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Bridging the Gulf: Touring the Gulf States

As oil-rich economies ramp up investment in their live entertainment sectors, the Gulf States are providing the global industry with a credible touring destination to link Europe with Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Adam Woods reports on this remarkable, fast-changing region.

In terms of their specific demographics, weather, and politics, not to mention their disparate commercial models, the live entertainment markets of the Gulf – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, in this context – are unlike any other regional grouping in the world.

But some things are the same in this pocket of the Middle East as they are everywhere else: such as when Ed Sheeran came through Dubai in mid-January and sold out two Sevens Stadiums and 60,000 tickets – just as he does in seemingly any market he visits.

“It was a new level of production that hasn’t been seen in the market before,” says the shows’ promoter, All Things Live Middle East CEO Thomas Ovesen. “It’s a show in the round, so we were conscious that we had to somehow explain that to people, without too many technicalities. But he’s such a phenomenal artist and so strong that it all worked out, and everyone wanted to get a ticket.”

That’s Ed for you. Such displays of ticket-selling clout don’t happen every week in Dubai. The Emirate, by far the least subsidised active market in the Gulf, has always been a tricky one to get right, though many promoters have tried – none harder than Ovesen, who in various guises has brought in Justin Bieber, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Jennifer Lopez and Elton John.

These days, along with neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai is a solid stop on a burgeoning touring circuit – one which, in addition to the markets of the Gulf, increasingly encompasses India, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, even Georgia and Azerbaijan. But lately – at least when Ed Sheeran isn’t in town – the main driver of regional excitement has been Saudi money.

We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE. So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds”

Fuelled by a plan to draw tourism, build soft power, and entertain a young population, Saudi lately become the land of the ‘gigaproject,’ where gleaming new megacities, jaw-dropping historic restorations, mind-boggling urban developments, and eye-wateringly luxurious resorts aspire to redefine the very limits of ambition and opulence.

And whenever ground is broken, the word ‘entertainment’ is somewhere in the air, whether it’s the planned 45,000-capacity stadium on a 200m-high cliff in Qiddiya City near Riyadh; a proposed opera house at the Jeddah Central waterfront development; or ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City, scheduled to open at the end of next year.

That is a large part of the reason why, after years of patchy development spearheaded mainly by hardworking Dubai and its wealthy neighbour Abu Dhabi, the Gulf now finds itself a very interesting region indeed – albeit one that remains distinctly lopsided, its various key players coming to the table with very different budgets and goals.

First, there’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where generous state backing has put cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, and festivals (notably including MDLBEAST Soundstorm), uppermost in the minds of the world’s agents. Beyoncé, Metallica, Mariah Carey, Nelly, Janet Jackson, and Future have been among the visitors to this booming new market, where tickets are cheap and sometimes even free, but the 36m-strong population – more than 40% of it under 24 – guarantees a mighty crowd.

In Dubai, where the population is far smaller and the commercial realities more pressing, the market is a more pragmatic one but highly engaged in its attempts to mobilise a remarkably diverse market that counts an almost unbelievable range of cultures among its 3.3m inhabitants.

“We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE,” says Ovesen. “So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds and experiences when it comes to live entertainment. Sometimes we have to get people out to the very first gig of their life; sometimes we’re dealing with 14-year-old kids of 200 nationalities. It’s all very exciting, but it’s challenging as well.”

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009″

Then there’s Abu Dhabi, where music, again heavily state-funded, tends to intertwine with the local Grand Prix; and Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, where a variety of highly modern venues enable a steady but controlled stream of shows by well-known western and Arabic stars.

All of it adds up to an increasingly viable regional circuit, albeit one rife with budget inequality. Meanwhile, investment in venue infrastructure across the region, combined with the development of nearby and not so nearby markets, suggests that, should the Saudi Arabian chequebook slam shut, something is being built in the Gulf and beyond, that ought to last a while.

As an increasingly sturdy market coalesces across the Gulf and the wider region, many of the prominent global players have ramped up their presence.

Live Nation Middle East, long present and now increasingly active, now presides over sophisticated regional tours for western and Arabic artists from its base in Dubai. All Things Live made its first non-European investment last April when it backed regional live veteran Ovesen to establish All Things Live Middle East.

In Abu Dhabi, state-backed promoter Flash Entertainment, which over the years has brought Beyoncé, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, and Coldplay to the Emirate, merged with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) in May last year to become Ethara. And in KSA, MDLBEAST is the standard-bearer for a new generation of Saudi promoters.

Based in Dubai under regional president James Craven, Live Nation Middle East recently added a team to nurture up-and-coming Arabic talent, led by Amin T. Kabbani, and accordingly, the promoter’s highest-grossing arena show of 2023 was one such artist, Abdul Majeed Abdullah, at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. But across the board, the live giant’s focus on the region is palpably intensifying.

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009,” says Craven. “The potential for the market is enormous. This year, we’ll continue building strong regional venues and tours across clubs, theatres, and arenas. And now, with talent teams across music, comedy, Arabic, and family entertainment, we see even more opportunities to bring benefits to the wider region.”

“Not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to”

In recent years, Live Nation has famously pioneered the concept of the regional tour of the Middle East. After Maroon 5’s shows in Abu Dhabi, Israel, and Egypt in 2022 – the first joined-up tour of the region following the resumption of flights between Tel Aviv and the UAE in 2020 – Imagine Dragons was the next boundary-pusher in January and February last year, building shows in Riyadh, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, and Johannesburg around an appearance at the first Indian Lollapalooza in Mumbai.

For an even more complete illustration of the emerging Middle Eastern/South Asian/South African circuit, Live Nation points to the Backstreet Boys, who rounded off a four-year, pandemic-hit world tour in May with 12 shows in Egypt, India, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa (a show in Israel was cancelled due to the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza). Increasingly, the touring giant regards the wider market as one with the potential to rival any other continental circuit.

“When you’re doing 12, 13, or even more markets in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to,” says Zaed Maqbool, VP Middle East/South Asia, who has spent years laboriously bringing new markets into the circuit.

The geopolitics of the region are not for the faint-hearted, but careful negotiation and diplomacy reveal opportunities in all sorts of guises. While promoters are not able to operate conventionally in KSA, for instance, the local infrastructure there still needs significant support, where a previously fallow market now finds itself juggling huge, star-studded events, including one of the world’s biggest festivals.

“In Saudi, 90% of the business is government-underwritten, perhaps even government-controlled or part of government-owned activities, and there is no legislation or framework yet that enables me to go in on conventional terms and do my own promotion,” says Ovesen. “But then, I can lend my expertise to those buyers. The government projects need advice on what to programme; they need advice on what to book and how to book; they need producer services. So the whole ecosystem benefits tremendously.”

Ethara is active in KSA, too, having opened an office in Riyadh in 2022, with a dedicated in-market team to build a year-round event calendar for domestic, regional, and international events, but its home soil remains in Abu Dhabi, where it has significant infrastructure at its disposal.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain”

ADMM and Flash have delivered more than 700 major events in the 15 years since their inception, including the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yasalam After-Race Concerts, and the FIFA Club World Cup. Ethara – which translates as “thrill” in Arabic – will continue to manage and oversee a portfolio of assets including Etihad Park, Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 circuit, Yas Marina Circuit, and the Yas Conference Centre.

As the most commercially liberal market in the region, Dubai boasts a range of promoters, from Live Nation and All Things Live to indies such as Blu Blood (a South African specialist in Bollywood, comedy, and children’s entertainment that has staged James Blunt, The Wailers, and Demi Lovato since it launched in the Middle East in 2019), and Speed Entertainment, which focuses on western and Asian shows (from the likes of Simple Minds, Ronan Keating, and Arijit Singh), plus DJ gigs and corporate and luxury events.

Another indie, Full Circle, will this year bring The Kid Laroi and the next instalment of its Afroworld events to the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as a range of EDM artists. However, managing director Shaz Hayat makes no bones about the challenges of the market. Particularly the fee inflation that has accompanied the rise of Saudi and other wealthy smaller markets in the neighbourhood.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain,” says Hayat. “With the fees these guys pay, backed up by the government, it makes it difficult for Dubai to get good talent. If you think about it, you will never see guys like Drake, Travis Scott, Post Malone in Dubai – that level of talent just wouldn’t come because we don’t have the money to pay for it.”

Part of Dubai’s problem, he suggests, is a global misapprehension about its wealth, which was built on tourism but does not rival that of oil-rich states such as Qatar and KSA.

“The London agents have a little bit of understanding because they’ve been to Dubai a few times, they know what it is, but the guys sitting in LA, they have no clue,” says Hayat. “They think Saudi and Dubai are all the same, and they want $5m for no-name acts. And I think that’s the biggest issue we have in the market.”

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia”

Full Circle remains the busiest EDM promoter in the region, but though the government underwrites certain tourism-driving events, sponsorship for such shows is hard to come by, to Hayat’s frustration.

“The government never wants to fund DJ events or pay any sponsorship dollars towards them,” he says, “but they are the ones that sell the most tickets; Martin Garrix, Tiësto, David Guetta – those are the guys that sell 10,000 tickets, more than any other rapper or pop act.”

Yet, while the numbers may be a challenge, the wider market continues to expand, offering the potential in the long term to draw artists to the broader region on more sustainably commercial terms.

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia,” says Maqbool. “You don’t necessarily think about the Middle East in relation to Central Asian markets, but geographically, they’re so close. Georgia is approximately three hours north of the UAE and has the ability to connect into our broader touring region.”

The region’s family entertainment business is also growing exponentially, allowing companies such as Sportainment Entertainment & Sports (SES) to build a routing that extends across the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrian and Oman, although the company has also conducted business in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Established in 2005, SES is at the forefront in the sport sponsorship and entertainment sectors in the Middle East, while under its live events sub-brand, SESLive!, the company promotes globally recognised family entertainment concepts across the region, where it is the exclusive promoter of Disney On Ice, Disney Live!, Marvel Universe Live! and Jurassic World, thanks to a partnership deal with Feld Entertainment.

“The competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition”

“When we started out with SESLive! things were very different,” notes SES business development director, Alison Goldsmith. “Back then, when you came into a market with an event, ticket sales could be phenomenal because people had nothing else to do. But now, people have so much choice with where to spend their money, so the competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition.”

Indeed, while the challenge of enticing people to specific shows can be tough, Goldsmith tells IQ, “A few years ago we’d struggle to find venues and dates, but there are so many world class venues in the region now, that’s no longer an issue. It also means that customers can be confident that the shows they love will return year on year.”

Looking ahead, SES will be bringing Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal to Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena in April, while Goldsmith hints that the company is also actively looking for new markets to take Disney On Ice later this year.

Where Middle Eastern festivals are concerned, all cower before the instant giant that is MDLBEAST Soundstorm – just four editions old (2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023) and already being discussed as one of the world’s foremost events, just as its organisers clearly intend.

Soundstorm racks up 700,000 visitors over three days, and MDLBEAST head of talent booking and events Talal Albahiti is justifiably proud.

“Soundstorm 2023 was an extraordinary experience for us, surpassing its ’22 edition with a remarkable fusion of innovation and immersive experiences,” he says. “We built on our prior successes, introducing cutting-edge technologies in production and elevating the overall audio-visual extravaganza. The lineup featured diverse musical genres, catering to broader audiences, and the production reached new heights, creating an unforgettable ambience. Attendees enjoyed not only world-class performances but also interactive installations and engaging activities.”

“Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze”

As well as Metallica, heavyweight artists including J Balvin, 50 Cent, Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Calvin Harris and Wizkid played across Soundstorm’s three days, but it is clear the Saudi plan is not simply to import US and European talent.

“Our mission, vision, and goals revolve around uplifting Arab talent and the creative economy,” says Albahiti. “Looking ahead to 2024, we aim to intensify our support for local talents and explore international opportunities and collaborations.

“There is an abundance of talent in the MENA region,” he adds. “The wider world should undoubtedly keep an eye on hip-hop artists such as [British-Lebanese female rapper and producer] Laughta and [Sudanese/Saudi artist] Dafencii, who performed at the last edition. Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze. I’m also immensely proud of Cosmicat’s journey and her achievements as a breakthrough act from Saudi, now gracing some of the biggest festivals in Europe and the United States.”

MDLBEAST’s other Saudi festivals include Balad Beast in Jeddah in January, with Bebe Rexha, Wu-Tang Clan, Ty Dolla $ign, and others, and the two-day Azimuth event at the historic Al-‘Ula oasis city in Medina Province last September, where you could find The Kooks, Cosmicat, Thievery Corporation, and Nooriyah.

Elsewhere, too, festival ambitions are heating up. In mid-February, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, in partnership with Expo City Dubai, launches the Emirate’s own version of Romania’s electronic UNTOLD Festival on the outdoor Expo City site, with Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell, Tiësto, Timmy Trumpet, Ellie Goulding, G-Eazy, and Major Lazer in tow. The Dubai edition expects a crowd of more than 280,000 over four days.

Last year, Live Nation launched Wireless Festival at Etihad Park on Yas Island, with 25,000 fans and 18 artists including Travis Scott, Roddy Ricch, Central Cee, Wegz, Black Sherif, Ali Gatie, M.I.A., King, Divine, and Young Stunners. A second edition lands on 2 March at the same location.

Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected

Other staple events in Dubai include DJ Deian Markov’s homegrown electronic festival Groove on the Grass, which takes place in November at Emirates Golf Club and spawned two-day spin-off events in Jeddah and Riyadh last year; Live Nation’s retro Rewind Festival at the Bla Bla beach club and nightspot in March; and youth and contemporary culture festival Soul DXB, founded in 2011 by friends Hussain Moloobhoy, Joshua Cox, and Rajat Malhotra, which in December brought Arlo Parks, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$, Busta Ryhmes, and others to the Dubai Design District.

Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected. In the former camp is an impressive array of newly built structures, from Abu Dhabi’s 18,000-cap Etihad Arena and Dubai’s 17,000-cap Coca-Cola Arena to Bahrain’s 10,000-cap Al Dana Amphitheatre and the 5,000-cap Arena Kuwait.

In the latter group, there is even more choice. In January, Saudi Arabia unveiled details of the 45,000-cap Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh, under its Vision 2030 masterplan.

The stadium, named after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, will be capable of hosting some of the country’s biggest sports, entertainment, and cultural events, including, potentially, matches at the 2034 World Cup. It will serve as the home of Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and is projected to attract an estimated 7.6m annual visitors, with a retractable roof, pitch, and LED wall, and a lake and ice wall to cool the air inside.

Other coming developments in Saudi include further new stadiums in Riyadh and Dammam, as well as ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City at King Abdulaziz International Airport, not to mention numerous other possible megaprojects with an entertainment component.

Also on the cards, but certainly not yet confirmed, is a rumoured second Sphere venue said to be the subject of discussions between Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan and investors in Abu Dhabi.

If even a proportion of these projects – particularly those in KSA – come to fruition with their entertainment ambitions intact, it is clear the live ecosystem in the Gulf will have to expand significantly to meet their needs.

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver”

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver,” says Ovesen. “It’ll be interesting to see what kind of partnerships are created across the region, particularly in Saudi, where there’s so many facility and venue projects that will start needing programming of 50 to hundreds of shows annually within the next couple of years.

“I don’t think any of the existing operators in the market can fulfil that need. Some of these projects might start their own business and inadvertently become our competitors. Or we might be smart enough to do some deals where we end up assisting with that.”

It’s only a few years since Dubai and Abu Dhabi had to make do with busked-up outdoor venues if and when an arena-sized concert came to town. Not anymore: Abu Dhabi got its Etihad Arena in January 2021, while ASM Global’s Coca-Cola Arena opened in Dubai June 2019, the 2,000-capacity Dubai Opera having made its entrance in August 2016. These indoor venues have done as much as anything else to cement the live market of the UAE.

In addition to the Backstreet Boys, the Etihad has received Westlife, Akon and Ne-Yo, and Disney On Ice in recent months, while at the time of writing, the Coca-Cola Arena is preparing to host Indian Tamil film composer Anirudh, Pakistani singer-songwriter Atif Islam, Glaswegian arena-fillers Simple Minds, US R&B star Khalid, Russian rockers Kino, and Indo-Canadian Punjabi rapper and singer AP Dhillon – an eclectic lineup for an arena with no set audience.

“We’re in a space that is a complete melting pot,” says Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar. “If you look at other international cities, Hong Kong might have Chinese, Mandarin, or Cantonese content and then exclusively western; they wouldn’t necessarily also have Pakistani or Indian content, or Russian, or Arabic, but we do. Even if you just look at the Southeast Asian content, you’ve probably got about seven or eight different dialects that have a population in Dubai.”

Clearly, this represents both an opportunity and a challenge, as cultural differences can be dramatic. Arabic concert-goers, for instance, often attend in family groups, so the maximum number available for a single buyer to purchase rises from ten to 16 to accommodate bulk buys. Southeast Asian shows, meanwhile, support a particularly broad range of prices and tiers.

“Your front row tickets could be going at, let’s say £500 a ticket, and your cheapest ticket might be £20,” says Kar. “Same show, five metres apart, but it’s what people are prepared to pay. Whereas for western artists, it’s three or four categories maximum, and it’s maybe, at most, $150 variance between those categories.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis”

Dubai Opera has a brief to introduce a different kind of culture to the Emirate. Last year, it drew 200,000 visitors, many of them first-time attendees of a classical concert, but it deals in more mainstream culture, too – a run of Matilda last year sold 20,000 tickets across ten days.

“Those are big numbers for a theatre with an auditorium of 2,000 seats,” says Paolo Petrocelli, head of Dubai Opera, whose ambition is to elevate the venue to the top ten or 15 performing arts centres in the world. “We have such a diversified programming that covers the entire spectrum of the performing arts, going from opera to ballet, symphonic music, musicals, jazz, Arabic, world music, you name it. So it’s really special. And I think there are just a few cases around the world of major performing arts centres in global cities that have this kind of artistic mission.”

Bahrain’s Al Dana Amphitheatre, which opened in November 2021, backed by Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince and prime minister, was also created with big ambitions: to give the kingdom a globally recognised world-class venue and to form a regular stop on the local, regional, and international circuit.

The plan is working, with Sheeran, 50 Cent, Westlife, Halsey, Backstreet Boys, and Imagine Dragons, plus comedians Kevin Hart, Mo Amer, Maz Jobrani, and Michael McIntyre among the highlights of a busy 12 months.

Tamdeen Group’s Arena Kuwait launched in March 2022 in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall and has just completed its first full year of operation, focusing on live entertainment, sports events, and consumer-focused exhibitions, as well as a heavy bill of Arabic artists, including Amr Diab, Mohammed Abdo, Sherine, Angham, Tamer Hosny, and Majid Al Mohandis.

“The Arena Kuwait calendar is dominated by Arabic content,” says Arena Kuwait general manager Ken Jamieson. “With the rise and appeal of new Arabic talent growing every day, we are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis.”

International tours are coming, too, Jamieson predicts. “We have received an increased volume of enquiries for artists on regional tours, as Kuwait is now firmly on the touring map in the Gulf region. We expect to schedule a number of international western artists in 2024 and beyond.”


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Bahrain gets new 10,000-capacity amphitheatre

Bahrain’s first and only open-air, purpose-built live music venue opened last weekend with a sold-out concert by Saudi singer Rashed Almajid.

The Al Dana Amphitheatre (cap. 10,000) has been under construction since December 2018, with architects excavating more than 250,000m3 of rock and soil to build the venue 15m into the ground of the Sahkir desert.

Alongside the theatre, the venue also houses 22 F+B units to cater to attendees, eight corporate boxes, The Quarry Lounge which can cater to 800 guests, the Desert Garden which can cater to 400, and a Roof Garden for up to 200 guests.

The venue is located at the northeast corner of the Bahrain International Circuit (which hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix annually) and is just a 30-minute drive from ASM Global’s Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, set to open in 2022.

“The overarching objective is that visiting international artists can tour across multiple countries that include Bahrain”

“All these projects will be an organic extension of each other which will be mutually beneficial given that shared services and infrastructure can be utilised by all venues and any future projects,” says a spokesperson from the Al Dana Amphitheatre.

“The overarching objective is to collaborate and align with a number of venues in the region so that visiting international artists have the opportunity to tour across multiple countries that include Bahrain as part of their program.”

The amphitheatre is backed by HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister who has a vision to evolve Bahrain into a world-class entertainment destination.

The team behind the amphitheatre hopes it will become a “globally recognised world-class venue” with its capabilities of hosting local, regional and international events such as concerts and theatre shows.

At the time of writing, the Al Dana Amphitheatre is yet to announce any follow-up events to Rashed Almajid’s concert.


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ASM appoints GM for Middle East’s largest convention centre

ASM Global has appointed Dr Debbie Kristiansen as general manager of the new Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, which will be the largest venue of its kind in the Middle East.

Kristiansen, who has lived and worked in the Middle East for 16 years, joins ASM from Novo Cinemas where she worked as CEO for more than seven years.

The Middle East vet ranked in the Top 30 Most Inspirational Women in the Arab World 2019 and was named Middle East Female CEO of the Year 2018.

“Debbie has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and her leadership skills will bring many unique qualities to the role,” says ASM Global APAC & Gulf Region chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister.

“Debbie has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and her leadership skills will bring many unique qualities to the role”

“Her appointment will help consolidate ASM Global’s reputation in the region as the world’s leading producer of event experiences and enhance Bahrain’s standing as an international meetings destination.”

Kristiansen added: “To have the opportunity of working both for ASM Global, and to return to the beautiful destination of Bahrain, is a dream come true. This will allow me the privilege to help mentor and build the talent and skill set of young Bahrainis for generations to come.

“I look forward to working closely with Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority to develop and grow the international MICE business, and to create a long-term legacy for Bahrain,” she concluded.

The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre is scheduled to open in 2022.

ASM’s Middle East portfolio also includes the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai (cap. 17,000), the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre and the recently announced Jeddah Arena and the International Convention Centre Jeddah.


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ASM to operate largest convention centre in Middle East

ASM Global has been appointed as the managing operator of the largest exhibition and convention centre in the Middle East.

The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre will offer 95,000 sqm of exhibition space over 10 halls, a 4,000-seat tiered auditorium and 95 meeting rooms.

Royal & VIP Majlis (parliament rooms), event organisers’ offices and a 250-seat capacity restaurant will complete a total site area of 309,000 sqm.

Upon completion in mid-2022, the venue will host a range of events including exhibitions and conventions, concerts, live events, weddings and seminars.

ASM will manage, operate and programme the new destination, after being successfully appointed by Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA).

The international venue operator’s Middle East portfolio also includes the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai (cap. 17,000) and the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre.

“[This development] will further position Bahrain as a growing international destination helping to drive growth”

“We are delighted to have been appointed the operator of what will be a landmark development, which will further position Bahrain as a growing international destination helping to drive growth and create jobs as well as a legacy for the Kingdom,” says ASM Global Asia Pacific chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister.

“We look forward to working with Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority in creating a brand-new exhibition and convention hub at the heart of the region.”

Iain Campbell, executive VP, ASM Global Gulf Region, added: “The appointment as managing operator is testament to ASM Global’s expertise, knowledge and experience in bringing venues to life across the world.

“Our aim for Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre is to create a venue with its own distinct identity that resonates with MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] visitors as well as the leisure and tourism market that benefits the local economy and enhances the Kingdom’s status globally.”

Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority chief executive officer, Dr Nasser Qaedi, says: “The new centre will reinforce the Kingdom’s status regionally and internationally and Bahrain’s position in the MICE industry. We look forward to working with ASM Global to attract international exhibitions and conferences to be held in Bahrain.”

ASM Global’s venue network spans five continents, with a portfolio of more than 325 arenas, stadiums, convention, and exhibition centres, and performing arts venues.


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UTA sells minority stakes to investment firms

In what CEO Jeremy Zimmer calls a “transformative event” for the agency, United Talent Agency (UTA) has sold minority equity stakes in the company to Investcorp and Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments).

The Beverly Hills-based agency acquired UK music powerhouse the Agency Group (TAG) in August 2015, and over the past year has acquired interests in live speaking (Greater Talent Network), electronic music (Circle Talent Agency) and esports (Press X and Everyday Influencers). The new influx of capital will be used to “accelerate” UTA’s growth, according to a statement, “enhance UTA’s services and continue to invest in resources to support its clients and colleagues in a time of change and innovation in content creation and distribution”.

Terms were not disclosed, although UTA says its partners retain majority ownership and control of the company. PSP, one of Canada’s largest pension investment managers, with assets of US$119 billion under management, and Bahrain-based Investcorp, which manages more than $22bn in assets globally, join existing investor Jeffrey Ubben as UTA’s ‘capital partners’.

“We were deliberate about finding the right investment partners who recognise UTA as a business that puts clients first”

Zimmer, who founded UTA in 1991 alongside Jim Berkus and Peter Benedek, says: “This is a transformative event for UTA. There has never been a greater moment of change and opportunity in our industry for artists, creators and companies like ours.

“We were deliberate about finding the right investment partners who recognise UTA as a business that puts clients first, exemplifies a collaborative and diverse culture and is focused long term on capitalising on the unique opportunities that disruption and transformation provide. We found that in Investcorp and PSP Investments.”

“The entertainment industry is experiencing tremendous evolution,” adds Simon Marc (pictured), head of private equity at PSP Investments. “As demand for high-quality content is greater than ever, UTA is uniquely positioned to benefit from the transformation in the sector. We are excited to partner with Jeremy Zimmer and UTA’s world-class management team and look forward to backing UTA in the next phase of its growth.”


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