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Oak View Group hires venues veteran Wesley Cullen

Oak View Group (OVG) has hired venues veteran Wesley Cullen as VP of international venue development.

San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Cullen, who was previously MD of entertainment for Loud and Live, will be tasked with helping to expand the company’s venue portfolio worldwide.

“We are thrilled to have Wesley join our international venue development team,” says Brian Kabatznick, OVG’s EVP business development, facilities international. “As a highly respected arena executive we welcome her management expertise, passion to support OVG’s environmental initiatives and commitment to working in wonderful global cities.”

Prior to joining Loud and Live last year, Cullen was general manager of Puerto Rico tourist attraction Casa Bacardi.

“It is an exciting time to join this talented team to lead the industry in sustainability and inclusion as we positively disrupt this field we are so passionate about,” says Cullen. “I am honoured to work alongside Brian and learn from one of our industry’s masters of international development. OVG is phenomenal at opening doors for others and has built a team of superstars that I feel privileged to join.”

“Wesley is known as a positive disruptor and community leader who is passionate about the power of diversity and making good things happen”

Cullen brings nearly 25 years of experience in touring, venue management, experience design, hospitality, brand building and international expansion.

Her other previous roles include general manager of the Coliseo, Puerto Rico’s largest entertainment venue, where she helmed all venue management and operations, including booking, ticketing, marketing, production and logistics.

Earlier in her career, Cullen managed international live events for WWE in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America.

“Wesley is known as a positive disruptor and community leader who is passionate about the power of diversity and making good things happen,” adds Francesca Bodie, OVG’s president of business development. “I’m pleased to welcome her to our world-class team and excited to see her effectively accelerate our global growth.”

 


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Boom time predicted for mid-size venue market

Mid-size arenas will provide the new “battlefield” for venue operators in the post-pandemic touring business, it has been claimed.

ILMC’s New Builds: The venue boom panel looked at the growing number of new buildings coming online, from Swansea Arena to Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, along with future projects such as Manchester’s Co-op Live.

With investment in the bricks-and-mortar side of the live music business reaching record levels, leading venue operators stepped up to discuss the arenas and big buildings of the future.

Tom Lynch, ASM Global’s commercial director & SVP, Europe, brought up the company’s management of Olympia London, which includes a 4,400-cap live music venue and 1,575-seat performing arts theatre, and is scheduled to be completed in 2024. He also referenced the firm’s involvement in the 3,500-cap Wolverhampton Civic Halls and Derby arena schemes, which are both in development.

“We think more of these mid-sized venues will come to the market and help the industry grow”

“It’s reflective of where we think there’s some growth in the market,” said Lynch. “It’s great to build new arenas and stadiums, but actually, you look all across Europe and there are venues that cap out at 2,000 in every single city, and the next step is 10,000 to 15,000 capacity arenas.

“That’s a problem. It’s a limitation on shows and we think more of these [mid-sized] venues will come to the market and help the industry grow and sell more tickets, rather than saturate or steal tickets. We want to create venues where there aren’t venues and try and drive economic impact that way.”

DEAG executive Detlef Kornett agreed: “The new battlefield will be mid-size arenas… It’s very important to fill that gap between 2,000 and 23,000.”

Kornett said there was an increasing realisation that music events were no longer just attended by fans of the artist.

“Our industry had grown a lot over the last few years because of the baby boomers. Then we had a pandemic and that group is a bit hesitant to come back”

“It’s very similar to what happened in sports and that’s where the premium offerings and the diversification kicks in,” he said. “People come for more reasons than just listen to the music: they want to socialise, they want to have a good time prior and after, and they want to communicate on socials that they were at the event. New arenas have the ability to provide for that.

“Our industry had grown a lot over the last few years because of the baby boomers. Then we had a pandemic and it’s very clear now that group is a bit hesitant to come back. So all of the efforts of the new venues to take that anxiety away, will be very important. Once we’re out of this pandemic, if that ever is the case, you will see a lot of pent-up demand.”

Lynch explained the pros and cons of refurbishing an existing building compared to pressing ahead with a new build – referencing ASM’s 12,500-cap Newcastle Gateshead Quays arena scheme, which will succeed the city’s near 30-year-old Utilita Arena.

“Once you’ve built a venue, there’s so much carbon, trying to be sustainable from that point on is damage limitation,” he said. “You can do great things in energy consumption, and just the way that you interact with the community, but you need to be really conscious of the decision you’re taking.

“Newcastle Gateshead is a good example of where we’ve actively looked at renovating what’s there, rather than changing and building new. The reality for us was that it was built for £10 million in 1994, so it’s a shed, it’s not even an aircraft hangar. It’s been an incredibly successful venue. And we’ve evolved it over the years, but actually trying to renovate something that is all metal and was built for £10m, so long ago, is counterproductive.”

“New builds are a fantastic anchors for a regeneration project”

Opening in 2024, the arena is the centrepiece of a £260m regeneration scheme which will include a conference and exhibition centre, restaurants, a hotel and large areas of ‘outdoor realm’ and performance space on the same site.

“We’re shutting down one venue and bringing something new to market with other event venue aspects to it which we think, in turn, is more sustainable and better for the environment,” explained Lynch. “It brings more people in from different walks of life. What we’re aiming to get to in the end is not just one customer base or demographic, but a cross-section of society.”

John Rhodes, design director of HOK London Studio, whose past work includes Leeds’ First Direct Arena and recently recently completed the 18,000-cap Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island Arena, outlined the wider economic benefits of new arena developments.

“They’re fantastic anchors for a regeneration project,” he said. “The footfall that these buildings attract just reinvigorates districts. You can see that in Leeds where the the amount of private investment around there, after we built the arena, is just incredible. Having 12,000 people going every week ensures that all of the local community, shops and bars and such like, have that footfall to survive from.

“There’s great opportunity for these buildings to be actually engaged in the community to actually become an anchor and facility for community activities and such like. The ’00s was about an experiential economy: buying stuff, buying experiences. I think the next generation is going to be buying experiences that improve us. And part of that is our cultural footprint – how we engage with these venues, how we engage with our communities – and we need to create buildings that allow you to do that.”

“We’re seeing much bigger event floors now. Everyone loves a mosh pit”

Rhodes quipped that the quest to design a bowl that is as large as possible but still capable of providing an intimate experience remained “the Holy Grail”.

“How can it be scalable to 6,000-7,000 – where you have a completely authentic experience without feeling like you’re in an empty venue? There are ways of doing that,” he said. “The size and scale of the event floor is key. We’re seeing much bigger event floors now. Everyone loves a mosh pit, so let’s make these mosh pits bigger. And you can flex in relation to that.

“There is technology there in terms of curtaining and such like, but I’m particularly interested in the super-theatre model, which ties in with that smaller scale arena, where you actually force the short stage configurations to create walls of people for the performers. The bowls have been tailored to create that Liverpool FC Kop or Borussia Dortmund Yellow Wall-type feel.”

“The driver of our business is music – and it took us a long time to figure that out”

Guy Dunstan, MD of ticketing and arenas for Birmingham-based NEC Group, spoke about the evolution of arenas, most notably in regards to the customer experience.

“I think of what the venues were like 20, 30 years ago and they’ve evolved significantly,” he said. “Venues back then were very much concrete, soulless spaces, and it was about getting people in, getting them to their seat, watching the show and maybe grabbing a beer. But as we’ve developed our facilities, we’ve elevated that whole experience. And what we’ve also done is open up the premium opportunity.”

Asked directly about return on investment by panel chair Stephanie Bax of CAA Icon, Oak View Group (OVG) UK’s Brian Kabatznick said 60% of revenues came from VIP offerings, naming rights and sponsorship deals.

“If you look at the revenue generation for New York, Seattle, Manchester, you’re basically driving your revenues by having a naming rights partner that’s engaged in the local community and wants to be associated with a quality venue that touches their consumer base – and they’re willing to pay for that,” he said.

“We all know that the VIP product, 10 and 15 years ago, was VIP boxes. Well, that’s over – people want to be communal, and they want diversity of product. So in all of our buildings, you have roughly 10 to 15 different price points, locations and amenities to cater to specific corporate and non corporate customers. So if you get sponsorship right, and if you get premium right, that solves it. But at the end of the day, we all know that it all comes down to content.”

He added: “In the old days, you’d have operators building arenas arenas around a hockey rink or a basketball court, but ultimately, let’s be honest, the driver of our business is music – and it took us a long time to figure that out.

“Getting out of the pandemic, it was strange timing that we just opened in four new buildings. But we’re pretty clear that the return on investments have been very successful.

“Moving forward, I think we’ll be a little bit more challenged with the supply chain and materials and the rising inflation rate. But we know that more people are listening to music before and more people are playing music than ever before. And our partners seem to be pretty pleased with what we’re doing, which is why we’ve got 10 other venues under development.”

 


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ILMC speaker spotlight: John Langford, EAA/AEG

The International Live Music Conference (ILMC) is now just over a week away and, as more and more chairs and panellists are announced, IQ catches up with some key speakers to hear what they hope to get out of this year’s conference.

Following on from the previous Speaker Spotlight, IQ talks to John Langford, president of the European Arenas Association (EAA) and AEG Europe COO.

Langford is chairing the Venue’s Venue: New builds, new brands panel to discuss what further competition and consolidation we can expect to see in the fast-evolving venue market.

He will be joined by panellists Jolanda Jansen (Rotterdam Ahoy), Brian Kabatznick (Oak View Group), Tom Lynch (ASM Global), Thomas Ovesen (Diriyah Gate Development Authority) and Harry Samuel (LiveStyled).

 


IQ: What do you expect to be the main talking points at your panel?

JL: I expect there will be lots of talk of new buildings and new markets. New arenas are not cheap, and returns can be limited in competitive markets or marginal locations, so what’s driving expansion and development plans? And what’s the reality of a ‘new arena model’?

Outside of Europe there are some exciting developments and new opportunities. We will look at what’s hot in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and ask whether building venues in those markets will create more demand for touring.

New arenas are not cheap, and returns can be limited, so what’s driving expansion and development plans?

With competition and consolidation in the venue market at an all-time high, has that had an affect on your day-to-day jobs?

Yes, absolutely. I am sure that each of the panel members can talk more to their experiences over the last eighteen months. From mergers to new players in the market, there’s a lot to talk about.

Would it be fair to say the large venue sector is among the most interesting parts of the music business right now?

Personally I believe that the entire live industry is in huge transformation. Specifically on the venue side, what we’re seeing in the large venue sector is mild compared to the storms facing grassroots venues. Business rates, gentrification, Brexit, skills shortages – it’s a minefield out there!

Is there anything else you’re particularly looking forward to at ILMC?

A cold Fightback lager at the end of a long day. All proceeds go to the Music Venues Trust! Beer with a conscience.

The Venue’s Venue panel is taking place at 10 a.m. on Thursday 5 March at ILMC.

 


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OVG International launches in London

Oak View Group (OVG), the US-based venue development, advisory and investment company co-founded by former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke and ex-Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff, today launched its new international business at the International Live Music Conference in London.

OVG International, based in London and led by notables from the European venues world, is tasked with building arena and stadium development and partnership opportunities in the UK, Europe and the Middle East and Asia. According to OVG CEO Leiweke, OVG International is already in “advanced discussions” on a number of projects in those territories.

Jessica Koravos, president of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, and formerly MD of AEG Live and COO of AEG Europe, will serve as co-chair of OVG International alongside Leiweke.

Other appointments include:

“Oak View Group is growing rapidly, and we’re delighted to welcome seven exceptional executives to our team as we launch OVG International,” says Leiweke.

“We look forward to extending the Arena and Stadium Alliance to like-minded venues outside North America”

“Our aim is to create a new generation of state-of-the-art entertainment facilities. Our venues will be an elite class in terms of fan experience, artist experience and technology, and will provide an unparalleled platform for the activation of global brands.”

Oak View Group was founded in 2015. In addition to its major arena development projects at the Key Arena in Seattle, Belmont in New York and the University of Texas in Austin, OVG runs the Arena and Stadium Alliance, an invitation-only partnership of 28 arenas in North America that seeks to help independent venues attract global sponsorship opportunities, additional events and content.

It also has a venue-management outfit, OVG Facilities, launched last October following the acquisition of Pinnacle Venue Services, and a security arm, Prevent Advisors, and owns industry trade titles Venues Today and Pollstar, the latter which it bought last summer.

“The live events market has grown significantly in the United States since Oak View Group launched three years ago, and we see a huge opportunity to drive similar growth internationally by creating world-class experiences in world-class arenas,” continues Leiweke.

“We look forward to extending the Arena and Stadium Alliance to like-minded venues outside North America and to announcing more about OVG International’s plans soon.”

 


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EAA appoints new president Peter van der Veer

Peter van der Veer, CEO and co-owner of Dutch arena Rotterdam Ahoy (15,000-cap.), has been named president of the 35-strong European Arenas Association (EAA).

Van der Veer was elected at the association’s most recent AGM, held in Lisbon earlier this month, and succeeds outgoing president Brian Kabatznick of AEG Europe, whose three-year term has come to an end.

Van der Veer has been a member of the EAA since 2006 and an active board member since 2012.

He comments: “Our world changes at rapid speed. It requires a new view from us as venues. I am convinced that a platform such as EAA is essential in sharing ideas, in pulling the strings, in being pro-active on all important and relevant issues in the field of live events.

“I am honoured to have been chosen as president of this valuable platform”

“I am honoured to have been chosen as president of this valuable platform.”

Other EAA board members are Girts Krastins of Arena Riga (14,500-cap.), John Langford of the O2 (21,000-cap.), Jorge Silva of Altice (formerly MEO) Arena (20,000-cap.) in Lisbon and Lotta Nibbell of Scandinavium (14,000-cap.) in Gothenburg.

In 2017, European Arenas Association venues hosted more than 18.7m customers attending 2,899 events, according to the organisation’s most recent research report. According to IQ’s European Arena Yearbook 2017, produced in partnership with the EAA and UK National Arena Association (NAA), the European arenas business generated more than €1.4bn in 2016.

 


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