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In recent years, the UAE has taken delivery of not one but two new world-class arenas, having previously made do with temporary structures on urban sites.
In Dubai, ASM Global’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena opened in June 2019, although it managed only nine months of operation before the curtain temporarily fell on the global live business.
Abu Dhabi’s 18,000-capacity Etihad Arena in Yas Bay, owned and operated by state-owned Flash Entertainment with an eye to music, comedy, and sport, was due to open in March 2020 but instead took its first steps that July, staging a series of UFC MMA events behind closed doors.
“The appetite is there, and a lot of artists are intrigued and enquiring to play.”
Normal service has since resumed, with Arjit Singh, Michael McIntyre, Atif Aslam, and Maroon 5 among the Etihad’s star turns – the last of them as part of a history- making tour of the region also including shows at the Pyramids in Egypt and in Israel’s Hayarkon Park.
The Coca-Cola Arena has also prospered, with a broad spread of western, Asian, and Arabic events – Ronan Keating and Tiësto mingling in the schedules with Pakistani Qawwali performer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Kazakh singer Dimash Qudaibergen, and playback star Atif Islam.
Mark Jan Kar, Coca-Cola Arena general manager, says the opening-up of Saudi Arabia has the potential to make a big difference to the traffic in the region but adds that there is still work to do in drawing tours.
“We are now presenting opportunities where an artist that is performing in Saudi and Dubai has the chance to piggy-back on that,” he says. “The appetite is there, and a lot of artists are intrigued and enquiring to play. For us, it’s about how do we engage more and start booking more of these world tours.”
“We are now presenting opportunities where an artist that is performing in Saudi and Dubai has the chance to piggy-back on that.”
One priority, he says, is to get the region more in sync with the timings of the wider world. “The Middle East as a whole has always had a very, very short lead time, with shows announced typically six or seven weeks ahead. So we want to work towards a longer lead time while also maintaining the flexibility we have.”
Over at the Etihad Arena, the offering is equally diverse, with recent shows by Amr Diab and ‘artist of the Arabs’ Mohammed Abdu, with Jimmy Carr, the NBA Abu Dhabi Games, and Disney On Ice coming up. Disney Theatrical Group’s The Lion King recently announced a four-week run from mid- November, with tickets starting from Dh200 (€53).
The Etihad has numerous configurations, aided by the region’s first rollable StageRight stage. The arena also has four 28m2 LED screens and an L-Acoustics PA. General manager Brint Jackson has described the venue as the most multipurpose space he has ever seen. “We can host anything, from an intimate, 180-person cocktail reception all the way up to an 18,000-capacity rock and roll show,” he said in 2021.
“The Middle East as a whole has always had a very, very short lead time, with shows announced typically six or seven weeks ahead.”
Dubai also has TECOM Group’s two outdoor amphitheatres, Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City, which did heavy service during pre-arena times, with capacity for up to 15,000 people. And on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi has the du Forum, an indoor events venue that seats up to 4,500.