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UAE’s rapid growth set to continue

In an excerpt from the Global Promoters Report 2023, top players from the region discuss the upward trajectory of the market…

Longstanding state-owned promoter Flash Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management combined earlier this year to form a company named Ethara. It seeks “to shape the untapped and unique opportunities in the live events space while continuing to deliver growth that has firmly positioned the Middle East on the global entertainment stage”.

The firm operates four venues on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi: Yas Marina Circuit, Etihad Park, Etihad Arena, and Yas Conference Centre, and owns the rights to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Yasalam After-Race Concerts, which this year include performances by Shania Twain, Ava Max and Tiesto, and Foo Fighters.

From a touring perspective, the Etihad Arena has provided a large uptick in stops in Abu Dhabi for international acts since it opened in 2020,” says Brint Jackson, Ethara’s chief venues officer. “The indoor, multipurpose venue has meant that Abu Dhabi is now a viable stop on global tours 365 days a year – where we were often limited to a shorter duration of the year due to the warm regional climate.

“There is a real appetite in the region to continue this rapid growth that we are seeing to cope with the demand, and Ethara is well placed for this following our recent joint venture announcement with Oak View Group, the world’s biggest venue developer and operator to expand into the market and support international brands and touring acts expand across the region.”

“There is a real appetite in the region to continue this rapid growth that we are seeing to cope with the demand”

Meanwhile, major Nordic promoters All Things Live entered the market, led by longstanding regional promoter Thomas Ovesen of T.O.P. Entertainment, who has brought the likes of Elton John, Ed Sheeran, and The Eagles to the UAE. He says the big change recently has been the opening up of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. “Suddenly, there’s a potential giant entering our market, with a population of potential ticket-buyers that probably equals the rest of the market combined and with a buying power that is just unfathomable,” Ovesen says of the recent escalation in events.

“It will benefit the entire region because there’ll be artists coming that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Companies have been sitting on the sideline, thinking ‘Are we missing out on something? It appears very complex and perhaps PR dangerous to get into that pool so should we really get in?’ And now they’re in large numbers saying, ‘Yeah, let’s get in’ because it’s better to be part of what happens there than not.”

Big names have been coming through, including 50 Cent, KISS, and Bryan Adams. Compared to the pre-Covid era, conditions are vastly improved for such tours, given the fresh availability of equipment, new purpose-built venues ranging from 2,000-capacity spaces to arenas, and a pro-active approach by the tourist authorities in Abu Dhabi (the country’s second largest city market after Dubai) to attract and financially support entertainment.

“Business has been extremely strong across the region, and our show count and ticket sales are significantly greater than pre-Covid levels,” says James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East, who brought Guns N’ Roses, Sting, Blackpink, Imagine Dragons, and Abdul Majeed Abdullah to arenas this year. “The regional economy has bounced back since the 2020 pandemic and is now stronger and more resilient than ever. A highlight for 2023 was the 12-show Backstreet Boys tour in May, including Egypt, India, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and South Africa. This tour clearly demonstrates that the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is now a fully-fledged touring region and ready for business.”

“Getting the talent mix right in the Middle East is key to success and strong ticket sales”

Family entertainment and comedy shows are thriving, too. “Trevor Noah in October is tipped to be the biggest comedy show to come to the UAE,” says Craven. Live Nation catered to the UAE’s 200 nationalities (and vast array of languages) with a launch of the Wireless festival in Abu Dhabi featuring supporting acts from across the Middle East and South Asia: Wegz from Egypt, Indian acts King and Divine, and Pakistani hip-hop duo Young Stunners. “Getting the talent mix right in the Middle East is key to success and strong ticket sales,” Craven explains.

The main challenge remains of a lack of grassroots talent. Despite younger generations embracing K-pop, hip-hop, EDM, and Latin music, there has historically been no significant club circuit here. Things are changing at this level, too, though: recent visa changes now allow locals to follow careers in music more easily. Ovesen has worked on schemes and IPs designed to bring breaking acts and DJs to the country, and Live Nation recently launched its first club show in Dubai, with the intention of kick-starting an entire grassroots circuit.

Live Nation is also aiming to bring Arabic artists to the world. It recently appointed Amin T. Kabbani to lead a newly formed team, with the aim of bringing Arabic performers to audiences 50 Cent across Europe, North America, Latin America, and Australia. “Expanding our operations to include international touring for Arabic talent is a natural progression for Live Nation Middle East,” said Craven.

“The commitment will be demonstrated through shows hosted within the Middle East itself, utilising iconic venues, such as Etihad Arena. By supporting emerging talent in their home region, we aim to strengthen the foundation of the Arabic music industry and contribute to its global recognition.”


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Abu Dhabi firms merge to form live powerhouse

Abu Dhabi’s state-owned promoter Flash Entertainment has merged with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) to form new live entertainment powerhouse Ethara.

The companies have officially integrated their activities and operations, combining their expertise to launch Ethara, which promises to “shape the future of events, entertainment and venue management throughout the Middle East and beyond”.

With offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Riyadh, Ethara will be led by former ADMM CEO and Flash board member Saif Al Noaimi, who will be responsible for driving commercial expansion across new markets.

“By combining our strengths, we are perfectly positioned to make memorable moments that matter,” says Al Noaimi. “By integrating the activities and operations of two of Abu Dhabi’s pioneering entertainment and event management titans, Ethara will further establish the Emirate as an economic engine in the entertainment, event management, and sports industries, locally, regionally, and internationally.”

Ethara’s stated ambition is “to shape the untapped and unique opportunities in the live events space while continuing to deliver growth that has firmly positioned the Middle East on the global entertainment stage”.

“We have an unrivalled wealth of expertise, experience, knowledge and skills, which will propel Ethara’s success far beyond what either company could achieve alone”

“We have an unrivalled wealth of expertise, experience, knowledge and skills, which will propel Ethara’s success far beyond what either company could achieve alone – all powered by world-class creativity and innovation,” adds Al Noaimi.

Headed by CEO John Lickrish, Flash launched in 2008 and opened a Saudi headquarters in Riyadh last September. Collectively, 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 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.

News of the merger comes weeks after European live group All Things Live (ATL) launched a new operation in the territory, headed by veteran promoter Thomas Ovesen.

Ovesen has more than 20 years of experience in the region, working at Dubai-based venues and promoters such as Coca-Cola Arena, 117 Live and Done Events before launching his own company TOP Entertainment. The partnership is the result of prior collaborations between TOP and ATL, as well as “a desire to fast-track long-term plans, increase synergies, and seize opportunities across the region”.

Read IQ‘s recent feature on the rapidly developing UAE touring market from the Global Promoters Report here.


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‘The Middle East is an exciting place to be’

The live market in the Gulf, historically centred on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, toiled for years to achieve wider recognition and a spot on the schedules of passing artists. But there is a real momentum to the region now, with experienced promoters, world-class indoor arenas and, in Saudi Arabia, a neighbour with serious money to spend.

“Historically, the reliance on greenfield sites and their associated costs were a big limitation for commercially sustainable shows,” says James Craven, Live Nation president Middle East. “But as more purpose-built venues open-up across the region, the hard ticket business really becomes more viable.”

The opening up of Saudi, combined with the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, are also big news for the UAE’s live business, given their implications for regional touring. But credit must go to promoters such as Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Flash Entertainment, Dubai’s T.O.P. Entertainment (stands for Thomas Ovesen Presents) and the local Live Nation branch for pulling the market through the lean years.

Ovesen recently returned to promoting across the region after a spell with Saudi’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and in addition to a sell-out with 50 Cent at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai in September, T.O.P. staged José Carreras in November, with Chinese star Jackson Wang coming up in February 2023.

“We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events”

It is a fact of life in the Middle East that state buying power, rather than ticket-buying clout, is often a key factor in drawing talent to the region. “If you look at it from afar, it looks extremely busy with all the top artists, but a lot of it is driven by governments, whether that’s in Qatar, Saudi, or our friends down in Abu Dhabi,” says Ovesen.

Flash, which operates Etihad Park and the Etihad Arena on Yas Island, brought Usher, Dave, Swedish House Mafia, Kendrick Lamar, and Def Leppard out in November for its Yasalam After-Race Concert Series, tied to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Andrea Bocelli, Post Malone and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship hot on their heels.

“2022 was a strong year for us,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events. Probably not quite ’19 levels, but ’19 was obviously insane.”

Established since 2008, Flash has now added Dubai and Saudi offices to its Abu Dhabi base. “We are really focusing on that now,” says Lickrish. “We have always operated there, out of Abu Dhabi, but we just decided it was a good opportunity to get our branch offices staffed up.”

“The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business”

Live Nation, meanwhile, has staged Maroon 5, OneRepublic, and Westlife in Abu Dhabi this year, with Imagine Dragons, Blackpink, and Sting incoming, as well as a growing line in non-western events.

“The Middle East is an exciting place to be right now,” says Craven. “The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business. Comedy is also a key focus as we move into 2023,” he adds, noting the arrival of Pete Green, formerly of local promoters Done Events and GME Events, as head of comedy for the region.

Other promoters operating in the UAE include Blu Blood, which has brought Atif Islam and Il Divo in recent years, and South Asian specialist PME Entertainment, which has showcased Indian singers Arijit Singh and Jubin Nautiyal in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


The Global Promoters Report is published in print, digitally, and all content is also available as a year-round resource on the IQ site. The Global Promoters Report includes key summaries of the major promoters working across 40+ markets, unique interviews and editorial on key trends and developments across the global live music business.

To access all content from the current Global Promoters Report, please click here.

The unstoppable rise of the Gulf States

Exactly two years ago, at the very moment IQ was producing its last market report on the live market of the Gulf, not to mention gathering the live music community in London for ILMC, the pandemic closed in, and the world shuddered to a halt.

We all know what happened next: lockdowns, calendars in the bin, plenty of pain and an ever-extending timescale for the return of concerts. Every market suffered, and the Gulf was no exception. In the final analysis, the UAE was only fully locked down for around four months and Saudi Arabia for a little over a year, but the hit was a hard one and some restrictions linger on.

Nonetheless, due to a unique set of circumstances, this may also be one regional market that has emerged from the whole mess looking sharper and shinier than when it went in. In 2022, the Gulf boasts new live venues, new touring connections and, in Saudi Arabia, a booming new territory that has shifted the centre of the region and – albeit not without controversy – greatly boosted the appeal of the region to international acts.

The second edition of MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh, a four-day “rave in the desert” last December, where Tiësto, Martin Garrix, and David Guetta played and a reported 180,000 attended the opening night, represents the new face of live music in the Gulf.

That same month, the kingdom also hosted the Formula One Grand Prix, with music from Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, and A$AP Rocky. Chris Brown, Black Eyed Peas, James Blunt, Wyclef Jean and Craig David are also recent visitors, courtesy of MDLBEAST’s MDLBEAST Presents arm, which has rapidly built a reputation as the market’s leading provider of musical talent.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now”

“I don’t play for politicians, I play for people,” Guetta told a Soundstorm press conference, side-stepping the criticisms of the regime that remains the main stumbling block to the international performing community’s guilt-free acceptance of the Saudi riyal.

That stumbling block is seemingly getting smaller these days, partly due to the billions at the disposal of a Saudi regime that is investing in entertainment, not only to conjure tourism, but to keep its free-spending domestic audience from travelling abroad in search of fun.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now,” says veteran Middle East promoter Thomas Ovesen, outgoing entertainment director at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Saudi. “For me, what is happening with live entertainment in Saudi Arabia is what people used to say was going to happen in China. And while it hasn’t materialised there, we are seeing it here now: Western artists coming in for premium fees and a potential touring market in the region. It’s phenomenal.”

For all its wealth, its tourism, and its appetite for growth, the Gulf as a live music region has never been in a position like this before. Efforts to develop Abu Dhabi and Dubai as destination markets have yielded wily, pragmatic local industries and plenty of impressive events – including the recent delayed Expo 2020, which brought Coldplay to Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza in February, among many other highlights. But the emirates’ modest expat-dominated populations and geo-graphical isolation have impeded their efforts to elevate their status on the broader touring map.

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the mix – the 35m-population kingdom having opened its doors in recent years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy and develop its public sector – effectively changes everything.

“In Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it”

In addition to the artist fees, a particular appeal of the Saudi market, thinks Ovesen is the presence of a true local crowd. “People live an expat life in Dubai – they’re probably a bit privileged, sometimes it can be hard to get a reaction out of them,” he says. “But in Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it. And they are embracing the opportunity to attend live entertainment. We used to say that the only place in the region where you could get that experience was when we took the show to Beirut or Cairo. But that’s exactly the situation in Saudi.”

The other markets in the region may not be quite as pent-up, but they are certainly ready for the shift. Nine months before the pandemic, Dubai took delivery of its first indoor arena in the Coca-Cola Arena, while Abu Dhabi put the finishing touches to its own Etihad Arena during the lull. Kuwait and Bahrain likewise have impressive new facilities, and talk has inevitably turned to the development of a genuine touring circuit, involving the Gulf States and all manner of roughly proximate markets, from South Africa and India to Turkey and Egypt.

At the time of writing, the Gulf region is preparing for a milestone in this regard: a bona fide three-date tour by an A-list international act, as Live Nation’s Maroon 5 shape up for the Pyramids in Egypt, the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, and Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel. “This is the first time an A-list Western act has been able to do a regional tour, and it sets a great precedent for the future,” says James Craven, president Live Nation Middle East. “Ticket sales have really exceeded even our most bullish forecast, which again really underlines the enduring demand for shows.”

A necessary piece of this particular puzzle has been the recent thawing of relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel, which in turn has made it
possible for tours to fly directly between the two markets for the first time.

“Having regionally routed runs ensures that bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing a one-off show that takes them out of the market for years,” says Craven. “Previously artists would simply fly in for one show in the UAE. But we are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour.” In a world still navigating its way out of the pandemic, these are significant and unprecedented moments, and, geopolitics permitting, they suggest the future of live music in the Gulf is likely to assume a very different shape to its past.

“We are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour”

The promoting landscape in the Gulf is a mixed one, combining heavyweight state-owned promoters (Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment), familiar corporates (notably Live Nation, operating out of Dubai), fast-growing Saudi entities such as MDLBEAST, and a variety of Dubai-based independents, ranging from specialist operators to beach club DJ promoters to wealthy dabblers.

Out of all of them, the meteoric rise of MDLBEAST arguably makes it the promoter to watch, and its ambitions are unlimited by the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, or even those of the Gulf itself.

“We want to be present in the entire region,” says Talal Albahiti, MDLBEAST chief operating officer and head of talent booking and events. “The Middle Eastern music market is expected to grow up to 16.5% by 2027, reaching $670m [€605m]. MDLBEAST will play a significant role in supporting that growth. We also want to go beyond the region, as we are not only looking to host festivals and concerts in the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain but also in Greece, Spain, and the US.”

MDLBEAST has also been invited to take on live events for circling Western promoters, says Albahiti. “We have been approached by a few European companies to produce their festivals, which was a pleasant surprise and much-deserved recognition to all the team. It shows that our commitment and dedication are being recognised by the international market.”

Clearly, the live market in Saudi Arabia is poised at an exciting but delicate moment, and MDLBEAST is acutely aware of the need to nurture the industry in the proper way if it is to thrive sustainably in the long-term. At its inaugural XP Music Conference in December 2021, it gathered 150 delegates from the Middle Eastern music industry in Riyadh with a view to accelerating the market’s growth.

“I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia”

“For me personally, XP is our most important work because it aims to help build real infrastructure for the music industry in a region where it is currently missing,” says Albahiti. “We need that if we’re going to support local and regional talent and for our organisation to grow.

“We don’t want to be just another music touring company picking global acts and bringing them to Saudi Arabia – our vision is much grander than that. We want to empower, develop, and educate local and regional talents across different genres. I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia. If not, then definitely from the Middle Eastern region.”

In its own way, Live Nation has also spent the pandemic nurturing talent in the region – specifically promoting talent it needs on the ground to broaden the range of playable markets.
“Because of the restrictions in place for a lot of the last two years, we focused on future planning and opening up newer markets like Jordan, Egypt, India, and Kuwait,” says Zaed Maqbool, Live Nation VP talent, Middle East, who has spent years building the foundations for a viable circuit to rival those elsewhere in the world. In this context, the significance of the impending Maroon 5 tour is worth restating.

“Maroon 5 was truly a labour of love,” says Maqbool. “The first-ever regionally routed run, an A-list band, and an undying willingness to create a new regional route for Western artists. It all came together. That one really represents a paradigm shift for touring in the region. We now have offers out for more regional tours – and they’re all big names.”

While it may have taken the roaring engine of Saudi Arabia to jolt the region into a higher gear, the UAE promises to become a significant central strategic point as a Middle Eastern/ Asian/African circuit coalesces – at least according to Live Nation’s thinking.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008″

“India will become a part of the equation,” says Maqbool. “Israel and UAE are already mainstays because of their proximity and the fact that they are mature markets in their own right. South Africa is also a market we connect to, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have direct flights. So basically, the UAE becomes the connecting transport hub for the region and beyond.”

With not only a new arena but the well-established 40,000-cap Etihad Park stadium at its disposal – which over the years has witnessed Coldplay, Rihanna, The Stones and others – Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment is, like all promoters in the region, highly prepared for an influx of talent.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “One of the strategies we thought we were going to implement, or was going to happen organically, was a regional touring circuit.

“We thought it would be Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, ourselves, maybe Bahrain. In fact, we are dealing with content pushed through Israel, Saudi, Qatar, Bahrain… hopefully India – we will see how that develops. Yeah, it’s a great thing. Obviously, having more content available takes us out of the position of feeling like everything that comes is something we have to deliver ourselves.”

Not every Gulf promoter emerged from the pandemic intact. Arab Media Group-owned Done Events, with its roster of Dubai-based festivals including RedFestDXB, Blended, and Dubai Jazz Festival, has ceased trading. Others, meanwhile, have emerged. Former Done Events live events manager Peter Green had already gone out on his own by the time of Done’s demise and now operates as GME Events. He sold 15,000 tickets in his first year of operation, promoting Russell Peters and Michael McIntyre at the Etihad Arena and The Kooks at the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as several more comedy shows at the Dubai Opera and the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter”

“All of those shows were obviously socially distanced,” says Green. “The venues can obviously take more, but we achieved far more than I thought we would, as a new promoter, with Covid restrictions in place. Shows are coming back now and restrictions are less, but it is still challenging with the ever-changing Covid landscape. I think the attitude now, though, is let’s get on with it, and let’s do what we can.”

Other promoters in Dubai include the jazz-focused Chillout Productions, founder of the Dubai Jazz Festival, and The Artist Network, whose events include Desert Groove – formerly Groove on the Grass – at the Dunes Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

Meanwhile, after three years with the state-backed DGDA project, which is developing the historic town of Ad Diriyah into a national, cultural and tourist centre on the edge of Riyad, Ovesen is poised to return to his promoting roots with new venture T.O.P. Entertainment and will operate as an independent with offices in Saudi and the UAE, but also looking to organise events across Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

The leading ticketing company in the Gulf remains Platinumlist, which operates right across the region. “We sell 80% of UAE entertainment tickets and have been in KSA for six years,” says managing director Vassiliy Anatoli. “Our turnover in Saudi is larger than in UAE, although it’s hard to say what our market share is exactly.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter. It is hard to get independent event permits for organisers, and the majority of events are funded by the General Event Authority, which imposes the use of state-owned ticketing platforms.”

“We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year”

Anatoli’s perspective on the pandemic is a widescreen one that neatly charts the ups and downs of the entire Gulf market. “We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year. Despite the pandemic, many attractions kept operating and that is what we focused on whilst there were no events.

“2021 started well but was swiftly cut off by another spike in cases locally, which halted the industry for another four months. However, by March 2021, Saudi started making plans, and we won the tender for the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2021 and many other major projects, such as Rotana Concerts, the Evolution Exhibition, the Museum of Happiness, and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale.

“Finally, the UAE resumed events in full swing by September 2021, which catapulted our revenues. Another major win was the 2021 Indian Premier League and ICC World Cup, which has sold over 350,000 tickets.”

In the coming years, Anatoli expects the biggest growth to come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though he also points to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait as markets seeing comfortable growth. Other ticketing outlets in Dubai include bricks-and-mortar retailer Virgin Megastore, as well as Ticketmaster and Indian giant BookMyShow.

Dubai’s 17,000-cap arena Coca-Cola Arena, the first permanent, multi-purpose arena in an emirate that had been staging shows on laboriously converted brownfield sites on the edge of the city for years, opened in June 2019. It managed just nine months in operation before Covid closed its doors.

“On Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors”

Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar describes the moment at ILMC 2020 when it became clear what the immediate impact of the encroaching pandemic would be (“I’ve never seen an insurance panel more engaged,” he says) and with precise recall of dates, fills in the story up to the present day.

“Everything came to a complete halt, but we had Iron Maiden in May, and we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll close for a month…’” he says, recalling the initial optimism of the times. “That obviously didn’t happen, but we undertook some behind-closed-doors activities for some government entities. Then we were an Ikea catalogue venue, and we were a venue for a movie set. We were very close to becoming a vaccine centre.”

Over the next year or so, the UAE flexed its restrictions, “and slowly but surely, we went from 1,500 capacity, heavily socially distanced, to 2,500, to 5,000, then 60%, 70%, 80% of capacity, and thankfully, on Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors.”

In the same period, after an inevitable delay, Abu Dhabi finally inaugurated its own arena, the 18,000-cap Etihad, part of the AED12bn (€3bn) Yas Bay development project. “We would have liked to have it earlier; but it’s a really beautiful facility. It’s easy to operate, it’s cost-effective, scalable,” says Lickrish. “We have a host of good commercial partners that have come on board, Etihad being the big one. It’s next to impossible to make the industry work here without corporate partners, and that’s been a fact for quite some time now. So that’s exciting. Our corporate boxes are sold out, and now we are just planning content.”

On the schedule at the Etihad Arena for the coming months are Arab pop stars Amr Diab, Sherine Abdel Wahab, and Kadim Al Sahir; Maroon 5; UFC; and the International Indian Film Academy Awards 2022.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition”

The almost simultaneous arrival of two world-class arenas in a previously arena-free zone – to add to the Dubai Opera, the Media City amphitheatre and the World Trade Centre, all in Dubai – might be viewed as an embarrassment of riches. But if the competition is unwelcome, no one is saying.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition,” says Kar. “Both serve a domestic market, and they also allow us to create tours for artists.”
Those tours, of course, don’t necessarily have to come from the Western content machine. A feature of the Middle Eastern market that is occasionally lost on Western eyes is the sheer diversity of its offering.

“For us, Western acts would probably make up 25% to 30% of the content,” says Kar. “The balance is very much Asian content, and that includes Bollywood but also Pakistani and Bangladeshi music. And then you have got Arabic, where you have the Khaliji music that is popular across the Gulf, but also Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian, all with completely different dialects and demographics that would attend. Comparing anyone with another is like comparing Bruno Mars with Metallica.”

It is also inevitable that more venues are to come, particularly in the region’s most newly vibrant market. Most of the Saudi events still take place on outdoor sites or in temporary structures such as the 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena near Riyadh, but further building is taking place. ASM Global will manage the 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena at Airport City, promised for late-2025, while the 25,000-cap Victory Arena in Riyadh is currently undergoing a major facelift.

With Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup at the end of this year, there has been a massive construction programme, which could ultimately benefit the local live entertainment scene. And in Bahrain, three million man hours of work has created the spectacular 10,000-seat Al Dana Amphitheatre, which has literally been carved from the rock of the Sahkir desert (more about that project in IQ’s June issue).

“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons”

Another territory ready to take its place in a regional circuit is Kuwait, which welcomed a 5,000-cap multi-purpose all-seater arena in March. The Arena Kuwait, in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall, targets live entertainment, sports, corporate projects, exhibitions and conferences, and in its first few weeks of operation hosted six sold-out Arabic music concerts and two regional business-to-consumer expos.

“Kuwait is a new market for international and regional promoters and event organisers, as un- til the opening of The Arena Kuwait, venues and event spaces were limited,” says general manager Ken Jamieson. “Kuwait has an event-hungry population and the response to our first plethora of events has been very satisfying for all concerned. We have a packed calendar for the rest of the year as the demand has been outstanding..”

As the infrastructure expands, of course, so do the challenges of a region with a range of extreme weather conditions and great disparities in both its seasonal habits and venue provision.
“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons,” says Maqbool, wrestling with a circuit that potentially spans thousands of miles across Africa and Asia. “If an artist wants to do a tour in what is called the winter here in the Middle East, we need to take into consideration the different ‘winter’ conditions at each stop of the tour and the implications that has on venue type and timings.

“In the UAE, we have not one but two arenas to play around with, so we’re good the year round. But it’s not the same in Egypt, it’s not the same in India and some of the other markets as well. When it’s our winter, it’s their summer, and vice versa, and that’s a little nuance that sometimes plays into the equation. There’s a fair amount of playing Tetris with the routing, figuring out what works for everybody.”

And, give or take some teething troubles, a bit of geopolitical discord, and some Western liberal reservations, there’s the new regional circuit for you. It may well very come to offer dazzling new horizons for live music – but don’t expect it to be an easy ride.

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ILMC 32 unveils third wave of speakers

A diverse and international group of industry professionals make up the latest round of speakers for the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) and Futures Forum, which take place in London in March.

The group, which join previously announced panel chairs and workshop hosts, as well as many high-profile guest speakers, includes representatives from Live Nation, ICM Partners, Paradigm, the O2 Arena, Fullsteam, Solo Agency and many more.

A highly international delegation of speakers come together for The Global Marketplace: Games without frontiers session, with representatives from Live Nation Asia, Korea’s International Creative Agency, UAE’s Flash Entertainment, Brazil’s Live Talentos and Singapore’s Midas Promotions, as well as a Kenyan-based agent from Austria’s Georg Leitner Productions.

Futures Forum is back with a bang on Friday 6 March, after a successful debut outing last year. The OK, Boomer: Closing the generation gap panel sees Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery and Anna-Sophie Mertens, ICM Partners’ Scott Mantell and Kevin Jergenson, and CAA’s Maria May and Jen Hammel join forces in an all-new session pairing up senior executives with their more junior counterparts.

Futures Forum is back with a bang, after a highly successful debut outing last year

More highlights on the future-focused day include the Meet the New Bosses: Class of 2020 session, chaired by Ticketmaster’s Jo Young, and featuring new bosses Charly Beedell-Tuck (Solo Agency), Matt Pickering-Copley (Primary Talent International) and Marc Saunders (the O2), three of the list of twelve future live music industry leaders selected by ILMC and IQ Magazine this year.

Following on from last year’s thought-provoking panel on wellbeing, the Mental Health: Next steps for live discussion, led by ATC Live’s Stacey Pragnell, will feature guest speakers Adam Ficek (Babyshambles/Music & Mind), Richard Mutimer (Paradigm), Aino-Maria Paasivirta (Fullsteam Agency) and Joe Hastings (Help Musicians) and look at how to formulate a healthier and happier industry for the future.

With over 100 speakers and 40 sessions over the whole conference, there are plenty of big names and exciting details left to be announced in the coming weeks.

The full ILMC agenda can be viewed here, with the Futures Forum programme available here.

ILMC is taking place from 3 to 6 March at the Royal Garden Hotel in London. Companies supporting this year’s conference include Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Eventim, WME, Universe, Livestyled, Tysers, Joy Station, Mojo Rental and Showsec.


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Etihad agrees naming deal for Flash’s Yas Bay Arena

Abu Dhabi’s new Yas Bay Arena will be known as Etihad Arena when it opens later this year, following the signing of a naming-rights agreement between Etihad Airways and venue owner Miral.

The US$3.2 billion, 18,000-capacity indoor arena is the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, capital and the largest of the seven United Arab Emirates.  Operated by promoter Flash Entertainment, Etihad Arena will “host an eclectic variety of events, including sporting competitions, corporate events, cultural performances, concerts and many other appealing activities throughout the year”, according to Miral, the publicly owned property company responsible for developing and managing Yas Island.

In addition to the arena, the 25km² Yas Island is home to Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; theme parks including Warner Bros World, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld; and numerous hotels and retail stores.

Tony Douglas, group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, says: “It’s an honour to partner with an Abu Dhabi institution such as Miral on this joint venture, which will further promote Abu Dhabi and Yas Island as a hub for entertainment, tourism and culture. Etihad Arena complements our global presence at a number of sporting and entertainment venues, most notably Etihad Stadium in Manchester, home of Manchester City Football Club.

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital”

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital, providing a diverse range of entertainment options for guests visiting our beautiful city, or for those who call the UAE home.”

“As our national airline with international reach, Etihad Airways is the ideal partner to help position the newly named Etihad Arena competitively on the local and regional map of live entertainment destinations,” adds Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral. “The new venue will be a significant addition to the unique offerings on Yas Island and in Abu Dhabi, creating unforgettable experiences and helping us deliver on our vision to position Yas Island as a top global destination for entertainment, leisure and business.

“This is a testament to our commitment to grow the tourism industry and achieve our leadership’s vision of economic diversification.”

Etihad Arena will be the second major indoor arena in the UAE, following the recently opened Coca-Cola Arena in neighbouring Dubai. The outdoor 117 Live Arena (formerly Autism Rocks Arena) opened in Dubai in 2016.


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Flash VP named new ILEA president

Lee Charteris, vice-president of operations at Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment, has been named president of the Middle Eastern chapter of the International Live Events Association (ILEA).

Charteris will lead ILEA – known until May as the International Special Events Society (ISES) – in the Middle East (ME) until June 2017, focusing on raising the profile of his chapter in the global organisation and bringing more business to the region from colleagues overseas.

ILEA promotes networking, education and professional development in the live events sector, and also has chapters in the UK, Europe, Nigeria, Turkey and multiple offices across the US and Canada.

Charteris takes over from Rebecca Wilson, managing director of recruitment company ESP International.

“We can become an even stronger voice, can lobby for change where needed and be a go-to for all those who need inspired, impartial and professional advice at every level”

“I am honoured to be elected president of ILEA ME for 2016/17, and I promise to lead and represent this association best I can for the coming year,” Charteris says.

“I ask that we come together as an industry so we can become an even stronger voice, can lobby for change where needed and be a go-to for all those who need inspired, impartial and professional advice at every level from the individual right up to government.”

Upcoming Flash Entertainment events include Bollywood in the Capital at duForum, the Arab Comedy Festival at Yas Mall, the Emerging Talent Competition at the Corniche and Rihanna’s Anti date after the Abu Dhabi grand prix.


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