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Wembley’s John Drury hails debut arena headliners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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London’s SSE Arena renamed OVO Arena Wembley

London’s legendary Wembley Arena has been renamed OVO Arena Wembley.

The 12,500-cap, ASM Global-managed venue has been known as The SSE Arena, Wembley since 2014, but now follows in the footsteps of Glasgow’s Hydro (cap. 13,000) in linking with OVO Energy, the UK’s third-biggest energy supplier, which acquired SSE in 2020.

OVO Arena Wembley is expected to welcome around one million visitors in 2022, with upcoming shows including 50 Cent, Armin Van Buuren, Sigrid, KSI, The Cure and Anne-Marie.

“ASM Global is delighted to support OVO Energy on the renaming of OVO Arena Wembley,” says John Drury, VP & general manager. “The live entertainment industry has endured a challenging couple of years, but ASM Global is now looking forward to a bumper schedule of events across 2022.”

OVO will also support ASM Global’s goal to achieve ‘Greener Arena Certification’, set to be implemented across all ASM Global venues. A Greener Festival’s independent certification process provides external verification that carbon reduction and transition strategies are at the heart of all venue operations, from catering to materials used and circularity.

“As we look to welcome more fans than ever before, we’re working hard to manage the environmental footprint of our operation – one show at a time,” adds Drury. “This partnership between OVO Energy and ASM Global means that our brilliant events will be aligned with our shared desire for a carbon-free future.”

“At OVO, we’re committed to establishing purposeful partnerships which reflect our commitment to make zero carbon living a reality – not just in the home, but in the things we love doing too, whether that be going to a gig or comedy show,” adds OVO’s head of sponsorship & partnerships, Colin Banks. “That’s why we share in the OVO Arena Wembley’s ambition to help live entertainment in becoming more sustainable.

“Together, we want to identify meaningful ways through which to make lower-impact live events a headline act in their own right”

“It’ll take time, but together, we want to identify meaningful ways through which to make lower-impact live events a headline act in their own right and working with A Greener Festival represents a very positive step on that journey. But we know that’s just the beginning, and we want to continue to support the venue in identifying practical ways in which we can help to further reduce its environmental impact, without detracting from OVO Arena Wembley’s first-class visitor experience. We look forward to releasing more detail around some of the initiatives already being considered, in the very near future.”

The development and implementation of the sustainable strategies will be bolstered by social responsibility platform ASM Global Acts, which pledges the venue operator’s commitment to protecting the environment.

“ASM Global is committed to providing sustainable solutions and initiatives across our portfolio of venues around the world,” says Chris Bray, EVP Europe, ASM Global. “Our social responsibility platform, ASM Global Acts pledges our longstanding commitment to protecting the environment as we work towards ‘Greener Arena Certification’ in all ASM Global venues. We are pleased, therefore, to continue our relationship with OVO Energy, a brand which shares our vision for greener strategies in the live events industry.

Alongside the OVO Energy team at Wembley, we are excited to see how we can continue to work together to develop and collaborate on our ongoing sustainability strategies. Together, we aim to continue to ensure this iconic London concert and events venue remains a world class experience whilst developing it into one of the most sustainable arenas in the world.”

Georgina Iceton, VP Activations at AEG Global Partnerships adds: “We’re thrilled to support our partner, OVO Energy, on their renaming of such a legendary venue in London. As part of the rebrand, it was important for AEG, ASM Global and OVO, that we had a zero waste to landfill policy, so our priority from the offset, was to source from new suppliers who would deliver the most sustainable materials on the market.”

“The initiatives, through all aspects of this progressive project, were underpinned by AEG’s drive for meaningful partnerships that support goals of both the venue and partner. Through the work we establish with A Greener Festival, we will be able to implement new solutions for this legendary building which will see even greater energy efficiencies across the venue.”

 


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Wembley’s John Drury talks restaffing and no-shows

The SSE Arena, Wembley’s VP and general manager John Drury has spoken to IQ about the challenges of restaffing the venues sector as it emerges from the Covid-19 shutdown.

With a number of seasoned backstage hands defecting to other industries during the pandemic to make ends-meet, the business is battling a short-term talent shortage.

Drury, who predicts the Covid-induced upheaval to the global touring calendar could last until at least 2024, suggests the issue is far from straightforward.

“On security, in particular, a lot of SIA licences haven’t been renewed, and some of that will be no doubt people just picking up different work elsewhere and moving out of the industry,” he says. “Some will be people moving back to a home country, there’s probably a bit of Brexit in there as well, so that’s made it a challenge.

We’re still seeing more of a drop-off in numbers than normal

“We’re not really seeing it so much on the F&B side, but we’re certainly seeing it on front of house, stewarding and security, where it’s harder. We’ve not got to the point where we haven’t been able to service a show, obviously, and I don’t think we will get to that point. But it’s a challenge.

“We had a show last weekend where it ended up that we needed to bring the riggers in a couple of days earlier because that’s when they could get them and not on the show day. It meant the rigging for this one event came in ahead of the show the following day, but it was all done very amicably and everybody worked together to get it achieved. But we’ll see those challenges for a little while, no doubt.”

As previously revealed by IQ, promoters have reported the rate of no-shows by ticket-holders at concerts has been far higher than usual since the restart. Drury describes Wembley’s no-show rate as “up and down”.

“The standard tends to be around about 10%,” he says. “We were only seeing 5% on comedy, which was really encouraging, but at other events we were seeing as much as 20%, or more.

“We were finding it depended partly on shows that had been rescheduled once or twice. So some people might have just forgotten they were on, even though we’d been emailing and sending them reminders, and there is a bit of uncertainty out there, for sure. We’re still seeing more of a drop off in numbers than we normally would.”

Because we’d had some activity, it allowed us to get back into the swing of things more quickly

The 12,500-capacity London venue, which is due to round off 2021 with dates by acts including Manic Street Preachers, James + Happy Mondays, The Human League, Nightwish, Il Divo and Madness, stayed busier than most, if not all, UK arenas during 2020/21 “partly because of our size and partly because of location,” according to Drury.

“We ended up doing some filming for the BBC series The Wall through summer last year, and then we did some behind closed doors boxing for another six weeks with Matchroom,” he says.

“That led to us hosting the Anthony Joshua fight in December, [2020] for a crowd of 1,000 people. It was in that very short, small window where you could post some events for a very limited number. You couldn’t normally make that work for arena but, because of the pay-per-view, it worked.

“It was strangely like opening a new venue and was an interesting taste of what we were going to have to go through.”

The arena also hosted a Culture Club livestream and was used for filming a Tesco Mobile advert, along with the Strictly Come Dancing and Masked Dancer British TV series, and was utilised for UEFA’s Euro 2020 international football tournament over the summer.

“It was good to have that activity in the building, not because it made money – it covered its costs to a certain extent – but what it did was help us give work to our regular full-timers,” notes Drury. “It allowed us to bring in some contractors and give some of the supply chain some work that they very badly needed. So it was a real motivation for us to do something in the building – to be able to give some work to people that desperately needed it.

“We opened up with boxing on 24 July, which was our first proper event with no social distancing. And then the first proper gig, was McFly in the middle of September. And because we’d had some activity, it allowed us to get back into the swing of things a little bit more quickly. It’s been really good to be back doing shows, and let’s hope we can carry on.”

 


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SSE Arena, Wembley boss on sector’s recovery hopes

SSE Arena, Wembley boss John Drury predicts it could be at least 2024 before the arena business gets back to a “normal” calendar.

The 12,500-capacity London venue’s long-serving VP and general manager tells IQ the multitude of postponements in ’20 and ’21 has inevitably led to complications.

“It’s been a challenge as we come out of something we’ve never experienced before, so everybody has been finding a way around it as best they can,” says Drury. “What it’s done to the diaries, though, is it’s effectively meant that we probably won’t have a normal year until ’24.

“Next year is affected by all the shows that moved from this year into next. And it’s busier, but it’s not a normal year. We’ve seen promoters putting in tours for ’22 and then starting to look into ’23 because they’ve not been able to put together the run of dates that they wanted – and that probably cuts across European dates and beyond as well.”

As a result, projections for a “rammed” 2022 had been downgraded even before the Omicron variant presented fresh cause for concern.

A bunch of shows that we thought were going to happen in ’22 are now going to happen in ’23

‘What we originally saw as ‘2022 is going to be absolutely rammed,’ has changed a little bit into, ‘2022’s busy and a bunch of shows that we thought were going to happen in ’22 are now going to happen in ’23.’ That makes us think that the only time that we’ll get back to any sort of normal looking diary is probably ’24, unless something else happens – another variant comes along or there’s another challenge – but so far, that’s how we’re looking.”

Wembley, which began holding non-socially distanced concerts again in September, is due to round off 2021 with dates by acts including Manic Street Preachers, James + Happy Mondays, The Human League, Nightwish, Il Divo and Madness.

“Back-up dates were held for the spring for most of the shows we’ve got coming up in December,” notes Drury, who says ticket sales are largely in line with expectations.

“Nothing that we put on is doing business that we didn’t expect it to do, which is encouraging,” he suggests. “We just went on sale with a rescheduled K-pop show for Ateez and it flew out, so there’s pent up demand there and I think we’ll see a bit more of that coming our way.

“Long term, we’re not seeing a decline in sales, we’re seeing the same patterns that we used to. What we need to see is what that translates into when we get to the show days, as people get more comfortable with going about their business. But it’s probably on a knife edge because nobody knows what’s going to happen and it just needs something like a new variant to come in and we take another hit.”

Drury adds there is at least a positive legacy to come out of the pandemic where the live music biz is concerned.

“One thing that has been helpful for us as an industry is working together,” he says. “Gradually, we got to the point of the LIVE group being created, and that’s a real bonus because we’ve not had that ability to work together in this way before.

“To be able to put together policies and procedures to lobby government, has been really positive. We were working with our competitors and there wasn’t any point in having secrets because we all wanted the same thing – to get back to business.”

 


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60 years of SSE Arena, Wembley celebrated in pictures

Heroes – the Exhibition, a photographic exploration of the sixty-year history of the SSE Arena, Wembley, is opening to the public on Thursday 28 November at Getty Images Gallery, Wembley Park.

The exhibition will feature over 100 photographs of artists at the London music venue, which celebrated its busiest year yet in 2018.

From 1960s snaps of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to more recent images of Kendrick Lamar, Queens of the Stone Age and the Prodigy, the exhibition will cover the arena’s rich musical history. Other artists to feature in the collection include David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Whitney Houston, Queen, Prince, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Words by the arena’s vice president and general manager John Drury accompany the photos, which are taken by renowned music photographer Michael Putland and former and current Getty photographers Dave Hogan and Brian Risac, among others.

“Over the past 60 years The SSE Arena, Wembley has earned its place as one of the most iconic live music venues in the world,” comments Drury. “There is a chemistry that keeps bringing artists and fans back, that feeling of connection, passion, and shared experience.

“Heroes brilliantly captures the magic on stage and in the audience that could happen nowhere else”

“Playing Wembley for the first time is a special milestone in any artist’s career and each show builds on its legendary status. That is what Heroes brilliantly captures, the magic on stage and in the audience that could happen nowhere else.”

Built in 1934, the arena in Wembley – originally known as the Empire Pool – has been a live music venue for over six decades. Following a £26 million refurbishment, the arena reopened in 2006, taking the name of the SSE Arena, Wembley in 2014.

“Wembley Park has always been about people coming together to share experiences, and The SSE Arena, Wembley is central to this,” says Josh McNorton, cultural director of Wembley Park.

“Over the past 60 years, it has played an enormous part in the cultural history of the area and in global music history, and Heroes is a great way to celebrate this through the performances of some of the world’s most famous performers.”

The exhibition is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Getty Images Gallery, Wembley Park. Admission is free for the first three days. All photographs are available for purchase, priced from £70 to £648.

 


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Awards all round for Arcade Fire SSE Arena shows

Arcade Fire have been presented with award frames by the SSE Arena, Wembley, after last week’s sold-out three-date run at the London venue.

The Canadian act played three nights in the round at the 12,500-cap. arena on 11, 12 and 13 April, for which they were gifted plaques by SSE Arena Wembley vice-president/GM John Drury and bookings manager James Harrison.

Over the course of the three-night run, part of their Infinite Content tour, the band were also joined by special guests on stage for surprise performances: Chrissie Hynde on the first night, Jarvis Cocker on night two and Florence Welch and Boy George on night three. Boy George’s band, Culture Club, will play a headline show at the AEG-operated arena on 14 November.

Also receiving awards were the band’s managers, Izvor Zivkovic and Dounia Mikou, agent Emma Banks (CAA) and promoter Toby Leighton-Pope (AEG Presents).

 


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