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Arena Market: Canada

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In the land where ice hockey is the national sport, Canadian arenas primarily serve a dual purpose as homes to icy sports tenants and stages for international music tours.

The western coastal city of Vancouver is the home of Rogers Arena, configurable from 5,500 to 18,000 capacity.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to do important refurbishment work around a growing event calendar without compromising the value we bring to each event we host at Rogers Arena,” says Michael Doyle, president of Canucks Sports & Entertainment.

While enhancing its premium club experiences, expanding arena entrances, and improving visual elements for visitors to enjoy, Rogers Arena is also set to host a record-breaking number of shows from a variety of genres, building on its “most successful year to date,” Doyle says.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to do important refurbishment work around a growing event calendar without compromising the value we bring to each event we host at Rogers Arena”

Artists performing include blink-182, Sting, and Shania Twain – who recently delivered two sold-out shows at the Vancouver arena in May 2023.

“Our live entertainment business couldn’t be busier; the fans are fully engaged, excited, and returning to our venue for multiple events. Year on year, our business is growing, and we couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come.”

In Winnipeg, located in the centre of the country near the US border, business is also stabilising for the Canadian Life Centre (3,500–15,000-capacity).

“Being a mid-sized [Canadian] marketplace without a marked ‘uber affluent’ community makes it tough to compete for AAA shows that focus on super-high grosses and multiple plays instead of ‘dotting the map’ like artists used to attempt to do,” says Donnelly.

“Our live entertainment business couldn’t be busier; the fans are fully engaged, excited, and returning to our venue for multiple events”

Yet more artists from varied genres are touring Canada, a distinct change from the immediate post-pandemic tours that focused on selected major markets, says Donnelly. The Canadian Life Centre is hosting a variety of genres, including more urban and foreign language shows in addition to rock, pop, and country.

“The audience is more segmented than ever before – which is a good thing,” says Donnelly. “We have had massive shows with Indo and Filipino talent and are now programming more urban shows than ever before. Satellite radio and streaming services have opened the playlist beyond the limitations of government-controlled airwaves, so acts that do not get traditional media exposure are exploding here as well as other areas of the world.”

To better serve its expanding customer base, the Canadian Life Centre is undergoing a CA$14m facelift, renovating its concession spaces to expand food & beverage sales while also improving its club areas and premium concourse spaces.

“The audience is more segmented than ever before – which is a good thing”

To the east, in French-speaking Montreal, the Bell Centre is also renovating its 21,000-capacity arena. Seated in the second-largest city in Canada, the venue hosts Anglophonic and Francophone acts. Though it’s home to the Montreal Canadiens NHL team, the venue hosts roughly twice as many live music performances as hockey games, including Muse, Depeche Mode, and Angèle, with French rap duo Bigflo & Oli and Shania Twain set to perform later this year.

The arena is in its “full transformation years,” according to Daniel Trottier, EVP and chief operations and venues officer of Groupe CH, parent company of Bell Centre’s operators, Evenko. In addition to expanding its hospitality sector through new food and restaurant offerings, the venue is revamping its technological infrastructure, including sound systems, lighting, control and broadcast rooms, and arena vision capabilities.

The eastern portion of Canada is home to an array of popular venues, all of which are home bases to hockey teams, including Quebec City’s Videotron Centre (18,300), capital city Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre (19,150), and Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre (19,000).

The FirstOntario Centre is set to undergo a 20-month renovation later this year, transforming storage space into public use, updating the exterior façade, and upgrading lounge spaces. The revocation comes as a joint effort between Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group LP (HUPEG) and the Canadian division of Oak View Group.

“The continued growth of new genres will remain an opportunity to diversify our content and bring in new audiences. We are fortunate enough to be in the core of one of the most diverse cities in the world, and our content should increasingly reflect that”

Just north of Hamilton lies Canada’s most populous city, Toronto. Its principal arena, the Scotiabank Arena, can support shows anywhere from 6,000 to 19,800 people. With no less than 82 sporting events per year, plus any playoff and pre-season games, finding the time to book music performances can be challenging.

“However, our live entertainment business’s aim is to programme the remaining days with as much diverse content as we can,” says Melissa Bubb-Clarke, SVP of music and live events at MLSE, the owners and operators of Scotiabank Arena.

“The continued growth of new genres will remain an opportunity to diversify our content and bring in new audiences. We are fortunate enough to be in the core of one of the most diverse cities in the world, and our content should increasingly reflect that,” she adds.

The venue is set to surpass the number of music events compared with last year, hosting more than 87 shows in 2023, with many more to come. It has recently hosted SZA, AP Dhillon, and Mariah Carey and is set to host Måneskin, Stevie Nicks, Twice, and Drake before the year is out.

Live music in Canada has bounced back from pandemic disruptions, says Bubb-Clarke, with an increasing number of shows being added to the calendars of arenas around the vast country. Though faced with challenges including inflation, staff shortages, and a potential recession, live music shows in Canada are on an upward trend with no signs of slowing.

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