On the back of management changes in its Global Touring division and a string of key hires in the UK, AEG Presents UK CEO Steve Homer tells Access about the company’s ongoing plans to diversify, developments at its new venues and how the operation is coping with the cost of living crisis.
Steve Homer oversees the UK promoting division of global event and venue giant AEG. This year has seen it expand its venue activity beyond London buildings the Eventim Apollo (cap. 5,000) and Indigo at The O2 (2,800) with the opening of the The Halls Wolverhampton, which comprises the Civic Hall (3,000), Wulfran Hall (1,134) and Slade Rooms (500).
Homer’s team is now preparing to operate a 4,000-capacity, purpose-built, live entertainment venue within the Olympia London development and is also set to manage a revitalised Watford Colosseum when it reopens in 2024.
In 2019, AEG Presents formed a joint venture with educational charity the Eden Project to manage the Eden Sessions in Cornwall alongside John Empson. It is now preparing to roll out the show series to other UK sites.
With a focus on diversification and taking educated risks, Homer says the company is looking forward to an exciting few years.
There is the cost-of-living crisis to contend with, and talk of ticket prices becoming unaffordable for some, but I am told the VIP/hospitality end of the market is enjoying growth. What’s the big picture like for AEG and how is this year shaping up?
The year has been pretty good. You’re absolutely right about the top end, BST Hyde Park [pictured] was very successful this year with near enough every ticket sold. There was also a bunch of really successful stadium tours out this summer. That part of the market has been fairly robust. When you get down to the non-white-hot arena shows that come around every couple of years, and the theatre tours that might come around every 12-18 months, which is the stuff that makes the wheels go round, there’s been some resistance. But what we are seeing, which is similar to the last financial crisis in 2008, is that entertainment is quite a robust part of people’s spending. You may not buy a car or get an extension built but you are going to go to the cinema, theatre or a concert occasionally – people like to treat themselves. What we’re finding is that when people come to shows, they are definitely making the most of the night out and spending more on drinks and food, whether that’s in theatres, arenas or in clubs. Obviously, the level of business at the Eventim Apollo has been skewed a bit by the Brixton Academy’s closure but even if you take out the shows that traditionally would have gone to Brixton, it’s still been a very good year. Wolverhampton has done very well and The O2 is having an amazing year, so as a whole it’s been a fairly good year.
Gary Gersh, who was president of AEG Presents Global Touring since its inception in 2018, stepped down recently. What impact do you expect that to have?
Obviously, we’ve had a recent change in leadership there with Rich Schaefer taking the reins, which we’re all very delighted about. We are going to see far more shows coming from the global touring division than we have seen in the past. We’ve got some very successful ones out there. Blackpink came through this year, Taylor Swift is coming through next year, we’re starting to see more work being done on developing greater relationships with artists for a global touring footprint.
The past year has seen AEG Presents UK make a series of key personnel hires, not least Lucy Noble from the Royal Albert Hall, Georgie Donnelly taking up the newly created position of head of comedy, and Chris Wareing and Paris Harding joining from SJM. What part are they playing in the ongoing business strategy?
We’ve made a series of high-profile signings over a very short period of time. Lucy is bringing to us a whole new round of content that we weren’t involved in before, across orchestra and film, so we’ve had to staff up accordingly in our marketing and production departments to support her. It’s an exciting new avenue for us as a company. Chris Wareing has a vast array of knowledge in the urban, hip hop and r&b world, and then we also brought in Lee Laborde from Live Nation who’s now SVP of our promoting division. He’s looking at all types of music, which is what he did in his previous roles. Chris also has a role in our global touring division based in the US.
“The way we approach new events is more open minded than in the past, there’s very little that’s taken off the table at the starting point.”
It appears AEG Presents’ reach is expanding well beyond festivals and concerts, with shows such as Christmas Classics with the Philharmonic Orchestra and live podcast events including The Rest Is History. Is diversification a key goal?
As a promoter if you just stick to the standard rock and pop motifs that’s a sign you are going the wrong way. You have to be on the front foot, and podcasts have proved to be a very good avenue. Some of these events are filling arenas. When you look at Peter Crouch or the Rest Is Politics, which we promote, they’re really well attended. In the same way that comedy, 15-20 years ago, suddenly broke the rules by going into arenas, you are seeing other content coming through now that can also be very rewarding on a promoting basis and obviously for venues. We have Dungeons and Dragons event Critical Role at Wembley Arena next month, that sold out very, very quickly. The way we approach new events is more open minded than in the past, there’s very little that’s taken off the table at the starting point. Some of it is risky, some of it is untried, but it’s what all promoters do, we take an educated gamble on these things.
In May AEG Presents UK opened The Halls Wolverhampton with a show by Blur following a £48 million renovation of the venue. I understand you went to your first gig in that building. Seeing it reopen is obviously something that you must be proud of. What has the response to its return been like for you and AEG?
Nothing ever really goes like clockwork but the process was probably as smooth as it could have been. We had a few minor delays in the handover from the contractors when we were taking it over at the end of last year. The plan was to open the doors on 1 June. Blur were looking to do a series of warm up shows for their stadium and festival run over the summer but they said to us the Wolverhampton show would need to be a week earlier than we were planning to open. That was a no brainer, we were definitely going to get it ready in time for that. Initially, we were going to do a smaller series of opening shows, four or five in the first week, but due to interest from artists it grew to being 22 shows in the first five weeks. We’ve had some great shows and more than 50,000 people through the doors. I couldn’t be more pleased, the reaction from customers, artists and agents has been incredibly positive.
Another major project for your team is Olympia London, what stage are you at and when can we expect to see the venue’s doors open?
We’re still in building mode, around 18 months away from it being operational and open. The venue will have a 4,000 capacity, that’s with a horseshoe shaped balcony for 600 and then the rest is standing. We’re in the process of finalising some of the licencing requirements. The plan is to open in Q2 2025 but to open the diary in Q1 of 2024. London has a far more advanced booking system than a lot of cities in the UK, so to be looking to have the diary open 15 months ahead of when you’re planning on opening is not unheard of, it gives people the opportunity to book into the autumn of 2025.
AEG Presents is also set to manage Watford Borough Council’s 2,000-capacity Watford Colosseum when it reopens in 2024 after a multi-million pound refurbishment. What other new developments are there in the pipeline for the company?
We’re always looking at new venues. Aside from the Colosseum, there are going to be other Eden Projects events around the country, Morecombe being the next location, and there’s one planned in Dundee as well. We’re going to be partnering with them to run Eden Sessions at those venues. We’re always on the lookout for expansion opportunities but with a purposeful rather than scattergun approach to risk.