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The unstoppable rise of the Gulf States

Exactly two years ago, at the very moment IQ was producing its last market report on the live market of the Gulf, not to mention gathering the live music community in London for ILMC, the pandemic closed in, and the world shuddered to a halt.

We all know what happened next: lockdowns, calendars in the bin, plenty of pain and an ever-extending timescale for the return of concerts. Every market suffered, and the Gulf was no exception. In the final analysis, the UAE was only fully locked down for around four months and Saudi Arabia for a little over a year, but the hit was a hard one and some restrictions linger on.

Nonetheless, due to a unique set of circumstances, this may also be one regional market that has emerged from the whole mess looking sharper and shinier than when it went in. In 2022, the Gulf boasts new live venues, new touring connections and, in Saudi Arabia, a booming new territory that has shifted the centre of the region and – albeit not without controversy – greatly boosted the appeal of the region to international acts.

The second edition of MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh, a four-day “rave in the desert” last December, where Tiësto, Martin Garrix, and David Guetta played and a reported 180,000 attended the opening night, represents the new face of live music in the Gulf.

That same month, the kingdom also hosted the Formula One Grand Prix, with music from Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, and A$AP Rocky. Chris Brown, Black Eyed Peas, James Blunt, Wyclef Jean and Craig David are also recent visitors, courtesy of MDLBEAST’s MDLBEAST Presents arm, which has rapidly built a reputation as the market’s leading provider of musical talent.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now”

“I don’t play for politicians, I play for people,” Guetta told a Soundstorm press conference, side-stepping the criticisms of the regime that remains the main stumbling block to the international performing community’s guilt-free acceptance of the Saudi riyal.

That stumbling block is seemingly getting smaller these days, partly due to the billions at the disposal of a Saudi regime that is investing in entertainment, not only to conjure tourism, but to keep its free-spending domestic audience from travelling abroad in search of fun.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now,” says veteran Middle East promoter Thomas Ovesen, outgoing entertainment director at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Saudi. “For me, what is happening with live entertainment in Saudi Arabia is what people used to say was going to happen in China. And while it hasn’t materialised there, we are seeing it here now: Western artists coming in for premium fees and a potential touring market in the region. It’s phenomenal.”

For all its wealth, its tourism, and its appetite for growth, the Gulf as a live music region has never been in a position like this before. Efforts to develop Abu Dhabi and Dubai as destination markets have yielded wily, pragmatic local industries and plenty of impressive events – including the recent delayed Expo 2020, which brought Coldplay to Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza in February, among many other highlights. But the emirates’ modest expat-dominated populations and geo-graphical isolation have impeded their efforts to elevate their status on the broader touring map.

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the mix – the 35m-population kingdom having opened its doors in recent years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy and develop its public sector – effectively changes everything.

“In Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it”

In addition to the artist fees, a particular appeal of the Saudi market, thinks Ovesen is the presence of a true local crowd. “People live an expat life in Dubai – they’re probably a bit privileged, sometimes it can be hard to get a reaction out of them,” he says. “But in Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it. And they are embracing the opportunity to attend live entertainment. We used to say that the only place in the region where you could get that experience was when we took the show to Beirut or Cairo. But that’s exactly the situation in Saudi.”

The other markets in the region may not be quite as pent-up, but they are certainly ready for the shift. Nine months before the pandemic, Dubai took delivery of its first indoor arena in the Coca-Cola Arena, while Abu Dhabi put the finishing touches to its own Etihad Arena during the lull. Kuwait and Bahrain likewise have impressive new facilities, and talk has inevitably turned to the development of a genuine touring circuit, involving the Gulf States and all manner of roughly proximate markets, from South Africa and India to Turkey and Egypt.

At the time of writing, the Gulf region is preparing for a milestone in this regard: a bona fide three-date tour by an A-list international act, as Live Nation’s Maroon 5 shape up for the Pyramids in Egypt, the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, and Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel. “This is the first time an A-list Western act has been able to do a regional tour, and it sets a great precedent for the future,” says James Craven, president Live Nation Middle East. “Ticket sales have really exceeded even our most bullish forecast, which again really underlines the enduring demand for shows.”

A necessary piece of this particular puzzle has been the recent thawing of relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel, which in turn has made it
possible for tours to fly directly between the two markets for the first time.

“Having regionally routed runs ensures that bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing a one-off show that takes them out of the market for years,” says Craven. “Previously artists would simply fly in for one show in the UAE. But we are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour.” In a world still navigating its way out of the pandemic, these are significant and unprecedented moments, and, geopolitics permitting, they suggest the future of live music in the Gulf is likely to assume a very different shape to its past.

“We are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour”

Promoters
The promoting landscape in the Gulf is a mixed one, combining heavyweight state-owned promoters (Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment), familiar corporates (notably Live Nation, operating out of Dubai), fast-growing Saudi entities such as MDLBEAST, and a variety of Dubai-based independents, ranging from specialist operators to beach club DJ promoters to wealthy dabblers.

Out of all of them, the meteoric rise of MDLBEAST arguably makes it the promoter to watch, and its ambitions are unlimited by the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, or even those of the Gulf itself.

“We want to be present in the entire region,” says Talal Albahiti, MDLBEAST chief operating officer and head of talent booking and events. “The Middle Eastern music market is expected to grow up to 16.5% by 2027, reaching $670m [€605m]. MDLBEAST will play a significant role in supporting that growth. We also want to go beyond the region, as we are not only looking to host festivals and concerts in the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain but also in Greece, Spain, and the US.”

MDLBEAST has also been invited to take on live events for circling Western promoters, says Albahiti. “We have been approached by a few European companies to produce their festivals, which was a pleasant surprise and much-deserved recognition to all the team. It shows that our commitment and dedication are being recognised by the international market.”

Clearly, the live market in Saudi Arabia is poised at an exciting but delicate moment, and MDLBEAST is acutely aware of the need to nurture the industry in the proper way if it is to thrive sustainably in the long-term. At its inaugural XP Music Conference in December 2021, it gathered 150 delegates from the Middle Eastern music industry in Riyadh with a view to accelerating the market’s growth.

“I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia”

“For me personally, XP is our most important work because it aims to help build real infrastructure for the music industry in a region where it is currently missing,” says Albahiti. “We need that if we’re going to support local and regional talent and for our organisation to grow.

“We don’t want to be just another music touring company picking global acts and bringing them to Saudi Arabia – our vision is much grander than that. We want to empower, develop, and educate local and regional talents across different genres. I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia. If not, then definitely from the Middle Eastern region.”

In its own way, Live Nation has also spent the pandemic nurturing talent in the region – specifically promoting talent it needs on the ground to broaden the range of playable markets.
“Because of the restrictions in place for a lot of the last two years, we focused on future planning and opening up newer markets like Jordan, Egypt, India, and Kuwait,” says Zaed Maqbool, Live Nation VP talent, Middle East, who has spent years building the foundations for a viable circuit to rival those elsewhere in the world. In this context, the significance of the impending Maroon 5 tour is worth restating.

“Maroon 5 was truly a labour of love,” says Maqbool. “The first-ever regionally routed run, an A-list band, and an undying willingness to create a new regional route for Western artists. It all came together. That one really represents a paradigm shift for touring in the region. We now have offers out for more regional tours – and they’re all big names.”

While it may have taken the roaring engine of Saudi Arabia to jolt the region into a higher gear, the UAE promises to become a significant central strategic point as a Middle Eastern/ Asian/African circuit coalesces – at least according to Live Nation’s thinking.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008″

“India will become a part of the equation,” says Maqbool. “Israel and UAE are already mainstays because of their proximity and the fact that they are mature markets in their own right. South Africa is also a market we connect to, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have direct flights. So basically, the UAE becomes the connecting transport hub for the region and beyond.”

With not only a new arena but the well-established 40,000-cap Etihad Park stadium at its disposal – which over the years has witnessed Coldplay, Rihanna, The Stones and others – Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment is, like all promoters in the region, highly prepared for an influx of talent.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “One of the strategies we thought we were going to implement, or was going to happen organically, was a regional touring circuit.

“We thought it would be Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, ourselves, maybe Bahrain. In fact, we are dealing with content pushed through Israel, Sau- di, Qatar, Bahrain… hopefully India – we will see how that develops. Yeah, it’s a great thing. Obviously, having more content available takes us out of the position of feeling like everything that comes is something we have to deliver ourselves.”

Not every Gulf promoter emerged from the pandemic intact. Arab Media Group-owned Done Events, with its roster of Dubai-based festivals including RedFestDXB, Blended, and Dubai Jazz Festival, has ceased trading. Others, meanwhile, have emerged. Former Done Events live events manager Peter Green had already gone out on his own by the time of Done’s demise and now operates as GME Events. He sold 15,000 tickets in his first year of operation, promoting Russell Peters and Michael McIntyre at the Etihad Arena and The Kooks at the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as several more comedy shows at the Dubai Opera and the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter”

“All of those shows were obviously socially distanced,” says Green. “The venues can obviously take more, but we achieved far more than I thought we would, as a new promoter, with Covid restrictions in place. Shows are coming back now and restrictions are less, but it is still challenging with the ever-changing Covid landscape. I think the attitude now, though, is let’s get on with it, and let’s do what we can.”

Other promoters in Dubai include the jazz-focused Chillout Productions, founder of the Dubai Jazz Festival, and The Artist Network, whose events include Desert Groove – formerly Groove on the Grass – at the Dunes Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

Meanwhile, after three years with the state-backed DGDA project, which is developing the historic town of Ad Diriyah into a national, cultural and tourist centre on the edge of Riyad, Ovesen is poised to return to his promoting roots with new venture T.O.P. Entertainment and will operate as an independent with offices in Saudi and the UAE, but also looking to organise events across Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

Ticketing
The leading ticketing company in the Gulf remains Platinumlist, which operates right across the region. “We sell 80% of UAE entertainment tickets and have been in KSA for six years,” says managing director Vassiliy Anatoli. “Our turnover in Saudi is larger than in UAE, although it’s hard to say what our market share is exactly.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter. It is hard to get independent event permits for organisers, and the majority of events are funded by the General Event Authority, which imposes the use of state-owned ticketing platforms.”

“We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year”

Anatoli’s perspective on the pandemic is a widescreen one that neatly charts the ups and downs of the entire Gulf market. “We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year. Despite the pandemic, many attractions kept operating and that is what we focused on whilst there were no events.

“2021 started well but was swiftly cut off by another spike in cases locally, which halted the industry for another four months. However, by March 2021, Saudi started making plans, and we won the tender for the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2021 and many other major projects, such as Rotana Concerts, the Evolution Exhibition, the Museum of Happiness, and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale.

“Finally, the UAE resumed events in full swing by September 2021, which catapulted our revenues. Another major win was the 2021 Indian Premier League and ICC World Cup, which has sold over 350,000 tickets.”

In the coming years, Anatoli expects the biggest growth to come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though he also points to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait as markets seeing comfortable growth. Other ticketing outlets in Dubai include bricks-and-mortar retailer Virgin Megastore, as well as Ticketmaster and Indian giant BookMyShow.

Venues
Dubai’s 17,000-cap arena Coca-Cola Arena, the first permanent, multi-purpose arena in an emirate that had been staging shows on laboriously converted brownfield sites on the edge of the city for years, opened in June 2019. It managed just nine months in operation before Covid closed its doors.

“On Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors”

Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar describes the moment at ILMC 2020 when it became clear what the immediate impact of the encroaching pandemic would be (“I’ve never seen an insurance panel more engaged,” he says) and with precise recall of dates, fills in the story up to the present day.

“Everything came to a complete halt, but we had Iron Maiden in May, and we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll close for a month…’” he says, recalling the initial optimism of the times. “That obviously didn’t happen, but we undertook some behind-closed-doors activities for some government entities. Then we were an Ikea catalogue venue, and we were a venue for a movie set. We were very close to becoming a vaccine centre.”

Over the next year or so, the UAE flexed its restrictions, “and slowly but surely, we went from 1,500 capacity, heavily socially distanced, to 2,500, to 5,000, then 60%, 70%, 80% of capacity, and thankfully, on Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors.”

In the same period, after an inevitable delay, Abu Dhabi finally inaugurated its own arena, the 18,000-cap Etihad, part of the AED12bn (€3bn) Yas Bay development project. “We would have liked to have it earlier; but it’s a really beautiful facility. It’s easy to operate, it’s cost-effective, scalable,” says Lickrish. “We have a host of good commercial partners that have come on board, Etihad being the big one. It’s next to impossible to make the industry work here without corporate partners, and that’s been a fact for quite some time now. So that’s exciting. Our corporate boxes are sold out, and now we are just planning content.”

On the schedule at the Etihad Arena for the coming months are Arab pop stars Amr Diab, Sherine Abdel Wahab, and Kadim Al Sahir; Maroon 5; UFC; and the International Indian Film Academy Awards 2022.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition”

The almost simultaneous arrival of two world-class arenas in a previously arena-free zone – to add to the Dubai Opera, the Media City amphitheatre and the World Trade Centre, all in Dubai – might be viewed as an embarrassment of riches. But if the competition is unwelcome, no one is saying.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition,” says Kar. “Both serve a domestic market, and they also allow us to create tours for artists.”
Those tours, of course, don’t necessarily have to come from the Western content machine. A feature of the Middle Eastern market that is occasionally lost on Western eyes is the sheer diversity of its offering.

“For us, Western acts would probably make up 25% to 30% of the content,” says Kar. “The balance is very much Asian content, and that includes Bollywood but also Pakistani and Bangladeshi music. And then you have got Arabic, where you have the Khaliji music that is popular across the Gulf, but also Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian, all with completely different dialects and demographics that would attend. Comparing anyone with another is like comparing Bruno Mars with Metallica.”

It is also inevitable that more venues are to come, particularly in the region’s most newly vibrant market. Most of the Saudi events still take place on outdoor sites or in temporary structures such as the 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena near Riyadh, but further building is taking place. ASM Global will manage the 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena at Airport City, promised for late-2025, while the 25,000-cap Victory Arena in Riyadh is currently undergoing a major facelift.

With Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup at the end of this year, there has been a massive construction programme, which could ultimately benefit the local live entertainment scene. And in Bahrain, three million man hours of work has created the spectacular 10,000-seat Al Dana Amphitheatre, which has literally been carved from the rock of the Sahkir desert (more about that project in IQ’s June issue).

“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons”

Another territory ready to take its place in a regional circuit is Kuwait, which welcomed a 5,000-cap multi-purpose all-seater arena in March. The Live Nation-managed Arena Kuwait, in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall, targets live entertainment, sports, corporate projects, exhibitions and conferences, and in its first few weeks of operation hosted six sold-out Arabic music concerts and two regional business-to-consumer expos.

“Kuwait is a new market for international and regional promoters and event organisers, as un- til the opening of The Arena Kuwait, venues and event spaces were limited,” says general manager Ken Jamieson. “Kuwait has an event-hungry population and the response to our first plethora of events has been very satisfying for all concerned. We have a packed calendar for the rest of the year as the demand has been outstanding..”

As the infrastructure expands, of course, so do the challenges of a region with a range of extreme weather conditions and great disparities in both its seasonal habits and venue provision.
“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons,” says Maqbool, wrestling with a circuit that potentially spans thousands of miles across Africa and Asia. “If an artist wants to do a tour in what is called the winter here in the Middle East, we need to take into consideration the different ‘winter’ conditions at each stop of the tour and the implications that has on venue type and timings.

“In the UAE, we have not one but two arenas to play around with, so we’re good the year round. But it’s not the same in Egypt, it’s not the same in India and some of the other markets as well. When it’s our winter, it’s their summer, and vice versa, and that’s a little nuance that sometimes plays into the equation. There’s a fair amount of playing Tetris with the routing, figuring out what works for everybody.”

And, give or take some teething troubles, a bit of geopolitical discord, and some Western liberal reservations, there’s the new regional circuit for you. It may well very come to offer dazzling new horizons for live music – but don’t expect it to be an easy ride.


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LN Middle East launches sustainable touring scheme

Live Nation Middle East and Emirates Nature-WWF have launched a new initiative to enhance the sustainability of concert tours.

Based on Live Nation’s Green Touring Programme, the scheme will look at all aspects of event production, including flights, ground transportation, hotel accommodations, merchandise and venue operations to develop guidance and best practices.

The scheme will kick-off with Maroon 5’s show at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on 6 May. Once the baseline data is collected from the study, a science-based guideline will be created to inform upcoming concerts and influence sustainable touring practices moving forward.

“Climate change is at the centre of the industry’s narrative and host cities must be ready”

“We are very excited to be launching a first of its kind project locally which will help transform the live entertainment industry for the betterment of people and planet,” says Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, director general, Emirates Nature. “With the UAE being the host for the forthcoming COP 28, Emirates Nature-WWF will aim to create a standard for wider market transformation of the event industry, encouraging the adoption of more sustainable measures.

“This initiative aims to create a path to enable market transformation of the live entertainment sector and beyond, and this is a significant partnership on the journey to delivering sustainable live events in the future.

“Climate change is at the centre of the industry’s narrative and host cities must be ready. A new era of sustainability is rising. Consumers around the world are increasingly determined to be more environmentally conscious and are using their power and voice through the products they buy and the events they attend.”

A key element of the program will be providing concert-goers with more sustainable options while attending shows.

“This is an exciting opportunity to put sustainable live entertainment centre stage ahead of COP28, furthering the environmental work we are doing in the region and across the globe,” says Patricia Yagüe, head of sustainability for EMEA Live Nation. “We are excited to partner with our global team to bring the Green Nation touring programme to our region, which is focused on measuring and reducing emissions through a science-based approach and investing in scalable, sustainable solutions.”

In line with the UAE’s target to reduce carbon footprint by 23% by 2030, the collaboration between Live Nation
Middle East and Emirates Nature-WWF will focus on the next 18 months in the lead up to COP28.

“This initiative will give us the data we need in order to provide artists and fans with more sustainable options for touring going forwards”

“This initiative will give us the data we need in order to provide artists and fans with more sustainable options for touring going forwards and will build on the global commitments Live Nation has made,” Live Nation Middle East president James Craven.

“We are very excited to be making this announcement with Emirates Nature-WWF and couldn’t be happier that Maroon 5 will be the first show in our study. With concerns around climate change never more at the forefront of our minds, it is crucial that we all look at where we can make impact.”

 


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Maroon 5 to embark on maiden tour of Middle East

Maroon 5 have announced their first ever Middle East tour, with three Live Nation-promoted dates confirmed for the region this spring.

The Grammy Award-winning band will perform at The Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt on 3 May before visiting the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, UAE three days later. The run will then wrap up at Ganei Yehoshua Park, Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel on 9 May.

“We are thrilled to organise the first regional tour for an iconic band like Maroon 5 and finally get back to full capacity live shows,” says James Craven, president, Live Nation Middle East. “Maroon 5 will also be the first major international band to perform at the new Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.”

“This landmark event marks the dawn of a new era”

Guy Beser, CEO of Live Nation Israel, says: “This marks a powerful, shared moment across the region and is of great significance to both the Middle East and Live Nation. This landmark event marks the dawn of a new era, and will ensure an easier process for bringing bands, global artists and festivals to the region.”

Zaed Maqbool, VP – touring & talent, Live Nation Middle East/South Asia, adds: “Having a routed run means bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing one-offs that take them out of the market for years. This is a great step to see for the industry, and more regional runs are being planned as we speak.”

Maroon 5 previously became the first major US group to play Canada in 18 months when they played the Budweiser Stage in Toronto last September.

 


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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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