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SSE Arena Belfast adopts Amazon technology

The SSE Arena in Belfast has become the first indoor arena in Europe to integrate Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, enabling checkout-free shopping.

The technology will be used in the Pay & Away shop, located on the first floor of the 11,000-capacity arena. Once open, guests will enter the store by using their chosen contactless payment method at the entry gate, with the technology then detecting what customers take from or return to the shelves and creating a virtual shopping session.

When guests finish shopping, they can leave without waiting in line, and their chosen payment method will be charged for the items taken.

Just Walk Out technology has already been rolled out in venues including TD Garden in Boston, Lumen Field in Seattle, and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

“This checkout-free concept is a radical next step in optimising the customer journey”

“Providing the best experience every time sits at the core of everything we do at The SSE Arena, Belfast and we’re continually looking at ways to enhance our offering,” says Dermot McGinn, group head of food and beverage at The Odyssey Trust.

“We’re incredibly proud to be working alongside Amazon to bring Just Walk Out technology to our venue, and becoming the first arena in Europe to introduce this checkout-free concept is a radical next step in optimising the customer journey. Through a blend of convenience and speed, the introduction of this innovative new technology will ensure that our visitors can get back to the heart of the action as soon as possible, both during events and at Belfast Giants home games.”

Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology is made possible by artificial intelligence like computer vision and deep learning techniques, including generative AI, to help accurately determine who took what in any retail environment, according to a press release.

The e-commerce giant built synthetic datasets to “mimic millions of realistic shopping scenarios including variations in store format, lighting conditions, and even crowds of customers to ensure accuracy in any environment”.

 


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AO Arena opens new VIP restaurant and bar

Manchester’s AO Arena has officially launched its brand new VIP bar and restaurant, as part of its £50 million redevelopment.

The Mezz sits between the brand-new concourse and the 23,000-capacity arena bowl, enabling guests to move “seamlessly” from their tables to the “best seats in the house” with panoramic views of the stage.

The bar remains open during the show and for a few hours prior, with live DJs providing post-show entertainment. The restaurant features a collaboration between chefs Simon Rogan MBE and Tom Barnes, who will make regular appearances and design seasonal dishes.

Member perks include guaranteed attendance for all shows at AO Arena, direct access to the arena bowl and more

Member perks include guaranteed attendance for all shows at AO Arena, direct access to the arena bowl, early access via dedicated VIP entrance, dedicated parking, all-inclusive food and drink, private cocktail bar, a private dedicated table in the restaurant and personalised service including a cloakroom boasting the latest in venue technology, members app and portal, and dedicated host service.

Membership prices for The Mezz Bar range from £3,500 (10 shows) to £6,250 (25 shows) and £8,500 for 50 shows.

For The Mezz Dining, prices range from £4,000 (10 shows) to £7,500 (25 shows) and £12,500 for 50 shows.

 


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Live Nation and OVG back Africa’s first arena

Africa’s first purpose-built arena is set to open in Lagos, Nigeria, at the end of next year.

The $100 million arena will have capacity for 12,000 and is projected to host 200 events each year, including concerts, family entertainment, basketball games, UFC fights, boxing matches, WWE shows and more.

The venue will be located on Victoria Island, an affluent area that serves as the main business and financial centre of Lagos.

The consortium delivering the project includes Live Nation, Oak View Group, Tayo Amusan (chairman of real estate company The Persianas Group), the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, Yinka Folawiyo (chairman of the Yinka Folawiyo Group), Nigerian investment fund Adino Capital and MBO Capital. The conglomerate today held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site.

“Nigerian artists are some of the most influential in the world right now and yet they have nowhere to play in their home market,” says Oak View Group chairman and CEO, Tim Leiweke. “We want to change that. This consortium, headed by Tayo Amusan, has shown enormous tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit in getting this project off the ground and we are proud to be their partner. The arena will also give major brands – both global and local – the chance to showcase to Nigerian audiences for the first time at over 200 electrifying events per year.”

“Nigerian artists are some of the most influential in the world right now and yet they have nowhere to play in their home market”

John Reid, president of Live Nation EMEA, adds: “We are incredibly excited to be part of the consortium delivering this groundbreaking arena in Lagos. Nigeria and Africa more broadly present massive opportunities to touring artists when it comes to connecting with their global audiences. This brand new 12,000 capacity venue will open up Nigeria to international stars, and Nigerian artists will benefit hugely from having an arena to showcase their talents in front of a home audience.”

While Nigerian superstars such as Burna Boy, Davido and Wizkid continue to fill arenas and stadiums across the world, their home country lacks the venues needed to match their success.

Until now, artists have had to perform at hotel complexes such as Eko Convention Center (cap. 6,000) and Balmoral Convention Center (4,500) in Lagos, according to the Global Arena Guide 2023.

For larger concerts, temporary venues are built in outdoor spaces such as Muri Okunola Park on Victoria Island and Tafawa Balewa Square, a former horseracing track in the centre of the commercial district and the spot where Nigerians celebrated their independence in 1960.

The new Lagos arena will develop ancillary businesses around entertainment and sports and is expected to create over 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.

The first-of-its-kind venue will serve Nigeria’s young and rapidly growing population of over 220 million.

 


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Leeds’ first direct arena celebrates 10 years

Twenty-four years. TWENTY-FOUR! That’s how long the good people of Leeds lived without a music arena befitting the city’s status as the UK’s fifth largest and a hotspot of innovation, culture, and creativity. Instead, Leeds’ 750,000-odd residents, and artists, had to traipse down the M1 to Sheffield or cross the Pennines to Manchester to get their arena-sized music fix.

“It’s weird to think back to the early Kaiser Chiefs days in Leeds, and how quickly, as a band, we reached a level where there wasn’t anywhere for us to play in our home city,” says the band’s bassist, Simon Rix.

“Leeds was the largest city in the UK without a large-scale music and entertainment venue,” adds Kevan Williams, Leeds Arena’s head of marketing. “The people here are passionate about music and live events, and it was deeply frustrating they had to travel for miles to see their favourite artists.”

But the lean years finally ended on 24 July 2013, when the first direct arena threw open its doors to the public (fittingly, Bruce Springsteen, a working-class hero from another blue-collar town, provided the entertainment). Ten years on, it’s time to celebrate not just this anniversary and the positive impact the arena has had on the city but to look forward to its next decade and how the arena is gearing up to thrive as an example of what a 21st-century music venue should be.

“There was huge public demand from the people of Leeds to build something in their city”

When the Queens Hall closed for good in 1989, it left a sizable hole in Leeds’ cultural scene. With live music being one of the city’s cultural lifebloods, fans were spoilt for choice when it came to smaller venues such as The Cockpit, The Wardrobe, The Warehouse, and, of course, the world-renowned Brudenell Social Club, but the Queens Hall’s demise left the O2 Academy Leeds (formerly known as Town and Country Club) and its 2,300 capacity as one of the very few venues suitable for bigger, more established acts and events.

Naturally, the clamour for a solution to this became too loud to ignore.

“Prior to the first direct arena opening, music fans from the city would have to travel over an hour to other arenas in the North of England,” says Martin McInulty, the arena’s general manager. “So there was huge public demand from the people of Leeds to build something in their city.”

That demand led to consultations with the council and its inclusion in the Vision for Leeds 2004 – 2020; the project eventually became one of the city’s 12 stated priorities. The Leeds Initiatives then formed a Cultural Facilities task group to consider possible options; they investigated the viability of a Leeds Arena, the refurbishment of existing buildings and venues, and other potential projects such as a concert hall.

Angry Mob
At the same time, campaigners, including the York-Shire Evening Post, local artists such as the Kaiser Chiefs, and local businesses and residents, lobbied for a new arena to be built in the city. This resulted in a widescale “Leeds needs an arena” campaign that was publicised nationwide and drew widespread support from the cultural community.

In addition to local demand, various studies outlined the economic, cultural, and social impact of such an arena. It was thought that it could bring in up to 900,000 additional visitors annually, adding up to £25m to the local economy.

Job creation was another benefit – one study predicted over 300 direct, full-time equivalent roles would be required, with further jobs created in the construction sector. And, of course, tourists and out-of-towners weren’t the only thing a new arena would attract – other businesses and organisations would be drawn to Leeds, too. “An attractive venue displays an auspicious future with a dynamic business environment,” stated one study.

“Utilising the early concepts of the amphitheatre, this layout optimises sightlines and the guest experience”

Eventually, and unsurprisingly, the task group recommended that the council proceed with the development of a 12,500-seat arena – and concrete plans were set in motion. With funding in place from Leeds City Council, additional public funding from Yorkshire Forward, and some commercially funded revenue, Claypit Lane, in the Northern Quarter of the city centre, was chosen as the site for the new arena, and the council decided that they themselves would proceed as the developer. Designed by the council’s own team with a budget of £60m in mind, the proposed venue was notable in a number of ways.

All Roads Lead to Leeds
For a start, its central location was seen as a positive; it sits just ten minutes’ walk from Leeds train station, three bus stations are all within walking distance, and there are over 7,500 car parking spaces within a 15-minute walk. The building itself was modelled on a giant insect’s eye, with the external design utilising a honeycomb design based on a Voronoi diagram, and the façade was designed to change colour or pattern depending on the show or mood of the arena at the time.

Innovation wasn’t limited to the outside, either. According to McInulty, the arena was also the UK’s first fan-shaped bowl, a design that allowed the venue to achieve the largest capacity possible given the size of the site.

“This alternative layout means that guests are never any further than 68 metres away from the stage – typically, this can be 95 to 110 metres in traditionally designed arenas – with the nearest seats being only a few metres away and allows every seat to directly face the performance area,” he says. “Utilising the early concepts of the amphitheatre, this layout optimises sightlines and the guest experience.”

“The layout, and the building itself, was designed with easy modification and retractable seating to meet the changing requirements of a diverse event schedule”

It also makes for a far more intimate experience than one might expect from a venue with a capacity of 13,871. Divided into a floor-standing area and two raised banks of seats that rise high above the stage, the design also gives spectators the best acoustic experience from any position; interestingly, even the sound mixing desk can be situated in different places. And it’s flexible; the layout, and the building itself, was designed with easy modification and retractable seating to meet the changing requirements of a diverse event schedule, which could be anything from theatre to family events, ice dance shows, and indoor sports.

“Impressive” is an understatement. But such an ambitious build came with a unique set of challenges. For a start, the city centre location and tight space constraints meant construction access was restricted; this was particularly challenging with regard to the transport and delivery of materials, especially the two 500-tonne mobile cranes required.

Furthermore, the combination of such a central location and acoustic performance also presented problems – specifically, how to keep the noise at an acceptable level for those living close by. Planning conditions stipulated that external noise levels had to be 10dB lower than ambient noise levels outside the building, a criterion that didn’t come cheap for a building big enough to swallow a football pitch (a clever solution was eventually found by contractor BAM, together with acoustic consultant Arup).

The sheer size of the roof presented a number of unique issues, too. A single-span design, 70 metres across at the widest point and supported by 14 seven-metre-deep trusses, meant that concreting was a delicate, yet intensive, operation. BAM discovered that the biggest concrete pump in the UK had a reach of just 63 metres, which was not long enough to cover the whole roof (lots of piping was installed just to get the concrete up, a significant undertaking itself). And the wet mix needed for the fibre-reinforced cement couldn’t cope with the roof’s slope; steel mesh was used instead, allowing for the use of a less viscous concrete. All in all, some 2,500 tonnes of it were required to finish the job.

“The arena embodies our Yorkshire roots”

Friends in High Places
In total, though, construction took just a year; ground was broken in May 2012, with the building officially completed the following May and delivered to ASM Global, who have run the venue since day one. The same month, telephone and Internet bank First Direct were announced as the arena’s sponsor, its name officially becoming the first direct arena (stylised as first direct arena) – an association that continues to this day. Such deals are commonplace now but weren’t so much back then. So, what prompted this relationship?

“The arena embodies our Yorkshire roots, and the first direct arena partnership gave us the opportunity to show up in an ‘un-bank’ way, meaning in a place you wouldn’t usually expect to see a bank,” says Sloane Cross, First Direct’s head of marketing. “At the time, our marketing was based around the idea of being an ‘unexpected’ bank, so it was a really good fit. The partnership also allowed us to be part of something that our customers are really passionate about – live music and entertainment – and solidified our heritage as a proud Yorkshire-based bank.”

The bank has its branding all over the arena itself and is visible across various other platforms, including digital and print advertising, the arena’s website, and social media channels; all aspects that Cross feels are important. “As a digital bank, the first direct arena is our only physical asset, and it means we have a visible presence in the centre of Leeds, the home of First Direct. It allows us to increase our brand awareness and for a much wider audience to know who we are.”

Such sentiments are echoed by Lauren Tones, the arena’s head of sponsorship and branding. “It’s appealing for online brands to use a live entertainment venue as their only physical touch-point for customer engagement,” she says. “It becomes a space where they can bring their brand and values to life, as well as reward loyal existing customers and acquire new ones. Plus, it’s beneficial for both the venue and the naming rights partner to have a strong workforce based locally.”

“We can ensure that there’s sufficient opportunity for our existing partners to fully activate and engage with our visitors”

As such, First Direct can offer perks for employees at the venue and use it as an exciting option outside the office to engage with clients and prospects. They also reward their own customers. “We engage them with offers and promotions and regularly offer tickets through prize draws,” adds Cross. “And our customers who attend any event at the arena can claim a VIP lanyard that gets them free chips, water, and ice cream.”

Of course, First Direct aren’t the arena’s only commercial partner, but they do set the standard of what’s required in terms of commitment and values. “Each of our partners enhances the experience of visiting a live entertainment venue,” says Tones. “Whether it’s First Direct offering free chips and ice cream to customers, Sky offering a free premium pre-show experience in their Sky VIP lounge, or [telecoms provider] Three giving fans the chance to gain early access to tickets, they each do something to elevate the fan experience.”

“That’s why our approach is to prioritise quality over quantity when it comes to sponsorship,” she adds. “Every time, we ask: ‘How much value is this partnership going to bring to the customer experience?’ If we avoid a cluttered landscape, we can ensure that there’s sufficient opportunity for our existing partners to fully activate and engage with our visitors without having to compete with many other brands for attention.”

Bossing It
The very first performance was, as mentioned above, Bruce Springsteen, on the 24 July 2013 – a very special show indeed. “That event was amazing!” says Kerryn Duckworth, head of operations. “Meeting those first fans who came to the arena gave me goosebumps and is a memory that will stay with me.” But the official grand opening came later, on 4 September of that year, with an equally special guest – Sir Elton John, playing to a packed house.

Since then, the venue has gone from strength to strength and has more than proven its worth to the city of Leeds on both an economic and cultural level. “Strong demand from the public is evident
in the number of tickets we sell annually – over 600,000,” says McInulty. “However, the majority of our customers live within a 25-mile radius.”

“The nature of the venue’s shape lends itself to being more user friendly – it feels right for both artist and the fan”

The building was named Best New Venue in the World in 2014 by the Stadium Business Awards, and the list of those who’ve graced its stage is impressive: Leonard Cohen, Prince, Kylie Minogue, Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cirque du Soleil, are just a few of the A-list stars to have performed there. Proving its flexibility and diversity, it’s also played host to Strictly Come Dancing, the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Ice, the MOBO Awards, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, and even the 2014 Tour de France Grande Départ Team Presentation.

Indeed, sport has become an important part of what makes the venue so cherished. “Some of my favourite memories have been hosting our very own World Champion boxer, Josh Warrington, the Leeds Warrior,” says Kevan Williams. “The venue wasn’t designed specifically for sport, but the atmosphere that’s generated during the walkouts sends shivers down my spine and will live long in my memory.”

But it is, of course, music where the first direct arena has really made its mark. “The room is flexible and allows for multiple configurations, which is really helpful when looking at different types of artists,” says Andy Smith of Futuresound. “I’ve promoted artists like Lewis Capaldi, Dermot Kennedy, Ben Howard, and Bon Iver, where the super theatre-type layout really suits the artist and their audience, but we’ve also promoted acts like Catfish and the Bottlemen, Fall Out Boy, and Sam Fender, who work equally as well. Plus, the sound clarity for Bon Iver was like nothing I’ve ever heard before – even in the hard-to-reach places in that room.”

Steve Homer of AEG Presents agrees. “The nature of the venue’s shape lends itself to being more user friendly – from 3,000 people upwards, it feels right for both artist and the fan,” he says. He also adds that its flexibility means it’s a fantastic place for both bigger and smaller acts, so adding it to itineraries becomes much easier.”

“Once you get past the spine of the country and look to add other arenas to a tour, Leeds is currently the next one on the list, which is a great statement for the venue. But it’s also great to use in its smallest format and convince artists it will still be an intimate experience, which is definitely one of its appeals – it’s easy to grow shows.”

“We’re committed to staying at the forefront of food and beverage in this space”

Having emerged from the pandemic with the core team intact and with a greater appetite than ever before – from both fans and artists – for world-class events and shows, the arena and ASM Global team are firmly fixed on the future. First up this year was the renewal of the naming rights deal.

“At ASM Global, we value our long-term relationships,” says Tones. “Our priority was to explore renewal with First Direct before considering alternative options – we’ve had a strong ten years with First Direct, and their team feels part of our own. So we are keen to explore more ways to make a visit to this arena more memorable with First Direct.”

“Also expanding was the food and beverage offering. They refurbished all their bars to give them a much more contemporary feel and have invested heavily in cutting-edge technology to prepare amazing quality food. “In the last year, we’ve opened The Mixer, two Gallery areas, Sky VIPs lounge rollout, and a completely new food offering in our 11 retail bars,” says Marcus Sheehan, head of food and beverage.

“And we’re committed to staying at the forefront of food and beverage in this space. Coming up soon is a really exciting range of projects, including cocktails and a new range of hot snacks and many other initiatives, such as working with local food businesses in our retail areas to continue to bring authentic food and drink offers that also help support our local grassroots food suppliers and producers.”

It’s a similar story with premium experiences. With a variety of them on offer at the venue – and a huge range of show-by-show premium packages – they opened both The Mixer and The Gallery in 2022; “Both delivered on time and on budget,” says Lisa Turton, head of premium experience, with pride. “We’re always on the lookout for the next space that can be transformed into a new premium area, and I think technological developments will improve and change the way premium is sold and fulfilled over the next ten years.”

“There is no ‘us and them’ scenario – everyone in the venue is one team, and that has contributed to its great success over the last decade”

Technology is a common touchpoint with the team of future developments. The introduction of 5G throughout the venue is opening up the potential for greater development, particularly around increasing the speed of service on the arena concourse (it’s now the first fully enabled 5G venue in the UK, thanks to a partnership with Boldyn Networks), while a brand-new Wi-Fi solution was recently installed. And there’s also the introduction of new digital screens across the concourses and two large digital screens to be installed externally above the front doors. “This will allow us to give our partners more brand presence and to add targeted OOH media packages to our offering,” says Tones.

And of course, no modern venue would function without the hard work of its security staff and stewards. “I love working at the first direct arena, as do the Leeds staff base – the team are great and have been over the last ten years,” notes Showsec’s Thomas Bailey.

“I’m fortunate to have been associated with the venue for all those years, and the hard work and dedication of the team has never faltered in all that time. There is no ‘us and them’ scenario – everyone in the venue is one team, and that has contributed to its great success over the last decade.”

Merch Ado
With merchandising, “we’ve just started this journey, and we have lots of exciting projects and investments coming up in the near future,” says Phil Jones, commercial director for national merchandise, the venue’s merchandise partner. “Ensuring there’s an adequate supply across all stands is paramount, and, where possible, for busy shows, we try to ensure presales are done via merchandise units outside the venue. But in the future, merchandise sales will take on more digital means via pre-ordering and post-event delivery, self-service kiosks, and any tech to help speed up and continually improve the customer journey.”

“Leeds fairly quickly became one of the must-play venues on an arena tour, driven by the local population taking the venue to its heart”

Sustainability, now such an important topic, is front of mind, too. “We are working on our sustainability projects and ASM Acts initiatives, such as working towards achieving Greener Arena status and switching to LED lighting, monitoring energy usage, and trying to minimise food and general waste,” says Duckworth.

But ultimately, it all comes down to music and putting the fan experience front and centre. “It’s important to get a wide variety of shows into the venue – the arena should cater for as many people as possible and have a balance and good mix across the year,” says James Harrison, programming director of ASM Global.

“We’ll need to be mindful of other arenas coming online in the UK in the next few years, with competition for tour dates being stronger than ever, but with such a strong market, a top-class team, and an amazing venue that keeps investing in itself, there’s no reason why the first direct arena can’t continue to go from strength to strength.

Because, as he puts it, “Leeds fairly quickly became one of the must-play venues on an arena tour, and as much as its facilities and layout help, that’s driven by the local population taking the venue to its heart – the local population has been really engaged from day one.”

Local artists, too, for whom the first direct arena didn’t just fill a need – it’s a source of pride, inspiration, and, well, a home. “I love an away day as much as anyone, but having an arena in our home city means we get a homecoming gig on every tour,” says Kaiser Chiefs’ Rix. “We’ve already had a lot of great times in the venue, and I always look forward to the next time. It’s also great to know that huge global superstars like Drake and Mariah Carey get the full Leeds experience, as well as obviously bringing people and money to the city. I picture them all staying at The Queens [hotel] and nipping to the market to get some food at lunchtime.”

 


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The O2 unveils multi-million-pound VIP members club

The O2 has officially opened its multi-million-pound VIP members club, marking the arena’s biggest investment in premium to date.

The new 300-capacity premium space has been named The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways after the number of residencies held so far at the iconic London venue.

For upwards of £15,000, members of The NinetyThird can enjoy more than 200 events a year at The O2, with “uninterrupted views from every seat”.

VIPs will also have access to the Walkway, a first-of-its-kind retractable viewing platform, 70ft above the arena floor.

The space, set over 1,150 square meters, is home to the arena’s first high-end, 50-seater, on-site restaurant and several premium bar areas which are all exclusive to members.

The design of the club also draws inspiration from the venue’s rich music heritage, with over 50 references to artists, performances, and iconic moments at The O2 arena.

“It really does reimagine what premium hospitality in a UK arena can offer”

“The O2 has become synonymous with hosting some of the most iconic artist residencies over the last 16 years – from Prince and Elton John, to most recently six nights of Madonna,” says Matt Botten, senior director, premium seating at The O2.

“Up to this point, we’ve had an impressive 92 residencies at The O2, and it felt fitting to honour this new premium space as our 93rd, given that the design of the space has been so heavily influenced by our musical heritage.”

The NinetyThird has been launched with naming rights partner Qatar Airways, the national carrier of the State of Qatar, as part of a multi-year deal.

Qatar Airways will have ‘unique branding opportunities’ within the space and across the venue’s OOH and digital networks. Qatar Airways Privilege Club members will also have exclusive access to tickets for events at The O2 within The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways through Privilege Club Collection – a newly launched platform, offering members the opportunity to bid from a selection of curated experiences.

Botten adds: “We’re so excited to be opening the doors to The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways, and to be doing this with a naming rights partner who so perfectly complements the level of premium hospitality that members can expect when visiting the space. The attention to detail within the space is second to none – it really does reimagine what premium hospitality in a UK arena can offer.”

Off the back of a record-breaking year for ticket sales at the world-famous venue – with over 2.5 million tickets sold last year – 2024 is set the be one of The O2’s biggest years yet.

Olivia Rodrigo, The 1975, Michael McIntyre, Liam Gallagher, The Killers, Girls Aloud, and Take That are among this year’s residencies, each playing four nights or more at the venue.

 


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OVG plans $280m revamp of FirstOntario Centre

Oak View Group (OVG) has unveiled plans to invest $280 million in the renovation of the FirstOntario Centre in Ontario, Canada.

Led by OVG and Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group, the revamp will see the 18,000-capacity arena that opened in 1985 transformed into a modern entertainment venue.

Upgrades to the city-owned facility include a reimagined facade, premium seating, enhanced acoustics, improved sightlines, upgraded concourses, and optimised clubs and suites and artist lounges.

The newly modernised venue will accommodate shows unable to land an available date at the Scotiabank Arena (cap. 19,800) in Toronto, which is owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, where Tim Leiweke, OVG Chairman & CEO, was chief executive from 2013 to 2015.

“It’s a great market as Toronto has run out space for new construction. We’re making a big bet but we feel great about it”

Live Nation will serve as the FirstOntario Centre’s booking partner and bring concerts and other live events to the city of Hamilton. Work on the facility will begin in spring 2024, and the building is expected to open in fall 2025.

“Our timing is perfect,” says Leiweke, noting that billions of dollars in construction for ten projects in Hamilton is planned for the fast-growing region. “It’s a great market as Toronto has run out space for new construction. We’re making a big bet but we feel great about it. We have a great team here in place, a lot of great companies that believe in us and we are feeling very optimistic.”

OVG recently worked with Louis Messina, promoter of the Taylor Swift tour, to sell sponsorships for the singer’s six-night run in November 2024 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

“We already have a great infrastructure in place with a strong team up here,” says Leiweke. Besides Hamilton, Oak View Group recently completed renovations at the CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore and plans to complete work at the Co-op Live arena in the UK later this year.

 


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Cardiff arena design overhauled due to costs

The design of Cardiff’s new arena has been overhauled after material costs spiralled by more than 50%.

The venue, which is being developed by Robertson Group and will be operated by Live Nation and Oak View Group, was due to cost £180 million (€203m) but “inflationary pressures” saw it rise to almost £280m (€316m).

Now, architect Populous has made a number of major changes to the design, which have been approved by Cardiff Council planning committee.

The firm, which designed Tottenham Hotspur stadium and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, has replaced its 2022 ‘lump of coal’ arena with a smaller, more rectangular, and lighter-coloured design inspired by the Welsh mountains.

The arena’s height, width, and length have shrunk by 6.5 metres, 9.53m, and 14m respectively, reducing the venue’s capacity from 17,000 to 15,348, according to Architects’ Journal.

Cardiff’s planning committee was told the venue has “lost capacity but gained versatility in what can be offered,” with a new flexible seating or standing arena at its centre.

Cardiff’s planning committee was told the venue has ‘lost capacity but gained versatility in what can be offered’

Other changes include a bronze-coloured aluminium façade, a ‘swoop’ on the arena’s southern exterior, and increased glazing on its east and west-facing elevations to create two arches on each, which will be illuminated for events.

The new arena will sit 4m south of the originally proposed position, on part of Cardiff’s existing County Hall car park in Atlantic Wharf within the Cardiff Bay area, which has been undergoing ongoing regeneration for more than 30 years.

In a design and access statement submitted for the new design in July this year, Populous wrote: ‘The proposed changes to the arena have arisen as a result of the global economic environment and associated increased material costs since the scheme was consented.’

The firm said a ‘full review’ of the proposals with the client led to the overhaul of the project to achieve ‘greater cost certainty’.

The arena was originally scheduled to open in 2025, but is not now set to be completed until the following year, according to Wales Online.

Live Nation already runs the existing 7,500-cap Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, as well as converted warehouse venue Titan Warehouse. OVG, meanwhile, is currently constructing the UK’s first all-electric arena, Co-op Live, in Manchester.

 


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Celebrating 10 years of Glasgow’s OVO Hydro

Consistently recognised as one of the world’s busiest venues, the OVO Hydro in Glasgow has revolutionised Scotland’s live entertainment sector. Now, as the arena marks its tenth birthday, its promoter clients, suppliers, and staff acknowledge the £125m building as one of the greatest investments in Scotland’s history.

When Rod Stewart opened what OVO Hydro 2022 was then the SSE Hydro in Glasgow in September 2013, it marked a new era in arena-scale gig-going in the city that has changed the landscape both physically and culturally.

Designed on a Greek amphitheatre model by Fosters + Partners and built on the once neglected Queen’s Dock area of Glasgow that now forms the Scottish Event Campus, the £125 million arena’s spaceship-sized expanse has become the centrepiece of a trinity of neighbouring venues. The original Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre opened in 1985, with the Clyde Auditorium, better known as the Armadillo, following in 1997.

A full decade in the planning, disaster struck in June 2013 when a major fire broke out during construction. Despite the extensive damage, the arena opened just one month behind schedule.

Ten years on from that curtain-raising Rod Stewart show, and what is now the OVO Hydro has hosted more than 1,000 concerts and is on the map as one of the most successful concert venues in the world.

Up until 2019, when Aberdeen’s P&J Live venue opened, the 14,300-capacity Hydro was the largest entertainment venue in Scotland and the fifth largest in the UK. And to underscore the demand for live entertainment in Scotland, in 2019, the Hydro was the second busiest venue in the world (according to Pollstar’s annual numbers), with only New York’s Madison Square Garden getting bigger audiences than the 1m-plus per year the Hydro now regularly attracts.

“Since the Hydro opened, Glasgow is usually one of the key cities for artists to come to along with London, Manchester, and Birmingham. That has transformed everything”

With the likes of Fleetwood Mac, and Bruno Mars following Rod Stewart’s curtain-raising performance, the Hydro has gone on to host almost every major act in the world. This has included shows by Beyoncé, David Byrne, Billie Eilish, Kylie Minogue, and what turned out to be the last-ever appearance in Scotland by Prince.

Comedy shows such as the stage versions of Scottish TV sitcoms Still Game and Mrs Brown’s Boys have also graced the Hydro’s stage for multiple shows. The 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards was held at the Hydro, which was also used as a venue for that year’s Commonwealth Games. In 2021, the Hydro was also used for COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference that brought together one of the largest gatherings of world leaders to discuss environmental issues in a changing world.

While the Covid-induced lockdowns during 2020 and 2021 closed down live music across the world, the Hydro was co-opted as a vaccination centre. Once live music returned, the venue hit the ground running to sate a refreshed desire for large-scale events.

From Wee to Stoater
But what makes the OVO Hydro so special for artists and audiences alike? For Scotland-based promoters such as Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts and Mark Mackie of Regular Music, the Hydro filled a gap in the market that Glasgow audiences were crying out for.

“I guess the biggest thing with the Hydro is the fact that it’s available all year round,” says Ellis, “whereas previously, the SECC was only available for a few weeks at a time in-between everything else going on there. So, the Hydro has completely opened up the market.

“As a venue, the Hydro was long overdue for Glasgow, and its success hasn’t surprised anyone.”

“The fact that it’s a purpose-built entertainment venue makes the actual experience of going there a good one for fans, and that again has really transformed the market, with audiences coming, not just from Glasgow, but from all over Scotland and beyond. This has meant we can do a lot more shows in a venue that feels intimate because of the way it’s been built as an amphitheatre.”

Ellis continues, “I used to say our biggest competition for arena shows isn’t other promoters in Scotland, it’s other cities in the UK or the rest of Europe. Whereas now, since the Hydro opened, Glasgow is usually one of the key cities for artists to come to along with London, Manchester, and Birmingham. That has transformed everything.”

Mackie agrees. “People loved going to the Hydro right from the start,” he says. “There was no hesitancy from people wondering if it was any good or not. They embraced it right away. As a venue, the Hydro was long overdue for Glasgow, and its success hasn’t surprised anyone. We needed a custom-built arena and not an exhibition hall but something that was flexible, and which could work for everything.

“In the past, a lot of artists couldn’t come to Scotland because there was nowhere big enough for them to play, so Scotland would miss out on all the big tours, which doesn’t happen now. Audiences are proud of that, and everyone working at the Hydro is proud of that as well.”

“The fans really are the heart and soul of the venue, and I think you would struggle to find another audience who match the relentless energy and enthusiasm of the Glasgow crowd”

As Mackie notes, the Hydro has also enlivened its immediate neighbourhood beyond its sister venues. “My big regret is that we didn’t buy a restaurant nearby before it opened,” he jokes. “Because the presence of the Hydro has really brought that part of Glasgow to life with bars and restaurants, so that part of the city is really buzzy now, and that’s great to see. That’s how you judge the ongoing success of somewhere like the Hydro. Just ask any Glasgow taxi driver. They love it, too.”

Phil Bowdery of Live Nation comments, “When the Hydro first opened, it was as if the local community wore the venue as a badge. That made for a great honeymoon period in terms of ticket sales – and that has continued. People in Glasgow like going there, and there is very little in terms of shows that can’t play the Hydro.”

Matt Woolliscroft of SJM similarly points out the way the Hydro has “given Scotland a proper world-class destination venue. Glasgow would always find itself on a tour route as the SECC was always a satisfactory gig. But the Hydro is exceptional and was a very welcome development for arena-level touring.”

Such praise is music to the ears of the venue’s director of live entertainment, Debbie McWilliams. “The Hydro has earned its place amongst the best arenas in the world, and SEC’s expansion is far-reaching, positively impacting the wider economic interests of the city, with hotels, transport, and hospitality just a few of the sectors benefitting from the increased year-round footfall,” McWilliams tells IQ.

“Glasgow is a music city, and throughout its history has been renowned for its atmospheric music venues”

Regarding the need for the arena, McWilliams points out its place in Glasgow’s musical legacy. “Glasgow is a music city,” she says, “and throughout its history has been renowned for its atmospheric music venues. The legendary Apollo and Barrowlands put Glasgow on the world music stage, and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut plays a significant role in launching some of the biggest names in music touring today.

“[But the city] needed a venue with the technical capability and audience capacity to continue this legacy and attract the biggest artists in the world. The success of the Hydro affirms the need for this building in Glasgow.”

State-of-the-art
Built with large-scale productions in mind, the arena’s loading doors allow trucks direct access to the bowl floor, under which all power and services are housed meaning that in theory, services can be lifted at any point on a production. Following discussions with a number of prospective touring production clients, the architecture features a stepped mother grid that runs with the contours of the building’s roof.

“The Hydro has earned its place amongst the best arenas in the world”

This was designed to eliminate potential complaints common at other arenas where certain seats look downthrough the production, causing sightline kills. The original mother rigging grid has a loading capacity of 60 tonnes, but in 2019, a newly designed baby grid with 30-tonne lifting capacity was introduced. The resulting 90-tonne rig improved stage positions and increased existing capacities to 12,500 seated (4%+) and 5,000 to 6,500 (30%+) standing places, thus producing a maximum arena capacity of 14,600 (12%+).

Other capital improvements include:

Standing Ovation
The plaudits from the Hydro’s clients are universal. Danny Betesh and Angie Becker of Kennedy Street admit that while they were initially cautious about the Hydro, their fears proved to be unfounded.

“Some of us wondered whether it was absolutely necessary, as we had been looked after and accommodated for many years in Hall 4 at the SECC,” states Betesh. “Now, a decade later, we know the answer, and yes, it has been a real upgrade for promoters, and a must-play venue for major artists on their UK tours.”

Toby Leighton Pope of TEG calls the Hydro “one of the best venues in Europe, not only from an artist’s view but from a fan’s view, too.”

And it isn’t just promoters who are full of praise for the Hydro. Those behind merchandise, security, and ticketing are equally fulsome in their feelings towards the venue.

“One of the best venues in Europe, not only from an artist’s view but from a fan’s view, too”

As managing director of security company G4S, Chris Burr has seen the changes from the early days of SEC. “The presence of the Hydro has been fantastic,” he says. “We’ve been security provider to the SEC for a number of years, but the Hydro has amplified things, bringing a much greater volume of events to Scotland, which has given us the opportunity to develop a workforce that is sourced locally.

Indeed, he reports, “We’ve relocated our event headquarters into the Scottish Event Campus, so we’re based onsite, and if you look at the campus as a whole, it’s a really vibrant place now.”

Phil Jones of National Merchandise has worked with the Hydro since day one and calls it “the entertainment destination for Scotland. Even just as a building, in a world where some venues can be pretty boring-looking sheds, from the moment it first landed, it looked pretty iconic. Saying ‘it landed’ seems appropriate because it does look like a UFO.

“From a merchandise point of view, if we do a bespoke t-shirt for an artist, it flies off the shelves within minutes. The people of Scotland love a t-shirt.”

John Giddings of Solo Agency simply says that his experience of the Hydro is “Fantastic. I love working there. It gives the opportunity for premiere-league acts to earn the money they can afford to play for.”

“[The Hydro team] are passionate about what they do, which is infectious. They’re the type of team that make you always want to go that extra mile to deliver for, every single day”

Ticketmaster UK boss Andrew Parsons goes a step further, naming the Hydro as his favourite venue.

“Having the opportunity to partner on ticketing with the Hydro was a truly landmark moment for Ticketmaster,” he says. “Playing a small part in supporting them through the evolution into one of the great arena venues in the world has honestly been one of the stand-out projects for myself and the team. Supporting the Hydro team in their continued success remains a guiding principle for all of us.”

Parsons highlights the importance of the Hydro’s full-time staff, who bring a very human face to operations. “As a team,” he says, “they have always been amongst the very best in the business, and without question, one of the partnerships we are most proud of. Exacting but always with a smile! And always with the intention of delivering for fans and artist teams. They are passionate about what they do, which is infectious. They’re the type of team that make you always want to go that extra mile to deliver for, every single day.”

Canny Management
Much of the attitude comes from the top.

At the centre of operations is the venue’s director of live entertainment, Debbie McWilliams, who has worked at the SEC in various capacities since 1989. Starting her career as assistant to the operations director, McWilliams then worked in ticketing for 20 years, helping establish the venue’s box office before becoming box office manager. The opening of the Hydro saw bookings added to her remit.

“I’m proud that we have built a diverse team of talented people across the business. Nurturing and providing a clear development path for our people is at the heart of everything we do”

McWilliams has been in her current post since 2019 and is responsible for the overall management, ticketing, booking, and commercial partnerships of all three SEC venues.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to witness, and play a part, in the evolution of the campus as it has grown from one venue to three,” she says of her tenure.

The passion and sense of care that McWilliams exudes is evident among all the Hydro’s staff, and it is telling that, in an industry with a high turnover, many of those at the Hydro have been there since the start.

“I am fortunate to be part of a fantastic team built on mutual respect and fuelled by a commitment to delivering the best events,” McWilliams affirms. “I’m proud that we have built a diverse team of talented people across the business. Nurturing and providing a clear development path for our people is at the heart of everything we do.”

The Audience Experience
“The fans really are the heart and soul of the venue,” says McWilliams, “and I think you would struggle to find another audience who match the relentless energy and enthusiasm of the Glasgow crowd. This isn’t isolated just to the venue, though. This force is felt right across our brilliant city. Glasgow has a certain charm, and the vibrancy is infectious. It is why global touring artists and their teams love working with us and keep coming back.”

She adds, “From an industry perspective, we continue to rank globally in the top five of the busiest arenas each year, most recently ranking No.1 worldwide on Billboard’s Top Grossing Venues (capacity 10,000-15,000) following another No.1 on Pollstar’s ranking for Top European Arena in February 2023. Year on year we break records for individual shows and cumulative sales, and this is driven by the dedication of the team behind OVO Hydro, who constantly make the arena the best venue in the world.”

And it hasn’t just been music events that have benefitted from the improvements.

“The development of OVO Hydro will always be driven by fan experience and the changing needs and wants of audiences”

“Back in October 2021, we were front-page news across the globe as we hosted COP26,” she says. “Across seven days, we hosted nearly 40,000 world-leaders and delegates for one of the most important climate change conferences of our time. Although we were already on our sustainability journey, the event brought this into sharper focus for us and, in early 2022, we were awarded the world’s first A Greener Arena certification, presented by A Greener Future.”

With this in mind, OVO Hydro looks set to continue its evolution in radical ways that put sustainability at its core.

“As a world-class venue, we are constantly prioritising better outcomes for our clients, our community, and our environment, and this continues to be a critical focus for OVO Hydro as we look toward the next ten years,” says McWilliams. “Last year, we launched our ambitious SEC Net Zero 30 sustainability strategy, which centres around five key goals: climate, governance, partnerships, people, and resource, each providing the focus for the work ahead.

“The strategy includes a focus on reducing our carbon footprint through energy, water efficiency, and green travel. Our Sustainable Events Toolkit provides this guidance to event tours, including energy and water efficiency, green travel, waste, and catering. Our toolkit is shared with all our live event clients during event planning.”

“The live entertainment industry is expected to evolve significantly as technology advances and audiences become more connected than ever before”

For audiences, too, there is much to look forward to, “The development of OVO Hydro will always be driven by fan experience and the changing needs and wants of audiences,” says McWilliams. “We’ve observed since the return of live, that there is an increased demand for elevated VIP experiences, and in response, we recently revamped our Hydro members offering with our new-look dining and drinks space, and we are progressing with plans for a second, making sure we are always meeting consumer demands.”

The Future Starts Here
“The live entertainment industry is expected to evolve significantly as technology advances and audiences become more connected than ever before,” McWilliams observes.

“Technological advancements can help drive growth in ticket and merchandise sales, help create more immersive experiences, and enable event organisers to gain more insight into their target audience and their preferences.

“Additionally, increasing the use of digital technologies such as virtual ticketing and digital marketing will help make ticket sales and event promotion more efficient and effective. The live entertainment industry will likely continue to focus on customer experience, as well as improved production quality and organisational capabilities.”

With its first ten years proving a spectacular success, OVO Hydro looks like it will be catering for the best fans in the world for a long time to come.


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Global Arena Guide 2023: USA

The United States is rife with arena sizes and configurations, with consumer-focused convertible spaces being used for everything from live music and entertainment events to collegiate and professional sports. From coast to coast — with a chunk of viable land and markets in between — the US contains the vast majority of arenas worldwide, including freshly established, historically iconic, and athletically tied venues.

“The health of the arena businesses is really good,” says John Boyle, global chief content officer for multinational venue company ASM Global. “Aside from the frontline concert business, there’s a lot of family content, motorsports, and more.”

In addition, having flexibility of configuration is key for arenas – being able to change capacity from 20,000 to 6,000, for example. “Curtaining off the upper half of the arena means you can put an act in there, and the show still feels good. So all these things together is what’s making the arena business really healthy. There’s a lot of content, and there’s a lot of thoughtfulness in how the supply chain is presenting the content.”

The US has seen a huge growth in Latin acts, as well as a regional Mexican movement – and he notes this trend has expanded out of the US to the rest of the world. Genres such as K-pop and J-pop are also seeing huge global success. Meanwhile, staffing “continues to be a challenge across the board,” and economic headwinds mean consumer behaviour and buying habits are changing, with tickets selling later.

Nonetheless, there’s a huge variety of new content coming through, especially in the family entertainment segment and in immersive exhibitions, which are showing “huge growth.”

“The K-pop shows are hugely successful. The second they go on presale, they sell out immediately.”

The West
On the west coast, California features a range of old and new, including LA’s AEG-owned Crypto.com Arena (20,000-capacity), currently undergoing property-wide upgrades set to be completed in autumn 2024, and Inglewood’s iconic Kia Forum (17,500). The Forum, which can seat as few as 2,500, has hosted ground-breaking residencies, with 15 sold-out nights for Harry Styles and 12 shows for Maná. Multiple show runs are planned for the upcoming year, with Rauw Alejandro, Dead & Company, Drake, and Depeche Mode set to play many nights at the venue.

“As we transition out of the pandemic era, we see that fans are more excited to attend live events than ever before, so it’s our priority to keep the shows coming,” says Becky Colwell, Kia Forum’s general manager.

The Intuit Dome (18,000), the Forum’s new neighbour in Inglewood, is expected to open in autumn 2024 and is set to become the new home of the Los Angeles Clippers, along with hosting live events.

Oak View Group (OVG) recently broke into the arid Coachella Valley region, launching a nearly $300m arena in Palm Springs. Opening in December 2022, the Live Nation-operated Acrisure Arena (11,000) has hosted Maroon 5, Journey, and The Doobie Brothers in its first year, with Paramore and Bryan Adams shows on the horizon.

In the Bay Area, the LEED Silver-certified Oakland Arena, which can be customised anywhere from 1,500-19,500 capacity, has shifted focus from being the home of the Golden State Warriors basketball team to being ‘K-pop central.’ They’re set to host Suga, Twice, and MAMAMOO soon.

“The K-pop shows are hugely successful. The second they go on presale, they sell out immediately. And we continue to prove how amazing it is to have a show here by selling out shows and hosting an amazing experience for fans,” says general manager Nicole Strange.

“I’m not sure in the 33 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve seen it stronger”

With over 500,000 guests welcomed in 2022 and a 12% increase in ticket sales from 2019, Strange says the venue is focusing on new opportunities and revenue arms that weren’t previously possible with a sports residency.

Further up the west coast, Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena has transformed after OVG’s $1.2bn investment wholly renovated the 1960s venue. Reopened in October 2021, the 17,000-capacity arena is set to become the world’s first venue with net-zero carbon emissions as certified by the International Living Future Institute – all while welcoming 2.5m attendees in the 19 months since reopening.

Amazon acquired naming rights to the former KeyArena in 2020, vowing to make all operations carbon-neutral as part of its Climate Pledge pact in partnership with the Global Optimism advocacy group. With these ambitions, the venue is operating at a higher cost in order to “be at the forefront of these efforts to raise the bar in sustainability throughout the sports and entertainment industry,” says general manager Steve Mattson.

The OVG-operated space has eliminated fossil fuels, installed onsite renewable energy sources, and retained the arena’s historic roof from the ’60s. Mattson says they’ll continue to track external natural gas emissions — such as those from artists and fans travelling to the venue — recycle rainwater in soaked Seattle, source 75% of food from a 300-mile radius, and work towards banning all single-use plastics by the end of 2024.

Artists including Stevie Nicks, Phish, Muse, and NCT Dream have graced the Climate Pledge stage in recent months, and while the venue hosts primarily sports-related events, the future for live music in the US market looks brighter than ever.

“I’m not sure in the 33 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve seen it stronger,” says Mattson. “I think part of it is the pandemic pause that prevented artists from touring, and now they’re all out working.”

“Last year was the most successful year that the building has ever had”

With more content comes the desire for new venues, and Madison Square Garden Entertainment is focussed on the Las Vegas market, with the eye-popping MSG Sphere at The Venetian. The dome-shaped auditorium with a projected 17,500-capacity is set to open with a U2 residency in September 2023. It will boast the world’s largest and first 16K LED screen — which wraps up, around, and behind audience members — while immersing them in 4D and pitch-perfect sound technology.

The new venue will bring increased competition to an already busy market in the western portion of the US. The ASM Global-operated Desert Diamond Arena (18,000) in Arizona is familiar with the competition, with Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Coachella being short distances away – though pivoting away from being a sports tenant-held building has led to more opportunities in the live music space.

“If you don’t have that tenant, it’s one less player in the middle. Without them, in this case, it’s a really good thing. And it supports the whole growth of this area right here,” says Dale Adams, general manager of the Glendale arena.

“Last year was the most successful year that the building has ever had. This year, we’ve already confirmed more events than we had last year, so we’re just getting better.” Along with a boom in ticket sales as people return to live performances, Adams says the Latin genre has taken both his venue and the US market by storm, becoming one of the hottest genres in the market today.

The South & Midwest
The Latin fever gripping the US is primarily led by the culturally proximal southern states. In Texas, the newly opened Moody Center (15,000) in Austin is set to host Billy Strings, Ricardo Arjona, Chris Stapleton, and Luis Miguel in the upcoming year, which is only its second in operation.

“We’re seeing really strong indicators that international business will continue to grow here, particularly with Latin and regional Mexican acts,” says Michael Owens, Moody Center’s VP of programming. “Not only is the overall show count increasing, but we’re beginning to cycle into second plays with many of these artists. There is a massive underserved audience in this region, with zip reports showing both regional ticket purchases and cross-border traffic into Austin for these shows.”

“When we think about sustainability, we like to call it our ‘forever journey’ because it’s continuous”

Opening in April 2022, the Moody Center has surpassed expectations to become the world’s highest-grossing venue of its size, according to Billboard. Backed by OVG, Live Nation, and C3 Presents, nearly 50% of its more than 140 events have sold out, with 1.5m fans entering during the inaugural year of business — and Owens says they’re “just getting started.”

“Over the past few decades, many nationally touring acts have skipped the Austin market, opting for pro-sports buildings in major markets like Dallas and Houston,” says Owens. “With the recent addition of this world-class arena in the heart of the city, we’re realising a lot of pent-up demand from those fans who no longer have to travel outside the market to see their favourite artists. Factor in the strong local economy in Austin and the record number of people moving to the region every day, and you have the recipe for an explosive inaugural year.”

Local economies, cultures, and markets are important considerations for venues in the US. In Atlanta, which lies in the south-eastern region, the State Farm Arena (17,000) is striving to be the leading arena in its area, according to general manager and EVP Brett Stefansson.

“Atlanta is a melting pot of different cultures; you can book any genre in our building, and it’s going to be successful,” he says. “Covid caused so much isolation and took away the human-to-human interaction that people crave. We now see fans prioritising and appreciating live entertainment more than ever before.”

Home to the Atlanta Hawks NBA team, which operates the arena, the southern arena hosts both live entertainment and sports and is balancing its recent successes with reshaping the venue for the future. In 2022, it became the world’s first venue to earn Platinum TRUE Zero Waste certification, and it was a founding and equity member in the launch of the OVG-partnered Green Operations & Advanced Leadership (GOAL) platform.

“When we think about sustainability, we like to call it our ‘forever journey’ because it’s continuous. We feel it’s our duty to the community as stewards of a world-class arena and an NBA franchise to do the right thing and to set an example,” says Stefansson.

“In terms of technical labour, a stagehand, for example, there are simply fewer of them around”

Up the eastern coast sits one of the US’s largest arenas by capacity, the Greensboro Coliseum. Configurable between 13,000 to 22,000, the North Carolina arena has hosted The Eagles, Los Temerarios, and New Edition recently.

“The past 12 months were exceptional, and we reached, if not surpassed, how busy we were before the pandemic started,” says deputy director Scott E. Johnson. “Going into the next 12 to 18 months, we are forecasting much of the same. More shows, high sales at high prices.”

Yet Johnson adds the space has struggled to retain part-time and skilled technical labourers, even with significant pay increases. As the American labour force reels from pandemic disruption, the hospitality and leisure sector has the highest quit rate of the US industries, up to 5.6% in February 2023, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Our industry is predominantly supported by part-time workers, who were drastically affected by the pandemic,” says Johnson. “Our industry carries part-time workers as ‘second jobs’ for ancillary income, not a primary job. People are slow to return to secondary employment.”

“In terms of technical labour, a stagehand, for example, there are simply fewer of them around. We have lost quite a few who changed careers during the pandemic. Travelling stagehands took local jobs to survive, and they are only returning to the road if [they receive] significant pay increases,” adds Johnson.

In addition to challenges with labour, inflation in the US market is also a pressing issue for venues and attendees alike. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average cost of goods and services, peaked in June 2022 at 9.1%, up from 2.3% in December 2019, and has trended downwards to 5% in March 2023.

“Slowdowns in the overall economy related to inflation and a reduction in individuals’ discretionary income could affect our industry as a whole”

Inflation remains an ongoing issue for venues like the university-owned Colonial Life Arena (18,000) in South Carolina, where general manager Sid Kenyon says, “slowdowns in the overall economy related to inflation and a reduction in individuals’ discretionary income could affect our industry as a whole.”

Nonetheless, Kenyon reports that this year is projected to match the full fiscal year before the pandemic. The venue is unique in its ties to collegiate affairs but still competes in the broader market against neighbouring venues.

“There are no differences for a collegiate arena than that of any arena that has a primary tenant, such as a professional sports team who receives priority scheduling,” says Kenyon. “I would also say we may also have some advantages with a large infrastructure already in place supporting the entire university, in areas such as legal services, procurement, law enforcement, and security, among others. Another advantage is having thousands of college students in our market.”

Over in the midwestern market, Ohio’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (19,432) also keeps its significant potential audience in mind when booking shows, with EVP of venue operations Antony Bonavita saying, “we’re not just flyover country.” The Cleveland venue has recently seen an explosion in Latin, K-pop, J-pop, and C-pop performances and is set to host Pink, Madonna, Greta Van Fleet, and Peter Gabriel later this year.

Across the Midwest, other notable venues include Tulsa’s BOK Center (19,200), Kansas City’s T-Mobile Center (19,250), St. Louis’s Enterprise Center (22,000), Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena (21,000), and Chicago’s United Center (23,500).

The Northeast
The northeast sector of the US is home to renowned venues including New York City’s Madison Square Garden (18,600), Radio City Music Hall (6,000), and Barclays Arena (19,000). NYC lands in between Boston’s TD Garden (19,500) to the north and Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center (21,000) to the south.

“Within this competitive marketplace, it is extremely important that everyone who sets foot inside UBS Arena has a fun, easy, and memorable experience”

Between Philadelphia and the US capital, Washington, D.C., lies the CFG Bank Arena (14,000), which reopened in April 2023 after an OVG-funded $250m renovation. Instead of demolishing and rebuilding, the decision to renovate the historic Baltimore venue kept concrete and rebar out of landfills, shortened the construction timeline from 18 to 11 months, and reduced overall costs, says general manager Frank Remesch.

Originally known as the Baltimore Civic Center, CFG Bank Arena will go from 105 events per year to a projected 130 – with concerts roughly doubling in their line up. With 38 brand-new suites; an in-venue kitchen; expanded bathroom access; better sightlines; improved lighting, rigging, and sound systems; and a doubling of staff, the venue plans to welcome 1m visitors this year, up from 560,000 per year pre-renovation.

“I’ve got a new building with an experienced staff,” says Remesch. “Some nuances with the building we had to learn, but for the most part, we understand the market. We understand what the patrons expect. It’s really worked out well. And we’ve hit the ground running; we’ve had five sold-out shows already.”

The venue opened its doors with a sold-out performance from Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, followed the next night by The Eagles. CFG Bank Arena will welcome SZA, Andrea Bocelli, Janet Jackson, and KISS in the next year.

Up the east coast, the newest entrant to the NYC territory is UBS Arena (19,000), which opened in November 2021 directly adjacent to city limits in Elmont. While it entered a market faced with staffing and supply chain challenges, venue management has “hit our stride and refined our operation. Our focus now is on delivering the best possible experience for our guests and clients,” says general manager Michael Sciortino.

“Within this competitive marketplace, it is extremely important that everyone who sets foot inside UBS Arena has a fun, easy, and memorable experience, to ensure they come back soon,” he adds.

“All you have to do is stand in the crowd and feel the energy of one of our recent sold-out concerts to know the industry is very much alive and well”

The new space is outfitted with modern luxuries, including premier dressing rooms, a state-of-the-art sound system, a back-of-house designed with advice from Live Nation, and is the first New York venue to feature Amazon’s Just Walk Out self-service shop. The LEED-certified venue’s goals for future development centre on sustainability measures, aiming to become a zero-waste venue by the end of 2023 and to continue exploring onsite solar energy possibilities.

While the New York market is potentially the most competitive in the nation, UBS is carving its own path, having hosted Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, and Post Malone since opening, with Aerosmith and John Mayer to play before the year is out.

The US market is fresh with new developments hosting numerous global tours for eager fans around the nation. With overarching goals of improving sustainability measures, combating market inflation, and maintaining staffing levels, the US sector has its work cut out for it. But from coast to coast, live music is bringing Americans back together again.

“All you have to do is stand in the crowd and feel the energy of one of our recent sold-out Bruce Springsteen or Suga concerts to know the industry is very much alive and well,” says Sciortino.

Population: 329.5 million
Language: English
Currency: US dollar (USD)
GDP per capita: $63,543
Internet users: 307.2 million
Active smartphones: 294.2 million

The 2023 edition of the Global Arena Guide is out now. Find out more on the dedicated year-round mini-site.

 


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OVG to build and operate new arena in Vienna

Oak View Group (OVG) will spearhead the construction and operation of a new ‘world-class’ arena in Austria’s capital city, Vienna.

After an 18-month process, the world’s biggest arena developer was identified as the ‘best bidder’ for planning, constructing, financing and operating the new venue.

Construction on the arena, which will have a minimum capacity of 20,000, is scheduled to begin in 2025, aiming for completion in late 2029.

The €384 million arena will be largely financed by OVG, with the City of Vienna contributing an amount in the “double-digit million range” according to the final offer.

OVG states that it intends to build “the best [arena] in continental Europe, enabling Vienna to compete with other worldwide capital markets and to host more of the world’s top events.”

While the City of Vienna acknowledges that OVG cooperates closely with Live Nation, an important part of the bidding process was a guarantee that the arena would be open to all event organisers, “and that there are no exclusive rights for certain event organisers,” as it states on the City’s website.

“Vienna is a capital market that deserves one of Europe’s top entertainment arenas”

Ticketing, too, must be designed in such a way as “not to impair the existing competition among the various ticket providers,” it adds.

Commenting on the news, Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of OVG, says “Vienna is a capital market that deserves one of Europe’s top entertainment arenas”.

“As the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe and again ranked as the world’s most liveable city this year, it needs an arena that can attract the world’s best events. For those that doubt our commitment and wherewithal, there have been 7 new arenas built in the world in the last 2 years and OVG did them all. We are committed to this project and will deliver on our commitments.”

Francesca Bodie, president of business development and lead negotiator on behalf of OVG, adds: “We have huge admiration for the City of Vienna for having the vision to deliver continental Europe’s best arena, as well as the initiative to find a partner with a proven record of delivering outstanding new arenas that minimise the cost to taxpayers and prioritize innovation and sustainability.”

The next phase of the award process will include planning, zoning, and environmental impact assessments for the project before the contract signing later this year.

The Vienna arena marks OVG’s ninth arena project in the last two years. The LA-based developer oversees the operations of Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center, UBS Arena in Belmont Park, NY, and Moody Center in Austin, TX as well as arena development projects for Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs, CA; Co-op Live in Manchester, UK; and projects for Arena São Paulo in São Paulo, BZ; CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore, MD; FirstOntario Centre Arena in Hamilton, ON; a new arena and entertainment district in Las Vegas, NV; and a new arena in Cardiff, Wales.

 


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