Monday, 22 January, saw AEG Europe open The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways; a 300-capacity members club at The O2 that has seen the London venue become the first arena in the world to feature a retractable walkway. 

The launch of the 1,150 sqm space (formerly known as The Residence) during a show by Depeche Mode, saw the walkway extend eight metres out into the arena, more than 70 feet above the crowd below. Although it can safely hold way more, the walkway will be limited to 15 people at any one time.

The result of an investment of more than £7 million by venue owner AEG Europe, along with the walkway, the space will house the arena’s first onsite restaurant and several cocktail bars.

Qatar Airways has entered into a three-year deal as naming rights sponsor of the space, which will see customers of the airline offered exclusive access via its Privilege Club Collection.

AEG Europe senior vice president and The O2’s general manager Steve Sayer tells Access about the thinking behind the ground-breaking project.

Why is it called The NinetyThird?

When we came up with the concept it was very much formed by our musical heritage, starting with Prince and his 21 nights that really set the agenda for The O2 at the very outset. We have been synonymous with amazing residencies ever since, among the recent highlights being Madonna, Elton John and Queen + Adam Lambert. Another one that really stands out for me is when Monty Python reformed and did that amazing run at The O2. A lot of the design inspiration for the space, the artwork and some of the storytelling, even the cocktails that we’ve developed, are really inspired by that amazing musical heritage. We’ve had 92 residencies at The O2, so we’ve christened the space The NinetyThird to pay homage to all of those artists who went before.

It’s the first time a retractable walkway has been fitted inside an arena. What inspired the idea and who oversaw its creation?

The walkway has been designed by a company whose expertise is really focused on designing marine access systems, they are a shipbuilding company that built the telescopic gangways which connect cruise ships to the harbour side. This is the first project of its kind in the world that we’re aware of. We went out hunting for an expert who could bring our vision for this walkway to life and that’s how we found the company, which is based in the northeast of England. Structurally, it will hold a lot more than 15 people but we put a limit of 15 just so guests and members feel comfortable. We wanted to have something that was unique to The O2, the ultimate wow moment. The inspiration comes from amazing show productions, whether it’s using a B stage or C stage, We wanted the members and guests to feel like they are the stars of their own show. It provides the ultimate selfie experience.

We wanted the members and guests to feel like they are the stars of their own show.

 The investment in this must be secured off the back of strong demand for high-end hospitality experiences. How confident are you that the The NinetyThird will be a success?

We started to see a rise in demand for hospitality five or six years ago. It wasn’t necessarily driven out of live music, although some of the festivals such as Coachella had really moved the dial with VIP hospitality. We saw it in the UK, and particularly in and around London, first in sports but we also had feedback from our own members and clients that there was this demand for more informal, high-end, premium experiences that provide an opportunity to network. When The O2 opened in 2007 it was a slightly different market, at that stage it was all about the suites and corporate boxes. Having noticed that change a few years ago we took the decision to remove 12 suites on the horseshoe on level three to create this new member space. We paused the construction works for 18 months because of the pandemic and that gave us a great opportunity to revisit the design of the space and make sure it was future-proofed. The pandemic had accelerated the need for this more informal, higher-end, experiential space with nice touch points and areas to explore. It really reaffirmed what we were already thinking of doing. We are also wrestling with challenges on the cost base, pressures on everything from staffing, inflation, energy; additional costs that are impacting everybody in the live music ecosystem. I think this sort of VIP offering is a way that we can drive our revenues but also give some really good value back to customers and fans who prefer to pay a little bit more for a more premium experience that offers something different.

Can you see something like this being rolled out to other AEG Europe venues in the near future?

Yes. I was at our global summit a few months ago with all of AEG’S global leadership and I was talking to our global CEO Dan Beckerman who said he felt very positive about the project that we have put together and he was really excited about the launch. I’m sure that venues in the portfolio around the world will be either thinking about this concept or maybe coming up with their own. There’s a lot of excitement within our global AEG business about the The NinetyThird.

In what ways is the naming rights partnership bringing value beyond the initial financial benefit?

It’s the first time Qatar Airways has partnered with a music venue anywhere in the world. They have major partnerships in place with sporting properties but this is a music industry first so we’re pretty excited that they’ve chosen The O2 as their first foray into the live music space. They are one of the market leading global airlines, with a strong track record in delivering the highest standard of premium hospitality in their own category. We felt that it would be a nice natural fit in terms of our vision for space and what their vision is for the way that they manage their own customer base. I think the value add is that Qatar Airways is going to be able to promote the space to their own membership base and their own loyalty card holders, which is obviously a big plus for us. We’ll be collaborating with them on how we deliver the experience in the space, and there’ll be exclusive access for events through their Privilege Club. It is a two-way relationship, and we’ll be looking for different opportunities to curate bespoke experiences for both our members and Qatar Airways Privilege Club Collection members.