On the back of a record-breaking 2022 for Wembley Stadium, venue director Liam Boylan tells Access how his team is planning to build on the current momentum and stage even more concerts each year.

Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup in 1966, Freddie Mercury owning the stage at Live Aid in 1985, the Olympics in 1948 and 2012, Adele playing to 98,000 people in 2017 or Chloe Kelly’s extra time winner in 2022 – Wembley Stadium has seen countless landmark moments since its doors first opened, on 28 April 1923, and everyone has a favourite.

Last year, the stadium had its busiest year on record with a collective attendance of 2.6 million across 35 major events. Among the key moments were the Women’s FA Cup Final, the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Final, the Tyson Fury v Dillian Whyte World Heavyweight Championship fight, and a run of six shows by Coldplay.

In total, the stadium hosted 16 sold-out concerts in 2022, with an attendance of more than 1.3m. It was the most gigs Wembley had hosted in a single year, with the previous record having been 14 concerts in 2019.

The momentum since Wembley’s post-pandemic full reopening shows little sign of waning. With Wembley Stadium celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the venue is set to enjoy another busy one, with four shows by Harry Styles, two by Blur, and concerts by The Weeknd and Def Leppard & Mötley Crüe.

Owned by the Football Association (FA), the stadium usually works to a concert capacity of 80,000 but as demonstrated by Adele’s record-breaking attendance in 2017, there is room for manoeuvre. In February last year the FA announced it had agreed a strategic partnership with Oak View Group to grow and diversify sponsorship and content opportunities at the venue.

“Covid, perversely, helped us retool and enhance our skill set.” 

During the pandemic, Wembley Stadium played a key role in the Government’s Events Research Programme, which involved staging reduced-capacity events, including 21,000 people at the FA Cup final, and a 75% capacity audience at the final of the rescheduled UEFA Euro 2020 Championships.

“We were the busiest venue in the county during the pandemic,” says Boylan. “Covid, perversely, helped us retool and enhance our skill set. It allowed us to bounce back in style. Last year, more than most, was just exceptional. We were delighted to have set new attendance records for Women’s Euros, boxing and NFL games and have multiple nights from Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles.”

With the venue’s event calendar open until 2025 and events being booked in, Boylan says he is confident that the next few years will also be busy ones for his team, helped by the installation of a new “lay and play” pitch system that has enabled the venue’s June/July concert window to be extended by three weeks.

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“We are also opening a regular August concert window,” he says. “It can be a complicated process trying to program tours with lengthy build and break schedules, but by creating a larger window, we hope to increase the number of concerts. The stadium has a licence for 24 concerts per year, which we hope to achieve within the next few years.”

Wembley Stadium senior event technical manager Henry Munro heads up a team responsible for making sure all event production requirements are met and the venue can be transformed swiftly between show formats. In the past that has meant hosting football, boxing and a concert within a single weekend.

Along with the boost to programming opportunities presented by the lay and play pitch system, other enhancements to the Wembley Stadium events offering include improvements to the public concourse areas and the concert crew kitchen. Says says Boylan, “An army does indeed march on its stomach, so we need to assist the tours and give them a good base to work from.”

Staging such large-scale events clearly has an impact on the environment but Boylan says much work is being done behind the scenes to minimise the venue’s carbon footprint: “We are committed to delivering the highest levels of sustainability at Wembley and proudly became a zero- waste-to-landfill venue in 2010. We were the first sporting venue to achieve the Carbon Trust Triple Standard in 2014, and in 2018 we achieved the prestigious ISO 20121 international standard. It is something we are committed to, and we have around an 80% recycling rate after each event.”

Wembley Stadium’s centenary year is certainly shaping up well. Aside from the aforementioned concerts, key sports events planned include the FA Vase Trophy Final, the The EFL Championship play-off Final, FA Cup Final and Rugby League Cup Final.

Boylan says the anniversary activity will be ramped up considerably ahead of the 28 April birthday; the date of the 1923 FA Cup Final. The celebrations kicked off with a ‘magic memories’ initiative calling on fans to share their personal memories of the stadium.

Says Boylan, “We want to show the history of the stadium through people’s personal memories. Seeing their side win or lose, a child’s first game or witnessing a favourite band or artist perform. We want people to share those magic, personal moments with us and let us know why Wembley is so unique to them.”