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The Venue’s Venue: New builds, new brands

The Venue’s Venue: New builds, new brands

Chair: John Langford, European Arenas Association / AEG (UK)

Panellists: Stuart Galbraith, Kilimanjaro Live (UK) | Jolanda Jansen, Rotterdam Ahoy (NL) | Brian Kabatznick, Oak View Group (UK) | Tom Lynch, ASM Global (UK) | Thomas Ovesen, Diriyah Gate Development Authority (AE) | Harry Samuel, LiveStyled (UK) 

Chair John Langford of COO of AEG Europe and president of the European Arenas Association, set out the key talking points of the day: key players and their five year plans, relationships between venues and promoters, sustainability in the venue world and new venue technology.

“The business has never been healthier,” said Brian Kabatznick of the Oak View Group (OVG), referring to the variety of content out there and the quantity of new arenas.”We now have a new generation of physical arenas to enhance artist and fan experience.” 

Langford referenced the amount of consolidation that has taken place across the promoter and venue world in recent years, asking Kilimanjaro Live’s Stuart Galbraith if this is a concern to promoters. “It’s only a concern if consolidation and increased power is going to be abused,” said the promoter, adding that facilities need to be equally open to independent promoters. “The more venues there are, the more options we will have.” 

Kabatznick said increasing competition “challenges us all to think of things differently”, whereas Jolanda Jansen, CEO of Rotterdam Ahoy in the Netherlands, admitted you sometimes have to “fight hard” to get content into the building. Part of the EAA and venue management colossus ASM Global,  the Rotterdam Ahoy boss states it “feels good to be independent and entrepreneurial.”

Thomas Ovesen, entertainment director at Diriyah Gate Development Authority in the United Arab Emirates influx of new venues in the Middle East, which he described as “a very fractured market” 

Having indoor, air-conditioned arenas helps to extend the entertainment season from 8 to 12 months in the Gulf States, but it can be hard to deliver on the quantity of content that is wanted by investors, who put money into programming, as well as building the venue. “We aim for 50 event nights a year,” explained Ovesen, “but we haven’t met that yet.” 

Tom Lynch of ASM Global, the conglomerate formed by the merger between AEG Facilities and SMG said it is incumbent on them to lead on the key issues of sustainability and innovation.Lynch stated ASM is particularly excited about getting into new markets, looking at economic and population growth and developing new venues in Argentina, Uruguay, Hong Kong, Dubai, Seoul, and eastern Europe. 

“The absence of venues  in a country contributes to a less developed live industry overall,” said Lynch.

OVG is focusing on Latin America and Asia, said Kabatznick, as well as developing new arenas in Seattle, Palm Springs, Texas 16k, New York and Milan. 

The company is also working on a new £350 million, 23,500-capacity arena in the Eastlands area of Manchester, set to be the largest in Europe. The arena, which will be mostly music oriented and offer “a plethora” of hospitality space, “will be the hallmark of what we hope to do for venues in the uk and worldwide,” said Kabatznick.

Can Manchester, which is already home to ASM Global’s 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, sustain two arenas of this size, asked Langford.

From a touring perspective, Galbraith said yes.”Manchester is one of the top three places to play in the UK, if the facility is there, then we will use it,” he said, although noting another large venue would “not have a beneficial effect” on the existing arena.  

“At the same time, if the market space grows in the way we see it has in London, we will see product profile change,” noting the success of the updated SSE Arena, Wembley, in recent years.

ASM Global’s Lynch was not so welcoming. “I am pro-development and investment but, the reality is, that a lot of comments around Manchester's capacity for two venues of that capacity are  wildly misunderstood,” said Lynch.

“For a promoter, it’s great, but that does not mean that two venues can survive and thrive there. It’s a saturated market already.” Lynch also questioned the sustainability of an arena in an area of the city without great transport links. 

Kabatznick gave the example of Birmingham, a city that “has seen a lot of success with two arenas.” 

“If they've been successful selling 800,000 tickets each a year, then surely Manchester will be too.” 

Turning to the Middle East, Ovesen said that investors love the model of building precincts, to so they can get returns from surrounding areas. “It needs to be flexible and serve all events,” he said, stating that the goal is to attract 100m visitors to Saudi Arabia by 2030.

For Lynch, the future of arena design is centred around connectivity, hygiene, sustainability and flexibility. He noted that events are changing, with bigger productions and a growth in genres such as EDM. common market capacity gap between 2,000 and 10,000. Massive growth opp in more saturated markets. 

Jolanda stressed the need for “giving soul to a building”, and not just making something functional, whereas Galbraith emphasised the importance of green initiatives.

Harry Samuel, chief operations and commercial officer at LiveStyled spoke of enhancing the end-to-end customer journey - from sofa to seat. He said new venues can consider the specific infrastructure requirements of this, giving the example of the new Tottenham Hotspurs stadium in North London. 

Langford summarised that sustainability, security, flexibility and venue experience are key aspects to take into account when building nowadays. 

Galbraith ended  by saying: “As venue operators you could deliver better customer experience but politically and financially you choose not to. If you would all cooperate, you would all deliver a better end goal.”