OVO Hydro head of commercial & hospitality Ross Easton reflects on what he has learned about the importance of fan experience over the last 10 years at the venue, and provides his view on what the increasing demand from fans for elevated experiences means for venues.

The last thing performers see before taking the OVO Hydro stage is a huge clock that reads ‘Time to meet the best fans in the world’. It isn’t wrong: Scottish crowds are renowned for the unrivalled energy they bring to every show, which Hydro staff and stakeholders credit for the successful first decade at Scotland’s home of live entertainment.

Glasgow gig-goers set the bar high, so our ambition to deliver the best audience experience in the world has meant constantly being one-step ahead, responding quickly to ever-changing consumer trends over the last 10 years.  Despite concerns about the cost-of-living crisis, people are still prepared to spend big on nights out, including the 1.2 million fans we welcomed through venue doors in 2022.

When I was brought in to lead OVO Hydro’s hospitality offering, it was the first time the SEC had offered premium seating at shows held in our venues. Initially, it was a specific type of customer interested in upgrading their night, but now, particularly post-Covid, a more diverse demographic is choosing to spend the extra to access our suites and club seats.

This trend is also observable on the other side of the velvet rope. With the focus on ticket prices an industry-wide headline, fans are expecting their increased investment to be reflected in the experience, regardless of where they are seated. We’ve responded with a curation of street-food vendors on our concourse and an improved choice of beer and spirits at every bar.

Our valued venue partners share the ambition to deliver elevated live experiences, including headline sponsor OVO Energy, who offer their customers perks like dedicated fast-track entry and access to private lounges for pre-show drinks. A new partner for 2024 will also be inviting customers behind-the-scenes to an exclusive backstage bar.

Not to mention, technology has facilitated a first-class service that starts the minute fans arrive at the venue. Since Covid ticketing has been 100% digital, streamlining the customer journey from purchase to arrival. In 2022, we introduced self-service bar kiosks with our catering partner Levy + UK & Ireland which has sped up service, meaning more time to take in the show.

From when we launched, we hoped to enable fans to capture and share their memorable Hydro moments online. We are working with our technology partner, Vodafone, to create the digital infrastructure to support this vision, enhancing customers in-venue digital footprint.

Increased demand for premiumisation is evident in the industry at large, with the rise in artists’ own direct-to-consumer offerings including meet and greets, sound check access and exclusive merchandise.  Plus, multi-tiered hospitality packages on stadium tours like Beyonce and Taylor Swift’s are now selling as quickly as general admission.

Venues have followed suit with The O2, AO Arena and First Direct Arena investing significantly in hospitality upgrades. For OVO Hydro, the focus has shifted from small, private spaces, to shared social experiences, leading us to combine three suites creating a ‘Super Suite’. With demand so high, we’re set to launch another in November.

If you’d told me when The Hydro opened in September 2013 that the live entertainment industry would spend two years at a stand-still because of a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed you. But despite this, the demand for premium experiences shows no signs of slowing down and, over the next 10 years, I expect immersive technology will see significant changes to the traditional gig format. We can’t know what the future holds but, one thing that’s for sure at Scotland’s home of live entertainment, is that the best fans in the world will always come first.