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Bridging the Gulf: Arab Gulf states come of age

And it was all going so well!

Going into Christmas, you might have said the live entertainment business in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf states was on a decisive path to maturity, at least in certain prominent markets. Dubai finally had its permanent Coca-Cola Arena and was hauling in the crowds and the talent, including Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and John Legend.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, had nailed down a name for its own 18,000-cap. indoor venue – Etihad Arena, part of the 12 billion AED (€3bn) Yas Bay development project – and an expectation of a 2020 opening.

Even Kuwait, fairly quiet lately on the touring front, was preparing to cut the ribbon on a 5,000-cap mixed-use arena: the Sheikh Jaber Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah International Tennis Complex in Surrah, managed by Live Nation and opened in February.

And, of course, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the pedigree dark horse of the region, was fast emerging as by far the most promising market of them all, with concerts, festivals, Formula E racing, international tennis, equestrian competitions and boxing.  To varying degrees, these events have met with international controversy due to Saudi’s well-known diplomatic issues.

But they have also been powered by large amounts of cash, rabid local demand and the grand ambitions of ‘MbS’ – controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – and his Vision 2030 plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop its public sector.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible”

Then came Covid-19, which still rages worldwide at press time, and the region was forced to hit pause on its entertainment aspirations. Like almost everywhere else, concert halls closed, shows were postponed, and the industry went into enforced hibernation. When it will rouse itself again is anyone’s guess.

“As with the rest of the world, all events [in Saudi Arabia] are cancelled until further notice,” said Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of regional ticketing hub Platinumlist, speaking to IQ in late March. “The public is not allowed to go outside the house from 3pm until 8am and the death toll is rising. People are worried.”

The UAE states had imposed similar measures and were already daring to dream of a light at the end of the tunnel. “Large organisers are hopeful to restart their operation in July, but again, that depends on how the situation pans out in the coming [months],” said Anatoli.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so I’m sure they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible,” he added. “[Dubai’s] Expo 2020 has already been moved to ’21. As for the rest of the organisers, they have moved all events to November and December. Rugby Sevens is confirmed for December, but again, it depends on government regulation.”

Each of the various Gulf markets has its own economic logic: generous state funding combined with remarkably strong ticket sales in Saudi; a similar balance in Abu Dhabi, albeit on a far less turbo-charged scale; and a grittier commercial market in Dubai, closely controlled, but not underwritten, by the state. Clearly, all will suffer damage, even if some can absorb it better than others.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 89, or subscribe to the magazine here


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Ultra Miami called off amid coronavirus fears

The flagship Miami edition of electronic dance music (EDM) event Ultra Music Festival has been cancelled in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Covid-19.

The decision, made during a meeting between local politicians and festival organisers, was reported by the Miami Herald on Wednesday (4 March).

The 165,000-capacity festival, which was due to take place from 20 to 22 March in Miami, Florida, was set to feature acts including Flume, AfroJack, Armin Van Buuren, Amelie Lens, Martin Garrix, Carl Cox and Eric Prydz. According to the festival website, over 90% of tickets had been sold.

The Miami festival is the second in the Ultra franchise to be called off this week. The Abu Dhabi edition of the event was cancelled on Tuesday. A statement on the festival website reads: “The local organisers of Ultra Abu Dhabi have cancelled the upcoming event. Tickets will be refunded through the original point of purchase.”

East Everything, Major Lazer, Nicky Romero, Seth Troxler, DJ Snake and Eric Prydz were set to perform at the festival, which was scheduled to take place at the 25,000-capacity du Arena on 5 and 6 March.

The consequences that Covid-19 is having on the live music industry has formed a key topic of discussion at the ongoing ILMC

The EDM festival franchise has events in twelve countries worldwide. Upcoming editions in Sydney and Melbourne on 7 and 8 March are still scheduled to go ahead.

The consequences that Covid-19 is having on the live music industry has formed a key topic of discussion at the ongoing International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in London, with top industry executives stressing that shows will continue to go on wherever possible.

Although concerts have been cancelled in many Asian territories, and the governments in countries including Italy, France and Switzerland have issued bans on public events of a certain size, business as normal continues in many markets such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

A UK medical advisor recently stated there is “no clear rationale” for closing events to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

A blanket ban on all events in the north of Italy, the European nation worst affected by the virus, is to be extended to the whole country, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters, that orders “the suspension of events of any nature… that entail the concentration of people and do not allow for a safety distance of at least one metre (yard) to be respected.”

All schools and universities have been closed in the country and all major sporting events are to be closed behind closed doors for the next month. More than 3,000 cases of the virus have been recorded in the country.

Photo: Ducbeo2000vp/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)

 


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Etihad agrees naming deal for Flash’s Yas Bay Arena

Abu Dhabi’s new Yas Bay Arena will be known as Etihad Arena when it opens later this year, following the signing of a naming-rights agreement between Etihad Airways and venue owner Miral.

The US$3.2 billion, 18,000-capacity indoor arena is the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, capital and the largest of the seven United Arab Emirates.  Operated by promoter Flash Entertainment, Etihad Arena will “host an eclectic variety of events, including sporting competitions, corporate events, cultural performances, concerts and many other appealing activities throughout the year”, according to Miral, the publicly owned property company responsible for developing and managing Yas Island.

In addition to the arena, the 25km² Yas Island is home to Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; theme parks including Warner Bros World, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld; and numerous hotels and retail stores.

Tony Douglas, group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, says: “It’s an honour to partner with an Abu Dhabi institution such as Miral on this joint venture, which will further promote Abu Dhabi and Yas Island as a hub for entertainment, tourism and culture. Etihad Arena complements our global presence at a number of sporting and entertainment venues, most notably Etihad Stadium in Manchester, home of Manchester City Football Club.

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital”

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital, providing a diverse range of entertainment options for guests visiting our beautiful city, or for those who call the UAE home.”

“As our national airline with international reach, Etihad Airways is the ideal partner to help position the newly named Etihad Arena competitively on the local and regional map of live entertainment destinations,” adds Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral. “The new venue will be a significant addition to the unique offerings on Yas Island and in Abu Dhabi, creating unforgettable experiences and helping us deliver on our vision to position Yas Island as a top global destination for entertainment, leisure and business.

“This is a testament to our commitment to grow the tourism industry and achieve our leadership’s vision of economic diversification.”

Etihad Arena will be the second major indoor arena in the UAE, following the recently opened Coca-Cola Arena in neighbouring Dubai. The outdoor 117 Live Arena (formerly Autism Rocks Arena) opened in Dubai in 2016.

 


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Mariah Carey performs free in Dubai Expo 2020 launch

A year to the day before Dubai hosts a six-month long World Expo event, Mariah Carey is due to perform in a free concert at Burj Park.

The concert, dubbed One Year to Go, will take place on 20 October, with local singer Hussain Al Jassmi, as well as acts DJ Bliss, Abri and the Funk Radius and Khalifa also billed to perform.

The Expo, which was awarded to Dubai in 2013 by the International Exposition Bureau in Paris, will take place on a main 438-hectare site enclosed by three thematic districts – opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

A variety of live performances, cultural activities, business presentations and global celebrations will occur during the Expo.

The United Arab Emirates is also hosting live performances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Formula One race from 28 November to December 1. Lana Del Rey will perform in the Middle East for the first time at the event, alongside EDM star Marshmello, the Killers and rapper Travis Scott.

In December, British singer Dido will perform and Dubai’s Media City Amphitheatre (15,000-cap.) and Bruno Mars will close out the year with a headline New Year’s show at the du Arena (25,000-cap.) in Abu Dhabi.

Last month, AEG Ogden, the operator of Dubai’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena, celebrated the role the arena was playing in placing the UAE – and the wider region – on the international touring map.

Read more about the Middle East’s growing live events market below.

Full of Eastern Promise: The Middle East matures


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Abu Dhabi aims to woo promoters with $3m incentive grant

The tourist board of Abu Dhabi has announced a fund of almost US$3m aimed at boosting private-sector involvement in the emirate’s events sector.

The fund, initially worth Dhs10m ($2.7m), forms part of Advantage Events Abu Dhabi, an initiative by the department of culture and tourism to “attract even more visitors to explore Abu Dhabi and its tourist proposition” by boosting the number of live events. It aims to add to the emirate’s existing calendar of more than 800 events, which includes the Formula 1 grand prix, Abu Dhabi Food Festival, Abu Dhabi golf championship and Abu Dhabi Classics concert season.

The grant is open to “all entities involved in the retail and events industry, venues and IPR [intellectual property rights] owners”.

“By incentivising private sector involvement in developing a range of events we can build on the record numbers of visitors choosing to explore the emirate,” says Saif Saeed Ghobash (pictured), director-general of the department of culture and tourism of Abu Dhabi.

“By incentivising private sector involvement … we can build on the record numbers of visitors choosing to explore the emirate”

“Private companies should be aware that we now have a grant to support their business investments in Abu Dhabi and can anchor the planning of their 2018 business activities as we enter into the last quarter of 2017.”

The scheme follows a similar fund made available to film producers, which led to Hollywood blockbusters Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Furious 7 being partially filmed in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia last month announced a fund of its own, also worth around $2.7bn, in a bid to attract international partners to grow its live entertainment output.

IQ’s most recent Middle East feature revealed live music contributes a greater share of music industry revenues in the Middle East and North Africa than elsewhere in the world: 90%, compared to around 65% worldwide.

 


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