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UK arena bosses discuss green goals

UK arena executives have given an insight into the strides being made to turn the sector into a greener business.

Representatives of London’s The O2 and OVO Arena Wembley, Scottish Event Campus and Manchester’s Co-op Live spoke of the direction of travel at the Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI), the leading gathering for sustainability at live events.

“I think it does prove that people are a) passionate and b) and also doing lots about but also see there’s still a lot to be done all together with the entire industry’s help,” said panel chair Lucy Noble of the Royal Albert Hall (RAH). “So let’s keep going and hopefully if we reconvene next year we’ll have lots more exciting news and be able to talk about new developments.”

Arenas have taken huge strides to strategically reduce their carbon emissions, eliminate waste, green up their food and beverage offerings. Noble recently detailed the RAH’s sustainability focus in an interview with IQ, while the SEC hosted last year’s COP26 climate summit prior to its OVO Hydro in Glasgow becoming the first arena in the world to achieve A Greener Arena (AGA) certification for its commitment to sustainability.

Oak View Group’s new east Manchester development Co-op Live, meanwhile, will become the UK’s first all-electric arena when it opens next year.

Here is a sample of what the GEI: ‘Stepping Into A Greener Arena’ panellists had to say about their green efforts to date…

“We’ve gone red meat free in the arena”

John Drury, OVO Arena Wembley

“We’re part of ASM Global, so we’ve got our own plan in place there, and we obviously work closely now with OVO Energy. Within ASM, we’ve got what’s ASM Global Acts, we’ve got these three main pillars that we work towards that encompass environmental sustainability, community, and diversity and inclusion. So we work with those headings across what we do. One big thing that we did a few years ago as a venue is we replaced all of the house lighting with LED. It was a big investment, nearly quarter of a million pounds, but the payback on that was three years. We only purchase renewable energy. We don’t sell any waste to landfill. We have recycling bins on the concourse, we do all the usual things that you would expect most venues will do. We’ve gone red meat free in the arena, so you can’t get a burger at the venue. You can get chicken burger. It’s bad news for chickens, but it’s been good for the venue and nobody buys a ticket for a show because they want a burger. If they’re hungry, they’ll get veg, chilli, loaded fries or they’ll get something else. It’s a really good initiative and clearly makes sense.”

“We’ve been trialling wind turbines on site for a year or so now to see if that can play a part in our roadmap to net zero”

Steve Sayer, The O2

“AEG has been focused on sustainability for 10-plus years. We have a global framework strategy called 1Earth, which is very much focused on water conservation, waste reduction and reducing carbon emissions. We’ve been harvesting rainwater for the last 10 years, focused on reducing water in all of our bathrooms and washrooms. We’ve been purchasing green energy from a verifiable source for about eight years. All of our energy is tracked and metered throughout the building and we’ve been doing that for a long time. We segregate all of our waste, a minute proportion – less than 1% – goes to landfill, the rest of it is dealt within a sustainable source. We’ve been trialling wind turbines on site for a year or so now to see if that can play a part in our roadmap to net zero. We set a green team up. I always say I was learning about climate change 30 years ago when I was in school, it’s not a new phenomenon. But I think in the last five years it’s just in everybody’s consciousness and Blue Planet 2, definitely in the UK was a real catalyst, particularly at The O2. That then led to us setting up or creating a CSR programme. We have four pillars: sustainability, charity, accessibility and community, and it’s called Good Vibes All Round. It was our first foray into more of a socially purpose driven venue. It’s very much a journey, and it’s a journey that is going to continue for a number of years.”

“OVO Hydro is the first arena in the world to get the Greener Arena award”

Jennifer Ennis, Scottish Event Campus

“We launched our sustainability strategy at the start of this year. The key headlines around our strategy include a net zero 2030 commitment. We did a carbon footprint assessment last year to establish what our baseline is and we’re working towards reducing that. Another key goal for us is our people goals, so that’s about how we engage with our own team to be more sustainable. We’ve got a sustainability committee now, so that has representation from all the different departments of our business. Another key one is resource so that’s all about reducing our waste and increasing recycling. We’ve got a few targets around that which align to zero waste Scotland’s targets, like reducing waste volume by 10% and increasing recycling to 70%. OVO Hydro is the first arena in the world to get the Greener Arena award, so that was a fantastic project to work towards. It is an incredibly comprehensive assessment. But equally, it gives you really good areas to focus on where you could be making improvements.”

“All of our venues are going to be driving the carbon neutral positioning as fast as we can possibly achieve it”

Sarah Tomkins, Co-op Live

“I’ll start by talking about a venue which is open, which is [OVG’s] Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. It’s the first arena to actually achieve zero carbon certification, which is amazing, so we can learn from that. How do they create their own energy? They’re using solar power. How are they reducing gas? They’re 100% electric. They’ve got aluminium cups and are reducing all of their compostable waste. They’re also looking at how their fans travel to the building. At Co-op Live, we’re doing a very similar thing. We’ve got a football pitch and a half of solar on our roof. We’re collecting the lovely Manchester rainwater and we’re going to use that to flush our toilets and to irrigate all of our plants. We are also going to look at heat source. And then we’re also looking at all the different elements of technology from the lighting to the bin systems that will drive the most efficient building possible. And then the operational side is the bit we’re really starting to get our teeth stuck into now. We’ve got to work together to achieve the ambitions but at Oak View Group, we’re really proud to say that this is a top priority for us and all of our venues are going to be driving the carbon neutral positioning as fast as we possibly can achieve it.”

 


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Smashing Pumpkins open ASM’s new San Antonio venue

ASM Global’s Tech Port Center + Arena in San Antonio, Texas has opened with a sold-out show by Smashing Pumpkins.

The company has hailed the new 3,300-cap facility, which has upcoming gigs by the likes of Rise Against, Papa Roach and Boyz II Men, as “the most technologically advanced lifestyle entertainment venue in the world”.

ASM has incorporated a host of local brands into the design of the complex – which also includes a sports arena, museum and food hall – via its culinary division Savor.

“This was an inventive solution to a very specific enterprise reflective of a deep community project of immense importance to San Antonio,” says Shaun Beard, SVP of food and beverage, ASM Global. “This is a project involving the public and private sector with national and international import.

“Food hall, arena, VIP revenues and per caps exceeded our grand-opening projections by 41%”

“Food hall, arena, VIP revenues and per caps exceeded our grand-opening projections by 41%,” he adds. “This reflects an unorthodox but highly comfortable reconfiguration of not only the physicality of our POS positions but additionally the local flavours familiar to our audience.”

Savor has also introduced the world’s only self-ordering bar featuring over-sized television monitors and facial recognition for custom-crafted cocktails. The system remembers orders, reorders and subsequently sends guests their tab.

ASM plans to roll out the system, which previously had a beta-run at its Vystar Arena in Jacksonville, at select venues throughout its international portfolio.

 


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Manchester’s AO Arena to undergo £50m revamp

ASM Global has announced a £50 million plan to transform Manchester’s AO Arena.

The three-year phased development, which will begin this summer, will dramatically enhance the 21,000-cap venue, expanding its infrastructure while adding innovative guest features. Further details will be released in the coming months.

The 27-year-old arena has a string of sell-out concerts lined up for 2022, including Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Diana Ross, Alicia Keys, Swedish House Mafia, Snoop Dogg and George Ezra.

“The first phase will enhance and increase our standing floor capacity”

“AO Arena is one of the world’s iconic venues and a much-loved part of Manchester’s rich culture and history,” says Chris Bray, EVP Europe at ASM Global. “It has been delivering world class entertainment experiences for over two decades. As we approach our 30th anniversary, this ambitious endeavour will not only reinforce its position as a leading destination for live entertainment but will extend its market leadership for ‘live’ and fan experiences for the next 30 years, and we’re proud to be further investing into the heart of Manchester.

“The first phase will enhance and increase our standing floor capacity to share this historic arena with even more of our guests and we will also be adding new hospitality lounges and investing in delivering an upgraded concourse experience. Our performers will be immersed in an all-new back of house artists campus, unparalleled anywhere.”

Additional major developments will include brand-new arena entrances, specially tailored premium experiences, custom designed lounges, and new premium seating.

“This will not only elevate the experience for guests and fans, but for everyone who sets foot in the venue”

AO Arena’s back of house will also be upgraded with a complete overhaul of the backstage experience, including new artist dressing rooms and production areas, a “world-class” green room with meet and greet facilities, an overhaul of crew catering, and first-class connectivity and technology.

“This is a really exciting time for the AO Arena,” adds recently appointed general manager Jen Mitchell. “Not only are we able to welcome guests back after a challenging two years, with a programme packed full of world-class acts and entertainment; now we can reveal the first phase of ASM Global’s plans for the arena’s redevelopment. This will not only elevate the experience for guests and fans, but for everyone who sets foot in the venue, including artists, production, crew and our staff who work so hard to make the magic happen right here in Manchester.”

AO Arena is set to face competition in the city from Oak View Group’s new east Manchester development Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open in 2023.

 


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$375m Moody Center opens in Austin, Texas

New multi-purpose 15,000-seat arena the Moody Center has opened in downtown Austin, Texas.

Developers of the US$375 million project, which replaces the city’s 42-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr Center, include Oak View Group, Live Nation/C3 Presents, The University of Texas at Austin, and Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey.

It has been named in honour of a $130m grant from Texas-based charitable organisation the Moody Foundation, and promises to provide a “world-class venue for top touring concerts and shows” in the self-styled live music capital of the world, which hosts the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival.

The arena, which will also host basketball and other sporting events, debuted to the public last night (20 April), with the first of two concerts by John Mayer and officially launched with two sold-out gigs by George Strait with special guests Willie Nelson & Family and Randy Rogers Band from April 29-30.

“The Moody Center will be a must-play arena and we look forward to bringing our concerts and tours there”

Speaking in 2019, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino said: “The Moody Center will be a must-play arena and we look forward to bringing our concerts and tours there as soon as the doors open in 2022.”

Other artists scheduled for Moody Center in 2022 include Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber, The Who, Dave Matthews Band, Eagles, Machine Gun Kelly, Andrea Bocelli, Florence + The Machine, James Taylor, Leon Bridges, Shawn Mendes and Daddy Yankee.

Jeff Nickler, who was previously SVP of Arena Alliance, a collection of 29 NBA and NHL venues in North America, will serve as the arena’s general manager. Facilities include 44 Suites, nearly 2,000 club seats, three premium clubs, 57 loge boxes and one super VIP club, the Moët & Chandon Impérial Lounge.

 


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Joe Giordano named VP of Arena & Stadium Alliance

Oak View Group (OVG) has announced the appointment of booking veteran Joe Giordano as VP of the Arena & Stadium Alliance.

A collection of the top 38 venues in North America, the Alliance provides a united platform for booking, content development, procurement and sponsorship sales opportunities.

Giordano was previously with ASM Global, having spent six years as assistant general manager at the 19,199-seat BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prior to that, he was regional booking manager and developed content for 40-plus ASM venues.

He also serves on the board of directors for the International Entertainment Buyers Association (IEBA).

“I want to make sure every Alliance member continues to feel supported by the power of Oak View Group working on their behalf”

“Joe’s success has been driven by his deep relationships – with his colleagues and clients, as well as with top industry touring professionals, promoters, agents, artist management and athletic directors,” says Chris Granger, president of OVG360, the third-party, service-oriented division of OVG. “He’s an inclusive and proactive leader, focused on helping others succeed; he’s an expert negotiator, able to identify mutual wins; and he’s a master at content development, striking the perfect blend of strategy, creativity, and boldness.”

Giordano replaces Jeff Nickler, who is staying with the company as SVP and GM of OVG’s Moody Center in Austin, which is set to open next month.

“I know what it’s like to manage a building that must punch well above its weight to attract major shows. I know the importance of entrepreneurialism and creativity in our industry,” says Giordano. “I’m a building operator, and this business is personal to me. To this end, I understand the collective impact the Alliance yields, and I want to make sure every Alliance member continues to feel supported by the power of Oak View Group working on their behalf – from global partnerships to content and booking to an entire array of arena services.”

 


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MSG Sphere London moves a step closer

Madison Square Garden’s controversial MSG Sphere London project has been given the go-ahead by planning officials despite objections from rival AEG.

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) planning committee voted to back the application – which still requires approval from the mayor – by a 6-4 majority at a meeting last night (22 March), three years after plans were first submitted.

The 21,500-cap venue, which would be MSG’s first property outside of the US, is set to be located in Stratford, east London, four miles from AEG’s The O2 (20,000-cap) in North Greenwich. The building will be covered in LED panels designed to display digital content, including moving images, artistic content and branded advertising.

“We are pleased that the planning committee voted in support of our vision for MSG Sphere,” says a statement from MSG, first reported by Pollstar. “Throughout this process we have worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders, and are grateful for their collaboration which is reflected in our detailed proposal. We now look forward to progressing onto the next steps in the approval process.”

MSG has suggested that London has an “undersupply” of dedicated large entertainment venues compared with cities  such as Berlin, Paris, Madrid and New York (the capital’s next biggest indoor spaces are the 12,500-cap OVO Arena Wembley and the 10,400-cap Alexandra Palace. However, more than 850 objections were received to the proposal, with 355 written responses in support.

“Reoccurring themes in representations in support are that the proposed development and advertisement proposals would make a distinctive contribution to the Stratford skyline, improve connectivity, create jobs and be an iconic visitor attraction,” read the report by LLDC principal planning development manager Daniel Davies, which had backed the scheme.

“Reoccurring themes in opposition to the proposed development are the lack of need for the development as well as its scale, massing and form in the local context, its impact on Stratford Station and the impact of advertising on residential amenity, the setting of heritage assets and public safety” it added.

“AEG have always maintained we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector”

AEG has previously voiced concerns over the proposed venue’s proximity to The O2 and reiterated its opposition in the run-up to last night’s meeting.

“AEG have always maintained we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector, or another large music venue in London, but it should not be built so close to The London Stadium, Copper Box, Westfield and The O2,” said a spokesperson for the company.

“It is imperative that it does not add to congestion or overcrowding in this area of the city, or on the public transport network, especially the Jubilee line which is critical for the movement of guests to and from The O2. We believe that MSG’s scheme is fundamentally the wrong proposal, in the wrong location, and is technically seriously flawed.”

A 2019 investigation by The Times found that AEG had created a residents’ group to oppose the scheme.

Earlier this month, MSG announced the appointment of veteran executive Lucas Watson as MSG Sphere president. Watson, who takes up the new role next week, will lead the strategy and execution of all business aspects of MSG Sphere and the company’s planned state-of-the-art venues.

He will oversee the global development of the MSG Sphere brand, including selectively extending the MSG Sphere network to other markets.

The first MSG Sphere venue, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, is currently under construction in Las Vegas and is scheduled to open in the second half of calendar 2023.

 


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Swansea Arena to host first major live music show

Ambassador Theatre Group’s (ATG) recently opened Swansea Arena will stage its first major music concert this weekend when it hosts Royal Blood.

The 3,500-cap venue – the UK’s newest arena – officially launched on 15 March with a show by comedian John Bishop, while test events featuring local bands were held ahead of its opening.

Royal Blood perform tomorrow (19 March), with other acts in the coming months set to include Alice Cooper + The Cult, Elvis Costello, Corey Taylor, The Australian Pink Floyd, Kaiser Chiefs, Level 42, Will Young and Squeeze.

“The official opening of Copr Bay phase one is delivering on our promise to the people of Swansea,” says Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart. “We’ve delivered this scheme during a pandemic, so everyone involved deserves enormous credit – from council staff and funding partners to our contractors and Ambassador Theatre Group, who will operate the arena on our behalf and bring world class entertainment to Swansea.”

The indoor venue marks the first arena-sized project for ATG

The indoor venue marks the first arena-sized project for ATG, best known as an operator of London West End theatres. The company, which is majority owned by Providence Equity Partners, and received an injection of funding from Australia’s TEG. portfolio, also runs the 3,000-cap Stockton Globe, which reopened last September following a £28 million restoration.

ATG veteran Lisa Mart was appointed Swansea Arena’s general manager last year. The new arena is part of the £135m Copr Bay urban regeneration project in Wales’ second-largest city and is part-funded by the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal – an investment in nine major programmes and projects across the Swansea Bay City Region.

Swansea’s 20,000-cap Singleton Park will welcome outdoor gigs by Gerry Cinnamon, Nile Rodgers + Chic, Anne-Marie and Paul Weller this June and July.

 


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Green light for new Cardiff arena plans

Construction of Live Nation and Oak View Group’s (OVG) new arena in Cardiff, UK is expected to start later this year after the development was granted planning permission.

The 17,000-cap venue, which is set to open in 2025, will form part of a wider multi-million-pound regeneration of Butetown, Cardiff in Wales.

The venue is being developed by Robertson Group with a view to bringing “some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry” to the city and cementing Cardiff Bay’s position as a “top-tier” visitor attraction.

“We are delighted with this decision, one of the most significant and landmark developments in the region for some years, and we look forward to delivering our vision for a new arena with our partners and Cardiff Council,” says Graham Walters, Live Nation UK Venues COO. “A world-class arena, with a global reputation for culture, will transform Atlantic Wharf for local, national, and international visitors to Cardiff, as well as facilitate job creation and economic growth in the region.”

“We are now looking forward to working together with our partners and the local community to give Cardiff and Wales the top tier arena they deserve”

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.

“It is exciting that the plans for a new arena at Atlantic Wharf have been approved by the council,” adds OVG COO Mark Donnelly. “We are now looking forward to working together with our partners and the local community to give Cardiff and Wales the top tier arena they deserve.”

Phase One of the development formed part of a hybrid planning application that was submitted in November 2021 and has now been approved by Cardiff’s Planning Committee.

Both the arena and the wider masterplan are in line with Cardiff Council’s 2030 climate neutral aspirations, with energy strategies incorporated into the design and operational elements of the redevelopment set to achieve operational climate neutral positions by 2030.

 


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MSG Sphere London plans to be debated next week

AEG has repeated its opposition to Madison Square Garden’s proposed new MSG Sphere London venue after it was confirmed a planning application for the development will be heard next week.

The 21,500-cap venue, which would be MSG’s first property outside of the United States, is set to be located in Stratford, east London, across the river from AEG’s The O2 (20,000-cap.) in North Greenwich.

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) planning committee will meet to discuss the application on Tuesday 22 March, three years after plans were first submitted.

A spokesperson for AEG, which has previously voiced concerns over the MSG venue’s proximity to The O2, says: “We are calling on the LLDC to refuse MSG’s application for a new venue in Stratford and encourage the Mayor of London to formally oppose this project in order to protect Newham’s residents and existing businesses from this inappropriate development.

“The proposals would exacerbate congestion at the already over-crowded Stratford Station, and no additional train services are proposed to mitigate the impact on the Jubilee Line. It has been suggested that various further modelling and assessment be undertaken post-planning meaning that the full impact of the proposals is simply not known.”

“AEG have always maintained we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector”

AEG insists it is not against competition, but argues the area is already well served by existing venues.

“AEG have always maintained we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector, or another large music venue in London, but it should not be built so close to The London Stadium, Copper Box, Westfield and The O2,” adds the spokesperson. “It is imperative that it does not add to congestion or overcrowding in this area of the city, or on the public transport network, especially the Jubilee line which is critical for the movement of guests to and from The O2.

“We believe that MSG’s scheme is fundamentally the wrong proposal, in the wrong location, and is technically seriously flawed.”

A 2019 investigation by The Times found that AEG had created a residents’ group to oppose the scheme.

“Our plans are not about competition,” MSG’s EVP of development and construction Jayne McGivern said at the time. “Examples from New York and Los Angeles suggest that a new arena would grow the market and complement London’s existing venues by expanding booking options and allowing more artists to perform in the city.

“We had hoped the owners of existing arenas in London would welcome innovation, diversity, and choice, and it’s extremely disappointing to us that they have not.”

 


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The O2’s Steve Sayer on arena’s ‘fantastic’ return

The O2’s Steve Sayer is tipping 2023 to be an even bigger year for live music as the business edges back towards normality following the Covid shutdown.

The 20,000-cap, AEG-operated London venue, which hosted the UK’s annual BRIT Awards on 8 February, reopened last Friday with a concert by UB40 featuring Ali Campbell after being closed for a week due to damage caused by Storm Eunice.

And despite the industry enduring a slightly slow start to Q1 due to the spread of the Omicron variant, the arena’s VP and GM tells IQ it is now all systems go.

“The BRITs was really the kickstart for us at The O2,” says Sayer, who succeeded John Langford in the role in 2018. “A week or so later, we were naturally concerned about whether the impact [of the storm damage] was going to go on longer than we thought, but it’s just getting busier and busier from here on in.

“We’re getting back to what The O2 has done for many years, which is six or seven shows a week, back-to-back, for the next few weeks. Dave doing two shows this week has been fantastic – a London artist coming through and headlining his first two shows at The O2 was a major milestone – but we’ve got many more to come.”

Superstar artists set to play the venue in the coming months include Stormzy, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Queen + Adam Lambert and Alicia Keys, while Justin Bieber, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and Shawn Mendes are already announced for next year.

“A lot of rescheduled events from the last couple of years have dropped into this year, but we’ve got new shows getting announced all the time and Q4 looks strong,” says Sayer. “It’s been difficult getting dates, not just at The O2, but across the board, and we’ve also got a lot of content already lined up for 2023.

“I think 2023 is probably going to be a bigger year than 2022. We all thought that ’22 would be the record year and the recovery year, and I still think it’ll be a really strong year in terms of the event count and the calibre of the artists playing. But hopefully, from here on in, we’re looking at 18 to 24 months of really strong, bumper content.”

On 18 February, an estimated 1,000 people were evacuated from the Greenwich complex, which also boasts the Up at The O2 attraction, the Icon Outlet shopping centre, a cinema and the 2,800-cap Indigo at The O2, after one of the worst storms to hit the UK in decades ripped a hole in the venue’s iconic roof.

Two shows by Dave set for 21-22 February were rescheduled for the following week but, despite initial concerns, all other gigs in the main arena have been able to proceed as planned.

“We’re in the events business and the one thing we’re great at is keeping the show on the road”

“It was a huge relief to be back up and running after various lockdowns and the impact of that on the arena for the best part of two years,” reflects Sayer. “So to then get the call that part of the tent had torn in the wind wasn’t the best news to get on a Friday,” says Sayer. “At that point, we really didn’t know how long it was going to take, but it was a monumental team effort.

“We had to move on our feet for the first 24 to 36 hours to really understand what it was we were dealing with. But by the Sunday, we were confident that we would be at least partially open within a week if we could create a safe passage for fans using Entrance H, because it was around that area where the roof has been damaged.”

He continues: “We brought in a number of construction experts and structural engineer expertise right away and worked to make the site safe and get back open within just under a week, which was an incredible achievement and a massive tonic for us all.

“There was always going to be speculation that it could be longer and we took a lot of calls from a number of very worried promoters and agents asking, ‘What’s happening with our show? Can you confirm it’s definitely going ahead?’ And we were able to reassure all of those clients quite quickly that it wouldn’t be a long closure, because the arena hasn’t been impacted at all, we just needed to create that safe passage. Fans coming to the Dave shows on Monday and Tuesday experienced that for the first time and it worked pretty well.

“We got a lot of messages of support from across the industry – and some practical support from Dave’s team, who actually had to move two other shows to accommodate moving the two shows at The O2, so I’d like to place on record my thanks to everybody involved in that.”

Other upcoming events over the next couple of weeks include Simply Red (2-3 March), The Lumineers (4 March), Davido (5 March) and the return of the Country to Country festival (11-13 March).

“Fundamentally, we’re in the events business and the one thing we’re great at is keeping the show on the road,” adds Sayer. “After the past couple of years, it was imperative that we did that and everybody at The O2 pulled together to make happen.”

 


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