Mark Jan Kar appointed new GM of Coca-Cola Arena
Mark Jan Kar has been promoted to general manager of Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena following the recent resignation of arena CEO Guy Ngata.
Kar, who is currently the arena’s director of commercial and live, will assume the role on 20 June following the departure of Ngata, who is returning to his home country of New Zealand.
Harvey Lister, chairman and chief executive of arena operator ASM Global Apac, says: “Guy’s leadership and management of the arena is demonstrated by Coca-Cola Arena Dubai being named venue of the year at the Middle East Event Awards last month. Guy will be returning to Auckland to join his family for an extended period and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”
“Mark’s understanding and knowledge of the many wonderful and unique characteristics of the destination will be invaluable”
Welcoming Kar, Lister continues: “We are committed to and optimistic about the future. As a long-time resident of Dubai, Mark’s understanding and knowledge of the many wonderful and unique characteristics of the destination will be invaluable, and he will be fully supported by the whole ASM Global team as we grow content for the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region generally.”
With a capacity of 17,000, Coca-Cola Arena is the biggest indoor arena in Dubai. The venue opened in 2019 but has, in common with other entertainment venues globally, spent much of the past year with its doors shut, though it managed to reopen for socially distanced shows at the tail end of last year.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity afforded to me by ASM Global APAC and [venue owner] Dubai Holding,” says Kar. “As an executive team we are committed along with our stakeholders to the return of live in the city of Dubai and truly excited for what the future holds.”
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Dubai “go-to” tour destination with arena success
Dubai’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena, which opened its doors three months ago, has already hosted shows by Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and Alicia Keys, playing a key role in placing the United Arab Emirates on the international touring map.
The multipurpose arena was born as part of a collaboration between Dubai-based developer Meraas and AEG’s Asian/ Australasian venues arm, AEG Ogden.
The largest venue of its kind in the region, Meraas and AEG Ogden hope the arena will become the premier destination in the Middle East’s burgeoning live events scene.
The arena is fully enclosed and climate controlled, transforming Dubai from a “winter-only” touring destination into a year-round option for promoters. Floor space measuring 3,870 square metres and a variety of seating and stage configurations allow for a range of event types.
“Dubai is already a major entertainment hub for the entire region and the opening of Coca-Cola Arena has helped to further establish the city as the go-to destination for acts visiting the Middle East as part of global tour schedules,” comments AEG Ogden’s chief executive of Coca-Cola Arena, Guy Ngata.
“Dubai is already a major entertainment hub for the entire region and the opening of Coca-Cola Arena has helped to further establish the city as the go-to destination for acts visiting the Middle East”
“Meraas has shown a great vision to expand Dubai’s live entertainment offering and in doing so has an asset that will become one of the world’s great live venues.
“Together with Coca-Cola and all of our partners and stakeholders, there is a real passion in establishing the venue as the perfect fit for international touring artists, productions, sporting activity and shows of all genres,” adds Ngata.
Coca-Cola announced a ten-year naming-rights agreement with AEG Ogden in April, in what the soft drinks giant deemed a “milestone deal”. The arena also counts Indian ticketing platform BookMyShow among its partners, signifying the first global arena deal for the company.
“Despite only being open for a few months, Coca-Cola Arena is already firmly established as one of the city’s biggest attractions,” continues Ngata. “We look forward to hosting even more great live acts and events as we develop and expand the events industry in the UAE to even greater levels of success.”
Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena opened on 6 June, with a performance by Canadian comedian Russell Peters, before Maroon 5 made the arena’s musical debut on 14 June. A list of upcoming events can be found here.
Full of Eastern Promise: The Middle East matures
It wouldn’t be right to paint the Middle East as a group of markets in which every show happens against a stifling backdrop of troubling politics or clashing cultures. Israel is coming off the back of several boom years; Dubai and Abu Dhabi regularly welcome megawatt international stars and are developing infrastructure at a rapid pace; and Saudi Arabia appears to be suggesting that it wants to become a place where a boy and a girl might go to a concert at the weekend.
But while these are markets of great promise for the western live business, they come with varying degrees of geopolitical complexity, too.
In the Saudi Arabia capital of Riyadh in December, just a year after a resort in the southern port city of Jazan was shut down for hosting a mixed-gender concert, the kingdom staged its first-ever unsegregated music festival. The three-day series of concerts featured Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, David Guetta, Egyptian star Amr Diab and others, in front of a mixed crowd as part of the Saudia Ad Diriyah ePrix motor race.
Most would agree that represented welcome progress. But equally, if Saudi Arabia is to be the next market every hungry agent or global promoter wants to get their teeth into, how do they nibble around the apparently state-sponsored assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, or the bloody war in Yemen?
In Dubai in April, after years of prefab arenas, the emirate will get a permanent one, operated by AEG Ogden with a seated capacity of 17,000, to add to the high-culture opportunities of the two-year-old, 2,000-cap. Dubai Opera. An emerging live market with a heavy flow of holidaymakers and expat professionals needs that kind of investment, if only to keep pace with the well-stocked Abu Dhabi down the coast. That said, the imprisonment of a British academic on disputed spying charges last year was a reminder of the UAE’s less liberal side.
“Saudi Arabia opened up a year, 18 months ago, and this year looks set to be big, with the vision that they have”
Or you could look away from the Gulf and over to the shores of the Mediterranean, and the short tour of Israel in January by tribute band the UK Pink Floyd Experience, who had personally been asked by strident pro-Palestine activist Roger Waters to pull the shows. They did so, then reinstated them, before finally a stand-in line-up performed only non- Waters Floyd tunes while a local tribute band played the Waters-penned ’70s favourites.
It was a routine, if colourful example of the eleven-year campaign by the Waters-supported Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Israel – and chiefly Tel Aviv – remains a busy international live music spot and is a home to western corporates including Live Nation and CTS Eventim. The shows go on, but there’s no avoiding that Israel is, for now at least, a more than averagely controversial tour stop.
Not every year is a good one for concerts – in Tel Aviv, there is talk of a likely slow-down in 2019, though Eurovision in May will raise the city’s profile – but over the longer term, activity is generally increasing in all of these markets. But it is Saudi Arabia, coming from a virtual standing start, that suddenly appears to offer the greatest commercial promise.
Awash with wealth and with a population of more than 32 million, Saudi is working hard to show a liberal face to the world, and it represents an enticing market to exporters of western culture. Until last April, when US chain AMC moved into Riyadh at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom didn’t even have a public cinema.
A mixed-gender concert took place that month, too – the first ever to be sanctioned in the kingdom. Then came the Formula E shows and a first Cirque du Soleil show in Riyadh, amid regular reports of a huge state-backed entertainment push, including plans for NBA basketball, bull runs and dozens of concerts.
“We have a population in Egypt of 95 million, but the class of citizens who can afford premium tickets for show is probably 3–5% of the total population”
If these plans come to fruition, Saudi proposes to be the star of the coming few years in the Middle East. Its stated ambition is to become one of the top-ten global entertainment destinations, and to win back a share of the $20 billion that fun-seeking Saudi nationals spend overseas each year.
At the same time, given the turbulence of the region, markets can come and go at startling speed. “There tend to be peaks and troughs in different countries,” says Lisa Ryan, CCO of EFM Global Logistics, which has a clear overview of the region through its work for promoters, event organisers, government ministries and high-net-worth individuals.
“Saudi Arabia opened up a year, 18 months ago, and this year looks set to be big, with this vision that they have. And meanwhile, in Qatar, where it was all happening a few years ago, there has not been anything going on because of their isolation from the rest of the Middle East.”
One of the territories that is slowly developing in the region is Egypt, where the likes of Feld Entertainment, Broadway Entertainment Group, Harlem Globetrotters and WWE have taken their touring productions in recent years.
“We have a population in Egypt of 95 million, but the class of citizens who can afford premium tickets for show is probably between 3–5% of the total population,” states Moussa Abu Taleb, managing director of local events company Event House.
“We put a bunch of shows on sale in 2018 and every single one of them sold out, and that has got to mean something is happening here”
He tells IQ that Alchemy Projects are reportedly launching an Egyptian operation in the near future, which should help further develop the local live entertainment market. And he notes some of the spectacular venues that shows can utilise, making the most of the country’s historic landmarks – recent events include a 15,000-capacity Red Hot Chili Peppers gig, promoted by White Sands Entertainment at the Great Pyramids of Giza, while Richard Clayderman visited the Manara Theatre on 15 February for a Valentine’s classical night.
“There are very high taxes on tickets here: 25%,” continues Abu Taleb. “Egypt can’t pay the same amounts that other countries in the Middle East do for artist fees, while government support is very poor, as they rarely help with events.” Nonetheless, he is optimistic that live music in particular should be an area of growth in coming years. “All the success factors are available if we have a proper list of artists and reasonable artists fees,” he concludes.
Promoters have come and gone in Dubai over the years, some aiming higher than others, often anticipating a profitable boom that has never yet fully materialised. The current line-up chiefly involves Live Nation, veteran Done Events, and a handful of festival and party promoters. Meanwhile, long-serving local promoter Thomas Ovesen, formerly of Done Events and 117Live, in March departed his role as inaugural chief programming officer at Dubai Arena to go back into the promoting game.
Live Nation Middle East, based in Dubai, has enjoyed its best year to date in the region, according to Zaed Maqbool, VP Middle East/South Asia, with George Ezra, Dave Chappelle and French-Canadian-Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh all selling out shows in recent months.
“We put a bunch of shows on sale in 2018 and every single one of them sold out, and that has got to mean something is happening here,” says Maqbool. “The message to agents and managers booking in this region is that Dubai is no longer a take-the-money-and-run market but one with real potential as a P&L market. I was guilty of this as an agent when I was selling acts to Dubai, seeing it as a bonus stopover on the way to Japan or Australia. It needs nurturing, but it is a market that will pay dividends. Dubai, Abu Dhabi – it is starting to mature now.”
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Dubai offers promoters sponsorship support with new scheme
Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has announced a sponsorship scheme for promoters in a bid to grow the emirate’s live events sector.
The new Leisure Events Sponsorship Scheme aims to “empower leisure event organisers with additional incentivisation opportunities in the form of event sponsorship”, according to a statement from Dubai Tourism. All organisers of ticketed events that are open to the public are eligible for assistance.
The programme aims to boost the already growing local live entertainment market, which recorded a year-on-year increase of more than 100,000 ticket sales and 25 additional events in first quarter of 2019.
The launch of the scheme precedes the opening this summer of AEG’s new Coca-Cola (formerly Dubai) Arena, whose 17,000 seats will make it the largest indoor entertainment venue in the region.
Local promoter 117 Live also operates a 25,000-capacity outdoor arena, 117 Live Arena (formerly Autism Rocks Arena), at Dubai Outlet Mall, which opened in 2016.
Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai Tourism, says: “The sponsorship scheme forms part of our commitment to retain the city’s status as a leading global event destination and has been designed to build on this momentum and act as a catalyst for the local events industry.
“The sponsorship scheme forms part of our commitment to retain the city’s status as a leading global event destination”
“This has been further fuelled by our cross-industry public and private sector partnerships, which serve as a crucial component in helping us identify and pursue opportunities to further empower local event organisers as we set the stage to welcome audiences from around the world.”
The sponsorship scheme will take effect for events held from 1 May 2019.
James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East, welcomes the launch of the programme. “We are experiencing an exciting time of growth in Dubai’s events industry as Dubai continues to showcase its strength as a world-class leisure destination,” he comments. “This not only fuels our ongoing commitment to deliver the best family experiences in the region but also opens up new opportunities to continue strengthening our relationship with the wider sector.
“We have enjoyed great success with events from Dave Chappelle and George Ezra to the recent Wasla alternative Arabic music festival. The Dubai Tourism Leisure Events Sponsorship Scheme initiative marks a significant milestone in the government’s support in nurturing the city’s thriving events industry, underscoring Dubai’s place on the international live entertainment map.”
Interested concert promoters and other events organisers can apply for sponsorship on the Visit Dubai website.
Dubai Arena signs naming-rights deal with Coca-Cola
Dubai Arena, AEG Ogden’s new 17,000-capacity venue in the UAE’s largest city, will be named Coca-Cola Arena when it opens this June.
The new name follows the signing of a ten-year naming-rights agreement by AEG Ogden, AEG’s Asian/Australasian venues arm, with soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, reports Arabian Business.
The project has been three years in the making, originally announced in late 2016. The capacity has since been reduced from a projected 20,000, though the completed Coca-Cola Arena will still be the largest indoor in arena in the Middle East, with no less than 42 hospitality and corporate suites and capability to host concerts, sporting events, exhibitions and conferences.
“This is a milestone deal for the Coca-Cola Company”
Comedian Russell Peters, promoted by Live Nation Middle East, will open the new arena on 6 June, with its first concert following eight days later, on Friday 14 June: Maroon 5, promoted by Done Events.
“This is a milestone deal for the Coca-Cola Company as the Coca-Cola Arena will bring more than 40 events every year to the hugely anticipated destination, putting us at the centre stage of entertainment,” comments Murat Ozgel, general manager of Coca-Cola Middle East and deputy business unit president of Coca-Cola Middle East and North Africa.
“The Coca-Cola Arena will firmly position itself as a leading destination helping Dubai claim its place among the main global metropoles like New York, Tokyo, Paris and London,” says Ozgel.
Thomas Ovesen exits Dubai Arena to go independent
After a year as VP of programming for the soon-to-open Dubai Arena, and COO of its operator, AEG Ogden, Thomas Ovesen is exiting the company to return to promoting independently.
Ovesen joined the Dubai Arena project at the start of 2018 from local promoter 117 Live. The arena’s CEO, Guy Ngata, says Ovesen “has been a key part of the journey so far as we begin the countdown to opening the arena in 2019”.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Thomas on behalf of our team,” he adds. “We look forward to working with Thomas in the near future, which is something both parties are excited about.”
“With the Dubai Arena getting ready to open with what will be an amazing calendar of events, now is as great a time as ever for me to return to being a dedicated independent buyer and promoter,” comments Ovesen.
“We look forward to working with Thomas in the near future, which is something both parties are excited about”
“I wish my fantastic colleagues all the best and thank AEG Ogden for the opportunity with Dubai Arena. I look forward to many future collaborations.”
Owned by state-backed holding company Meraas and managed by AEG’s local operation, AEG Ogden, the 17,000-seat Dubai Arena (originally announced as having a capacity of 20,000) will “put Dubai on the international entertainment touring circuit and make a major contribution to the Emirate’s continued development as a major tourism destination”, said AEG Ogden’s CEO, Harvey Lister, at its launch in 2016.
The venue will open later this year.
Middle East calling
Twenty-seventeen proved to be a challenging year, with most Gulf state (GCC) economies hit by a lower-than-anticipated oil price. Dwindling government-underwritten construction and infrastructure projects led to lay-offs for many expats, a softening of the consumer market and, eventually, a weak entertainment ticket market.
VAT (5% initially) being introduced in some GCC markets from the beginning of this year also put a dampener on the “festivities” that should have been our 2017 live entertainment business.
But, out at the 25,000-capacity Autism Rocks Arena on the outskirts of Dubai, 117Live had an owner spend a significant amount of money building the open-air venue, staging shows with the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Bryan Adams, Bebe Rexha, Justin Bieber, Gorillaz, Stormzy, Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran and Elton John. However, it was decided not to serve alcohol on-site, removing not only something local audiences expect, but an element crucial for event feasibility.
Across the city, the long-running Dubai International Jazz Festival and now regular RedFestDXB events ran, but had challenging ticket sales.
F&B has become the current main revenue stream for the industry
The strong brunch business in town meant several club venues were able to upgrade capacity and service, becoming either all-day beach and pool clubs, or – as is the case with White and Base – localised 1,500–2,000-capacity ‘superclubs’ with artist budgets way beyond what similar bookings would warrant for conventional concert promotions.
F&B has certainly become the current main revenue stream for the industry, at least concerning the 21+ punters – easily on a par with, if not exceeding, that of admission and ticket sales.
But it’s not all bling and bottle service. Dubai Opera in only its second year of existence continues to roll out an impressive roster of own promotions, defying the soft ticket market. This leaves few weekend nights available for third-party bookings and challenges local promoters and even wannabe promoters to step-up and put on their own shows in the limited number of relevant, local venues.
Here at the Dubai Arena, we have taken note of the soft market but, inspired by the likes of Dubai Opera, the up-for-a-fight club scene and a few tenacious local promoters, we are taking a strategic approach to promoting our own events when we open in 2019.
Additionally, and in parallel, we want to use the amazing arena facility and its many configuration options to help bring down the current prohibitive cost of show productions and promotions.
We have a huge untapped market catering for specific audience segments beyond Westerners
We also need to programme for the growing number of residents and inbound tourists expected in the years leading up to the Dubai-hosted Expo2020. Smart programming and event curation will be key to growing the regional live events business over the coming years.
Compared with other markets there is still a low volume of locally grown and based stars, performers and produced shows to promote, or of a quality permitting us to consider taking them on. However, we have a huge untapped market catering for specific audience segments beyond the Westerners who already have a very attractive annual line-up of top-level performers and shows visiting the region. From K-pop and French-language music to esports, gaming events, comedy, UFC, WWE, interactive exhibitions, and new ‘con’-style events covering pop culture, comics, beauty, fashion, fitness, health and food, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of what can be promoted here.
Such events will also form part of what we hope to see at the new Dubai Arena, as well as rolled out across the regional markets in the upcoming seasons.
We haven’t even started on sports and associated event formats. Watch this space as we head towards finally becoming an ’emerged’ market.
Another hire for new Dubai Arena
AEG Ogden has further bolstered the operating team for its soon-to-open Dubai Arena, appointing former IMG vice-president Doug Waller as chief operating officer.
Prior to joining IMG, where he oversaw global sponsorship for the Dubai 2020 Expo, Waller (pictured) was head of sponsorship and licensing at the International Cricket Council, also in Dubai, where he was responsible for commercial rights, reports Trade Arabia.
“I am very excited to be joining a highly experienced leadership team”
“Doug’s commercial experience and leadership in the sports and entertainment space, together with his thoughtful decision-making and proven leadership, makes him a tremendous acquisition for the Dubai Arena team,” says Ngata. “In addition, his ten years’ experience working and living in Dubai has given him a sound understanding of the local culture, not to mention a strong business network.”
AEG Ogden will operate the 20,000-capacity Dubai Arena on behalf of state-owned holding company Meraas. Originally slated to break ground this year, it is now expected to open in 2019.
“I am very excited to be joining a highly experienced leadership team that will support Meraas in delivering this world-class facility to the people of Dubai and the entertainment capital of the Middle East,” adds Waller.
Thomas Ovesen to join AEG as VP of new Dubai Arena
Veteran Dubai-based concert promoter Thomas Ovesen is to join AEG Ogden as vice-president of programming for its new Dubai Arena.
Ovesen – who left Done Events for the newly formed 117 Live in December 2015 – will depart the company in early 2018 to head up programming for the new venue, managed by AEG on behalf of state-owned holding company Meraas and now set to open in 2019. At 117 Live, Ovesen oversaw the opening of 117 Live’s 20,000-cap. greenfield Autism Rocks Arena, also in Dubai.
It is the first hire for new Dubai Arena GM Guy Ngata, who joined the project in August, and marks a similar return to AEG for Ovesen, who previously headed up AEG Live in the Middle East.
“His understanding of the region and the local live entertainment scene and its players will be vital”
Ovesen (pictured) tells IQ his focus at the new venue will be on “making sure it has a great line-up, and hopefully also work with [117 Live] on some of their future events to be staged there”.
“Thomas oversaw the launch of the new Autism Rocks Arena and an impressive events calendar that featured, among others, Nicki Minaj, Gabriel Iglesias, Elton John, Bryan Adams, Guns N’ Roses, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran,” says AEG Ogden CEO Harvey Lister, commenting on the appointment. “It’s quality, international-standard acts such as those, plus more, that we’re looking to bring to Dubai Arena.
“His understanding of the region and the local live entertainment scene and its players will be vital to Guy and his management team, as they plan an event schedule second to none anywhere ahead of the Arena’s opening in 2019.”
Eden Park seeking new CEO as Ngata departs for Dubai
Guy Ngata, chief executive of New Zealand’s largest stadium, Eden Park (50,000-cap.), is to step down in November to become GM of the new Dubai Arena.
It marks a return to AEG Ogden for New Zealander Ngata (pictured), who joined Eden Park from AEG’s Allphones Arena (now Qudos Bank Arena) in Sydney in September 2015.
Brisbane-based AEG Ogden, which manages venues in the Asia-Pacific region, was appointed operator of the 20,000-capacity Dubai Arena last November. AEG says the new arena will become “go-to” venue for concerts, sports and other live entertainment in the Middle East when it opens next year.
“Guy has been an outstanding chief executive”
“Guy leaves on a high, hard on the heels of the hugely successful DHL New Zealand Lions Series, which highlighted the truly unique live sport experience that only Eden Park can offer,” says Doug McKay, chairman of Eden Park Trust, which manages the stadium.
“Eden Park has benefitted from Guy’s international venue management experience. He has been an outstanding chief executive.”
Eden Park is seeking a new CEO, and will “commence a global search for someone to take the helm and guide the stadium into the future”, adds McKay.