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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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