous city. At least AU$7bn has been allocated for infrastructure upgrades and the creation of a “state-of-the-art” entertainment and sports venue.

At the time of writing, the tender process had yet to start on the proposed venue at Roma Street, which would boast a capacity of 17,000-18,000. Live Nation, its consortium partners Oak View Group, and ASM Global are known to be keen to pitch a vision for the proposed new site.

With the working title Brisbane Live, the venue would make the Sunshine State capital a two-arena town; Brisbane Entertainment Centre (BEC), the 13,000-capacity arena that opened to the public in 1986, remains one of the top-ranked arenas in the world for its size.

The BEC “has been in full swing since the borders opened,” notes GM Trish McNamara. Over the past 12 months, she explains, “we have experienced record-breaking per-head sales figures, achieved in most revenue streams but particularly in merchandise.” More “shows are contracting,” she confirms, another positive sign.

“We have experienced record-breaking per-head sales figures, achieved in most revenue streams but particularly in merchandise.”

September 2022 was packed with highlights, including KISS’s farewell show, Billie Eilish rocked three sold-out shows, and country stars Brad Paisley and Morgan Evans wooed audiences. Bookings in the coming months are “strong,” notes McNamara, particularly in July, with 22 booked performances – Disney on Ice (11) and Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal (11).

The pandemic enabled arena teams to reset and rethink. In 2023/24, ASM Global will continue to make improvements, particularly in the accessibility space. This follows the completion of accessibility bathrooms in 2022 at BEC, hearing loops were secured, and in the months ahead, a new quiet room will be created onsite.

At the RAC Arena in Perth, Scott says: “We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far in ensuring that our venue is as accessible as possible, as we firmly believe live entertainment should be open for everyone. Equally so, we understand that this is a journey and not a destination, so we’re continuing to explore ways to improve access on top of our already established quiet room, implementation of the Sunflower Program, and a Wi-Fi- based hearing system.”

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far in ensuring that our venue is as accessible as possible, as we firmly believe live entertainment should be open for everyone.”

Also, the venues group recently appointed Cameron Costello as its First Nations Ambassador, whose tasks include assisting with the preparation and development of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

In Sydney, the Qudos Bank Arena’s used the downtime of the pandemic to invest in a new premium seating product, “The Terrace,” which launched early 2022 and provided corporate customers with a unique seating option combining premium seating and in-seat service in the main auditorium.

After the health crisis, says Hevern, “the cobwebs have well and truly been blown off, to give us the confidence once again
to facilitate anything and everything that comes our way.”

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