With no less than eight new UK arenas potentially being opened in the next few years, and existing buildings evolving at pace, AAA examines what’s in store for the remarkably dynamic venue sector.

The first, and biggest, new arena poised to impact the UK market is the 23,500-capacity Co-op Live in Manchester. The result of a £365 million joint venture between Oak View Group (OVG) and City Football Group, it is expected to host more than 120 shows per year and will be in direct competition with Manchester’s AO Arena (cap. 21,000). BAM Construct UK is leading the construction of the building, which is due to open in April.

An important live music market that is home to a huge number of live event operators and suppliers, let alone fans, Bristol has long been an obvious choice for a new arena. The hole is to be filled by the YTL Arena, which is currently being constructed at the historic Brabazon Hangars in the northern district of Filton. The 19,000-capacity building is set to be opened in late 2025.

In 2020 Cardiff Council selected a Live Nation-led consortium, which includes OVG, to operate a new arena that would replace the Live Nation-operated, 7,500-capacity, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff. As with all projects of this nature, it hasn’t been immune to spiralling costs, and with the outlay to build the arena having risen by 50% to £280 million, the venue’s opening has been delayed until 2026.

There is no shortage of other arenas in the pipeline but whether they go beyond the design stage is yet to be seen. Among them is Edinburgh Arena (8,000); London’s controversial MSG Sphere (21,500); an £80m, 10,000-capacity, arena in Sunderland; and the yet to be confirmed £70m Dundee Arena with a proposed capacity of 10,000.

Should all the venues be built, it will dramatically change the arena landscape in the UK and offer promoters new tour routing opportunities. In the meantime, the shockwaves from the current construction work is impacting existing operators.

In the case of ASM Global’s AO Arena, the building is currently the subject of a £50 million upgrade programme that will see the former Manchester Arena’s capacity extended to 24,000, the concourse areas upgraded, new back-of-house facilities installed and the opening of new hospitality lounges including the recently announced The Mezz.

There is a major focus on offering enhanced premium experiences at other arenas, not least AEG Europe’s The O2, where the bar has been set high with the recently announced plan to unveil a £7m members space featuring a retractable viewing platform. Due to open in the late autumn, The Residence members club will be set over 1,150 square meters and accommodate 300 people.

The newest arena in the UK, Aberdeen’s P&J Live (15,000), opening in 2019 and is also the UK’s most northern. With 48,000 square metres of multi-purpose event space, the venue offers remarkable flexibility. Among the acts to play there this year are Michael Bublé, Elton John and Pet Shop Boys.

Interim MD Louise Stewart (pictured) says, “The floor space is fantastic, we can do 15,000 standing, it’s probably the biggest all-standard floor in the UK. All the seats are retractable, which works well for us in terms of building up and breaking down and going from one show to the next.”

Head of operations Peter Stott says the fact the building is so new means it boasts the latest rigging technology: “We were building a state-of-the-art venue and wanted the best rigging system so we worked with UK Rigging. Our grid is now fully walkable and really efficient; the speed at which it can be carried out is second to none.”

The National Arenas Association (NAA) represents 23 UK arenas with a capacity of more than 5,000, and while the proposed new venues are some distance from Aberdeen, Stewart says the UK is already well furnished with arena venues: “Compared to other markets, the UK has a lot of arenas but the music market is very, very, strong here and there’s a lot of content coming through to accommodate.”

Environmental performance

Among the key advantages of new venues is the ability to build in sustainability measures. In the case of P&J Live that means having an anaerobic digester that breaks down waste to produce gas that is piped into its on-site hydrogen plant. It not only provides renewable energy for the arena but supplements the local grid.

OVG is working with Glastonbury and Coldplay sustainability consultants Hope Solutions to develop its net-zero strategy at Co-op Live. It has already pledged that, once completed, the venue will be the first UK arena to be solely powered by electricity, and that it is committed to 100% rainwater harvesting, and the use of solar panel covered roofing.

John Drury, chair of the NAA and VP & general manager of the ASM Global-run OVO Arena Wembley (12,500), says it is great to see new arenas being built with a focus on sustainability but it is important to remember that a new building can only be so sustainable because of the embedded carbon that it brings with it.

He says, “Sustainability is an area that we are concentrating heavily on at the NAA via our Green Group, which enables operators to share ideas and thoughts about new innovations. NAA is great at enabling people to get together and share best practice.”

The NAA is currently working on a “green guide” that Drury says will lay down rules and requirements to help incoming productions to operate in a more sustainable way.

Room for manoeuvre

In April, OVG hired former Ticketmaster SVP client development and commercial Gary Roden as executive director and general manager of Co-op Live. Unsurprisingly, he is convinced the UK can comfortably accommodate additional large-scale venues.

“Public demand for live entertainment is showing no sign of slowing down, and there is significant opportunity to service interest with world-class facilities that both fans and artists deserve,” he says. “Beyond an in-depth feasibility study that has highlighted the value of multiple large-scale venues in Manchester, Co-op Live will be the first new purpose-built arena in England opened in a decade, offering state-of-the-art design and technology to deliver on our music-first promise.

“Considering the broad interpretations of what constitutes an arena, current proposed or rumoured developments other than Co-op Live significantly vary in scale from 8,000 to 21,000, to fit the city they are due to open in and to avoid market saturation.”

Roden says that among the priorities during the Co-op Live design process was accessibility. As a result, the arena will feature lowered service counters, step-free access to all floors and support for assistance dogs.

The premium offering will encompass 12 clubs and lounges including the recently unveiled Bentley Record Room.

In terms of flexibility for event operators, Co-op Live will offer show formats ranging in capacity from 8,400 for a lower bowl configuration to a maximum of 23,500 for an in-the-round standing show.

“Although designed to be music-first, we will also be hosting sport, comedy, and family events, alongside one-off events and awards,” says Roden.

Aside from filling that arena-sized hole in Bristol, the YTL Arena complex will include exhibition space and studios for film, TV and production rehearsals.

YTL Arena CEO Andrew Billingham says, “The arena will provide the very best Bristol experience with a festival vibe, community stage to support grass roots music, six large lounges and restaurants, eight super suites and 2,000 premium seats.

“Our back of house facilities will be some of the best in Europe. With parking and easy access for 60 articulated lorries, 16 flexible dressing rooms, multiple production offices, large crew dining, shower and welfare facilities all catering to facilitate the best artist and production experience.”

Billingham says the reaction to the project from promoters has been extremely positive: “Bristol and the South West has been identified as one of the key remaining regions without an arena serving more than 16 million people within a two-hour drive. We are taking calls on a frequent basis from promoters looking to book dates at the earliest opportunity. We are looking forward to working with all the major promoters to unlock this key market.”

He says construction has commenced on the infrastructure required to support the arena build and operations are now in the final stages of contractor engagement for the main arena build.

Clearly, Billingham has no doubts about the demand for an arena in Bristol, and he believes the UK market is strong enough to support other openings: “Live music is stronger than ever, and data shows us that any new venue that has opened is a supply-led market, so I expect more new venues will continue this trend and add to a vibrant and growing industry.”

This feature was published in the Summer edition of Access All Areas, which is available to read for free HERE