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Wembley’s John Drury hails debut arena headliners

OVO Arena Wembley boss John Drury has told IQ he is thrilled by the number of first-time arena headliners stepping up to play the venue.

Artists such as Yungblud and Loyle Carner are scheduled to make their debut headline appearances at the 12,500-cap arena in 2023, which Drury believes is a positive sign for a business as a whole.

“It’s great to have artists coming back and we’ve got those, but it’s also really good to see people coming through to arena level,” he says. “Another new headliner is Joe Hisaishi in September with his two sold-out Studio Ghibli shows. They were first on sale in 2020, but lockdown saw them off. Then he was supposed to be back in August last year, but was confined to his house because of Covid, so people have waited a long time for these shows.”

Drury, who will co-chair the ILMC panel The Venue’s Venue: The cost of live-ing alongside The O2’s Emma Bownes at 10am on 2 March, repeats his assertion that the touring calendar will not fully return to normality in 2024.

“It is still where we are,” he says. “There aren’t as many rescheduled shows now, but as well as Joe Hisaishi, we’ve got Sabaton – who were supposed to play in March last year but postponed – and a couple of others.

“Next year should be as normal a year as 2019 was in terms of the content and the way it comes in. Unless something else odd happens!”

“Next year should be as normal a year as 2019 was in terms of the content and the way it comes in. Unless something else odd happens!”

The ASM Global arena, which hosted around one million fans in 2022 and rounded off the year with a three-night stand by The Cure, also hosts the Heavy Music Awards on 26 May and is enjoying a fruitful run with live editions of podcasts such as That Peter Crouch Podcast’s Crouchfest, which featured a surprise 30-minute performance by Kasabian.

Upcoming shows include The Overlap Live with football pundits Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane, set for 5 April, and Rob Beckett & Josh Widdicombe’s Parenting Hell (23 April), while other concerts include Black Stone Cherry & The Darkness, All Time Low, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Andre Rieu, Stromae, OneRepublic and Pet Shop Boys.

“It’s feeling strong,” adds Drury, Wembley’s longtime VP and GM. “We’ve all got the same challenges and through lockdowns we have seen there has been a bit of a talent drain across the production and talent side, which has been a concern for everybody. So that’s something we’re working through.

“Covid is still there, but we’re living with it now. But with a war in Ukraine, an energy crisis and the cost of living crisis, we’ve gone from one challenge to another and they are are overlapping a little bit as well. But it affects everybody. and we’re all working through it, so it is where we are.”

“We’ve got the oldest arena in the UK and it highlights what you can do with an old building”

Developer and asset manager Quintain completed the sale of OVO Arena Wembley to Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) last September. The venue, which opened in 1934 as the Empire Pool, also recently successfully completed its Greener Arena certification via A Greener Festival, becoming the oldest arena in the UK to do so.

Since April 2022, the venue has delved into the process via a baseline CO2 analysis and impact assessment, to develop and guide the arena’s strategy towards achieving its sustainability goals, supporting OVO Energy’s commitment to becoming a net-zero business by 2035.

“It’s an interesting process and an important one for us,” says Drury. “Clearly, our naming rights partner OVO Energy has strong sustainability credentials, and our new landlord, ICG, is very big on sustainability. We’ve got the oldest arena in the UK and it highlights what you can do with an old building.”

ASM’s entire portfolio of UK operated venues, which also includes AO Arena Manchester, First Direct Arena Leeds, Utilita Arena Newcastle, P&J Live Aberdeen and Olympia London, will undergo certification as part of a long-term strategy and pledge towards greener operations.

“It’s an ongoing process and no doubt things will change in the next 12 months and we will adapt again,” adds Drury. “It’s just a case of topping it up and keeping the work going.”

 


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Lewis Capaldi breaks Scottish concert record

Lewis Capaldi has broken the record for Scotland’s highest-selling indoor show.

The 26-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter sold more than 15,000 tickets for his DF Concerts-promoted show at P&J Live in Aberdeen on Monday (23 January), smashing the previous record set by Gerry Cinnamon at the venue in November 2019.

Capaldi, who is represented by Alex Hardee and Ryan Penty of Wasserman Music, was in Aberdeen as part of his 2023 European arena tour.

“Monday’s show was absolutely phenomenal,” says Louise Stewart, interim MD at P&J Live. “The perfect blend of humour and pure talent, Lewis entertained the record-breaking crowd with new music, some classic hits and gave us a few laughs along the way. This is a fantastic accolade for P&J Live and is exactly what the venue was built for.

“We would like to thank DF Concerts & Events for bringing Lewis up the North East of Scotland and to his fans for all their continued support – we couldn’t do it without you. We look forward to continuing to bring a variety of world-class acts to the region.”

“Nearly 15,000 fans from Scotland’s North East standing on the floor has to be seen to be believed”

Operated by ASM Global, the £333 million P&J Live opened in August 2019, replacing the former Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC). It has upcoming concerts with the likes of Michael Bublé, Elton John and Pet Shop Boys.

“P&J Live was the perfect venue for Lewis’ full-hearted songs and incredible production on his hugely successful arena tour,” adds ASM programming director James Harrison. “Nearly 15,000 fans from Scotland’s North East standing on the floor has to be seen to be believed, a unique sight in UK venues, an incredible atmosphere and a night to remember for everyone that was there.”

 


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Poland’s Arena Gliwice tops one million visitors

Poland’s Arena Gliwice is celebrating surpassing one million visitors less than five years after opening.

The 17,178-cap venue, which enjoyed a record year for ticket sales in 2021, opened in May 2018 and reached the visitor milestone last month despite two years of Covid restrictions.

The arena has previously welcomed acts including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Evanescence, Nightwish, James Blunt and Slayer.

“We owe this milestone primarily to our team,” sales and marketing director Konrad Kozioł tells IQ. “Arena Gliwice is run by experienced managers who were involved in the organisation of such large-scale events as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship and the 2016 European Men’s Handball Championship.

“Some members of our team have previously worked for other major arenas across the country, so they were able to bring their industry expertise to this new venue when it opened in 2018. Others were recruited locally and given all the training they needed to be able to put on high-profile events.

“Another major factor was our ongoing cooperation with the municipal authorities in the city of Gliwice, who have been very supportive in helping the venue take off.”

“We also want to use this year to work on organising our own events, which we would be responsible for from start to finish – that’s one of our major goals”

The arena’s 2023 calendar is dominated by sporting events, but will also host concerts by the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, Gojira, Led Zeppelin Symphonic and Andre Rieu.

“We also want to use this year to work on organising our own events, which we would be responsible for from start to finish – that’s one of our major goals,” says Kozioł, who joined the board of the European Arenas Association last autumn.

He lists the venue’s highlights from its first half-decade in business as the 2019 Junior Eurovision Song Contest, the 2022 FIVB Volleyball World Championships and the 2021 Poland vs Israel basketball European qualifier, which broke the Polish national basketball team’s attendance record, with more than 12,000 tickets sold.

“Something that’s unique about Arena Gliwice is the comprehensive support we offer all event organisers,” adds Kozioł. “Customer experience is also one of our main priorities – we always do our best to ensure that our guests feel taken care of from the moment they arrive. Finally, we’re the only venue of this kind in Poland to manage F&B operations ourselves. This allows us to tailor the menu to correspond to the atmosphere of every event – for Andre Rieu’s concert, for instance, we served cheesecake instead of the usual hot dogs.”

“In 2021, the number of people who participated in events at Arena Gliwice was 66% higher than in 2019 – our best pre-Covid year”

Kozioł also shares his pride at the way the arena’s management handled the Covid-19 pandemic and speaks of the biggest challenges moving forward.

“Following the announcement of the first lockdown in mid-March, it took us less than a month to set up a professional television studio from which we streamed over 1,000 hours of content between April and November,” he says. “The cost of electricity in Poland has already gone up by 100% and we have to be prepared for further price rises, but it’s really hard to predict how the economic situation might develop given the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“Another challenge we’re facing has to do with bookings – we have become a recognisable venue on the Polish market and our calendar is filling up by the day, so it gets harder and harder to fit more events in.”

Wrapping up, Kozioł says the country’s live music sector is currently witnessing an “explosion” of events on the market, which can be construed as both a positive and a negative.

“Customers have more choice than ever before, but with their financial resources under strain, they can’t attend them all, which forces them to prioritise,” he adds. “This makes it harder to sell out and creates the need to maximise marketing efforts. At the same time, ticket sales are at an all-time high. In 2021, the number of people who participated in events at Arena Gliwice was 66% higher than in 2019 – our best pre-Covid year.”

 


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New 10,000-cap arena opens in France

France has gained a new 10,150-cap arena, CO’Met, which opened in Orléans over the weekend.

Owned by Orléans Metropolitan Council, the €150 million venue is operated by GL Events and forms part of a complex which already comprises a congress centre and exhibition hall, along with the existing 6,900-cap Zenith Venue.

CO’Met launched on Saturday (7 January) with a handball tournament, but is also capable of hosting concerts and other entertainment events, along with conferences and conventions.

The facility is considered a breakthrough for the French market

The Stadium Business reports the facility is considered a breakthrough for the French market as it is the first to offer a large, multifunctional space away from the Paris region.

Elsewhere in France, Live Nation signed a deal with Olympique Lyonnais Groupe back in 2021 to develop the new 16,000-capacity LDLC Arena in Lyon, which is scheduled for completion later this year. According to the companies, the new venue will host around 100 events per year including concerts, sporting events and eSports.

The deal extended LN’s relationship with OL Groupe which first launched in 2016 with the opening of the Groupama Stadium (cap. 59,186) in Lyon. The partnership has brought artists such as Rihanna, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran to the stadium.

 


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Triple A partners on Garage All Stars arena tour

Independent promoter Triple A has announced a wide-ranging partnership deal with So Solid Crew and S9 founder Megaman, starting with a UK Garage All Stars 2023 arena tour.

Kicking off at Glasgow’s OVO Hydro on 21 June, the run will bring together more than 30 of the garage genre’s most renowned artists, plus surprise guests. It will also include stops at Birmingham Utilita Arena (22 June), Cardiff International Arena (23 June), OVO Arena Wembley (24 June) and AO Arena Manchester (25 June).

“Beside being an artist I’m such a fan of the music; a genre created right here in the UK, which has gone on to achieve an incredible amount of No.1 hits and platinum-selling records, I’ve always wanted to see it concert style,” says Megaman, aka Dwayne Vincent.

“This arena tour we have here is the first of many plans and ideas we want to execute with the brand”

“This arena tour we have here is the first of many plans and ideas we want to execute with the brand. It’s an exciting project for us. Let’s see what the future brings.”

S9’s partnership with Triple A will also include a “significant investment” in brand recognition and development, with the collaborators aiming to put the spotlight back on the producers, creators and artists that carved out the influential UK garage scene, which enjoyed its biggest commercial success from 1999-2001.

“This is not simply an exercise in nostalgia,” adds a press release. “The intention is to bring the focus back to this Innovative group of people who created a uniquely British sound, which still resonates today.”

 


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Korea to gain three new concert arenas by 2025

South Korea is to gain three new concert venues by the end of 2025 as it moves to capitalise on the demand created by the K-pop explosion.

Billed as the nation’s first multi-purpose arena, the 15,000-seater Mohegan Inspire Arena is scheduled to open in the city of Icheon in the fourth quarter of 2023 and promises to “transform the entire landscape of the domestic performance arts industry”.

The venue, which will form the centrepiece of Mohegan Inspire Entertainment Resort, is projected to welcome four million guests a year. Previously, reports the Korea Times,the Seoul metropolitan area has relied on stadiums such as Gocheok Sky Dome, the KSPO Dome in Olympic Park and the Jamsil Sports Complex’s Main Stadium to host shows.

“Korea’s performing art industry has long been facing a shortage of high-quality venue that can support shows of top-tier artists”

“Given the strong demand for K-pop and other live performances, Korea’s performing art industry has long been facing a shortage of high-quality venue that can support shows of top-tier artists from home and abroad, and various cultural events,” says Ray Pineault, CEO and president of Mohegan. “This perhaps explains the expectations building around the Mohegan Inspire Arena far ahead of its construction completion.

“This new venue is poised to emerge as Korea’s first multi-purpose arena that can showcase various types of events, encompassing global artist performances, world-class sports league tournaments such as eSports, MMA, TV award shows and media IP-based exhibitions.”

Mohegan also operates the 10,000-cap Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, US.

Elsewhere, AEG and CJ LiveCity Corporation’s new K-pop-focused entertainment complex in South Korea is set to open in Goyang City, Seoul, in 2024. The 1.8 trillion won (€1.3 billion) development comprises the 20,000-capacity CJ LiveCity Arena and an outdoor performance space capable of accommodating 40,000 people.

In addition, South Korean IT giant Kakao and the Seoul metropolitan government are in the process of building the 19,000-cap Seoul Arena in the capital’s northern Dobong district, with work expected to be completed in October 2025.

 


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AO Arena to show World Cup clash ahead of concert

Manchester’s AO Arena is to screen England’s World Cup quarter-final clash with France live prior to Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott’s concert at the venue tomorrow evening (10 December).

Support act Billy Bragg has agreed to perform earlier than planned at 6.15pm GMT to enable the match to be shown on the 21,000-cap arena’s big screens from 7pm. Heaton & Abbott will then take to the stage for their headline set at 9pm.

“Following some lengthy thought and discussion, we have decided that we will now be showing the England v France match on the screens at AO Arena Manchester,” says a statement on the venue’s website.

“We are mindful that there will be people that won’t be keen on watching the match (we did, unsuccessfully, look at alternative entertainment within the arena itself) and also worried about transport home, but we assure you that Paul & Jacqui will still take to the stage by 9pm, meaning the show will finish around 10:40/45pm.

“With the right result this could be a great night!”

“This does mean we won’t be showing any extra time if that occurs, but if it does Paul and Jacqui will be very keen to keep you updated from the stage. With the right result this could be a great night!”

London’s The O2 previously streamed England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia before a Justin Timberlake concert, while BST Hyde Park showed the game to 30,000 attendees on the Great Oak Stage, preceded by a performance by the Lightning Seeds.

Heaton, a renowned football supporter, and Abbott have capped tickets for their current UK arena tour at just £30 in a bid to help fans weather the cost of living crisis.

“I’m against greed in the industry,” Heaton told BBC Breakfast. “It’s incredibly important that through the coming months and possibly years, that we tell the fans that we’re getting paid enough and we want to keep it low for you.”

 


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US arenas: ‘The pandemic taught us to be nimble’

US arena bosses have told IQ the sector is recovering well following a slow start to 2022, with a stellar next 12 months expected.

Bryan Crowe, VP and general manager of ASM Global’s 19,000-cap BOK Center and Cox Business Convention Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reports that the venue flew out of the blocks, with a run of sold-out shows in the spring setting the record for busiest two weeks in its history.

The Eagles set a new  record for highest-grossing single night concert in the venue’s history, while a Bruce Springsteen show scheduled for March 2023 sold out in a matter of hours.

“It’s safe to say the US entertainment market is healthy,” says Crowe. “The next 12 to 18 months at the BOK Center look strong, with record pacing content numbers. There is a substantial amount of touring content in the next year and we are seeing the result of that with a busy calendar slated for the end of this year.”

“We are seeing early purchase success with the must-see A-list artists but a shift to late purchases for the casual concert fan”

Noteable concerts have included Michael Buble, Iron Maiden, Thomas Rhett, Post Malone, and Carrie Underwood.

“We are seeing early purchase success with the must-see A-list artists but a shift to late purchases for the casual concert fan,” observes Crowe.

Jay Cooper, general manager of ASM’s T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, says the 19,800-cap venue has experienced growing demand for live events throughout the year as the industry has emerged from the pandemic.

“People want to get out of their homes, be social and have fun again,” says Cooper. “Throughout 2022 we have seen increasing demand for live events and ticket sales back that up. We started 2022 with a collection of constantly changing Covid health guidelines. As Covid-related mandates have subsided, people are more willing to venture out and attend an event. I believe the live entertainment industry, both for domestic and international artists, is coming back stronger than ever.”

“We anticipate a strong year in terms of the concert business with growth across the board”

With upcoming shows at the Missouri arena include Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Rhett and Blake Shelton, Cooper says the signs for 2023 are encouraging.

“We anticipate a strong year in terms of the concert business with growth across the board from major country, rock and pop artists touring in 2023,” he says. “T-Mobile Center is preparing for a very busy 12 months and to put the challenges of the past two years behind us.”

Cooper and Crowe were speaking as part of the Global Arena Guide, a definitive reference on arenas featuring in-depth overviews of over 60 touring markets, a directory containing key contact information, and unique comment and insight.

“One thing the pandemic taught us is to be nimble when it comes to doing things differently,” adds Cooper. “At T-Mobile Center, we are investing heavily in new technology to improve the guest and artist experience. We upgraded our point-of-sale system in late 2022 allowing us to go fully cashless at our events. Replacement of all of our interior and exterior LED products will improve the experience for our guests and partners.”

“The backstage experience for the artists and the travelling crew has always been a signature element”

He continues: “At the arena, we are also focused on new technology to accelerate guests through the concessions so they spend less time in line and more time watching their favourite artist on stage. In addition, we continue to improve our food and beverage offerings to meet the tastes of our guests. T-Mobile Center offers a much broader choice of beverages than a year ago.

“The backstage experience for the artists and the travelling crew has always been a signature element at T-Mobile Center. We continually strive to make the experience for the artists and their crew a positive one. T-Mobile Center is in the process of updating our dining areas and offering new amenities backstage. We even offer mental health referral resources in the event a member of the crew needs a helping hand.”

Crowe, meanwhile, notes that the BOK Center has been working on renovating and improving its event-level production offices and other tour-used spaces. Shows slated for next year include Lizzo, Shania Twain, Journey and Paramore.

“Another renovation is also taking place back of house in the artist dressing room hallway which is an homage to an Oklahoma country star that is near and dear to our hearts,” he adds.

“We are also focused on the guest experience by adding food and beverage options with a new point of sale system and the implementation of more self-service (grab-and-go) locations. The newly implemented grab-and-go locations give customers fast, self-service access to food and drinks and canned cocktails just like they would at a convenience store. We are also planning improvements to our premium areas that will provide more amenities for our premium guests and also refresh spaces to enhance the overall guest experience.”

View a preview of the Global Arena Guide 2022 here. Subscribe now to read the full publication

 


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NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan’s 2023 arenas forecast

NEC Group’s ticketing and arenas MD Guy Dunstan has reflected on the past 12 months for the business and offered his forecast for the year ahead in a new interview with IQ.

Birmingham-based NEC Group manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues including the 15,700-cap Resorts World Arena and 16,118-cap Utilita Arena Birmingham, as well as national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

The arenas have welcomed acts including Kasabian, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, N-Dubz, Kaiser Chiefs, Nightwish and Evanescence this month alone, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Olly Murs, Blink 182, Michael Bublé, Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Paramore lined up for 2023.

Overall, however, Dunstan describes the arena sector’s first full year since returning from the pandemic as “decent” rather than “stellar”, and expects 2023 to provide a similar story.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years”

“When we get to November, you have a good feel for how things are going to look next year and – in terms of what we’ve got confirmed, on sale and pencilled – I’m hoping we’re going to be where we’ve been this year,” he says. “We’ve hit the level of business that we expected. It’s not been a stellar year, but it’s been a decent year in terms of getting back to business. We’ve been hit hard in terms of increased costs right across the board, which obviously then snowballs into costs for consumers and playing venues in the arena market.

“We all thought 18 months ago that when we got the green light, we were going to have record breaking years. It hasn’t been as positive as that but it’s been good enough from a level of shows point of view and I think that will continue next year. I think it’s going to be good, but not spectacular.

Nevertheless, the venues have seen “unprecedented” demand for tickets for British comedian Peter Kay’s first stand-up arena tour in over a decade. The tour, which currently includes 16 Birmingham dates, begins next month and is scheduled to run until July 2025.

“It’s the highest demand we’ve ever seen for an onsale on our website, it was just through the roof,” says Dunstan. “We knew from previous experience with him that it would be really strong, but this was off the chart, absolutely amazing.”

Dunstan is further buoyed by the strong sales performances of recent and upcoming first-time arena headliners such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi, Machine Gun Kelly, Dave, Yungblud and Tom Grennan, as well as non-music productions like The Masked Singer Live, Disney on Ice, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Cirque du Soleil.

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging”

“People are still wanting to go to shows, which is encouraging,” he adds. “The last month was a real litmus test based on the doom and gloom that we’d been hearing throughout the media. We get it that people’s incomes and costs have been squeezed on utilities and the last couple of months are where people were seeing their energy costs jump up significantly. But we’ve seen in previous recessions that people still want to come out and be entertained and hopefully that will continue.”

The former National Arenas Association chair also weighs in on the current volatility of the pound to dollar exchange rate and its impact on US acts coming to the UK.

“We might see a reduction in international acts over the next couple of years,” he surmises. “We’ve had some decent onsales with those acts from across the Atlantic, so I’m hoping that drives confidence but if we do see a slowdown, hopefully that gap can be filled by domestic acts and we still see the same levels of business.

“It is something we’re keeping an eye on, but right now the level of business is in line with what we were forecasting when we came back to business 12 months ago, so hopefully we’ll get to where we need to be.”

 


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Finland’s former Hartwall Arena put up for sale

Hopes have been raised that Finland’s largest arena will be sold “very soon” after being left in limbo since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The former Hartwall Arena in Helsinki is owned by Arena Events but has laid empty since two of the company’s co-founders, oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, were added to the UK’s sanctions list shortly after the war began in February.

Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building – since renamed Helsinki Halli – due to its Russian ownership, while scheduled shows by acts such as Kiss, The Cure, Eric Clapton and Queen + Adam Lambert were relocated.

However, according to Helsingin Sanomat, investors were informed during the company’s general meeting that the venue was now officially on the market, with the sale of the Russian businessmen’s shares progressing “reasonably”.

A “strong impression” was given during the company’s general meeting that the arena will be sold “very soon”

Reporting on the meeting, IS states there was a “strong impression” the arena would be sold “very soon”, although no prospective buyers were named. The publication has previously listed live entertainment giants ASM Global and CTS Eventim, as well as Finnish billionaire Mika Anttonen, owner of energy company St1, as interested parties.

Rotenberg and Timchenko reportedly own a combined 44% of the 15,500-cap arena’s holding company, Helsinki Halli Oy, but their combined voting power in the firm accounts for 93.9%.

The report notes that, due to the sanctions, money from any sale cannot be paid directly to Timchenko and Rotenburg, with experts suggesting the proceeds be placed in a frozen account and not released until after the end of the war. Helsinki mayor Juhana Vartiainen previously told HS that the completion of any deal would require permission from the ministry of foreign affairs.

Arena Events says it will be making no comment during the transaction process.

 


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