• Bg Chatsworth House Library

The Venue’s Venue: Spaces for stars

The Venue’s Venue: Spaces for stars

Chair: John Langford, The O2 London (UK)

Guest speakers:
Robert Fitzpatrick, SSE Arena (UK)
Aissata Hartmann-Sylla, Mercedes-Benz Arena (DE)
Anne-Marie Harwood, EAA (UK)
Guy Ngata, AEG Ogden (UK)
Olivier Toth, Rockhal (LU)
Beverley Whitrick, Music Venue Trust (UK)

The panel opened with a review of some of the latest findings from the forthcoming 2018 European Arena Yearbook (EAY), which showed average attendance is up 5.9% in the last year and average ticket prices are up 9.3%.

Chair John Langham suggested prices were going up because the quality of content was rising; and asked if rental rates were increasing too.

Robert Fitzpatrick from the SSE in Belfast said that a few years back he’d decided to leave rents flat. “There are other ways to make income,” he said. “I own the car park and all venues around it. It was a strategic decision. Belfast is a small city that punches way above its weight. There’s only 250,000 people living here.”

Olivier Toth of Rockhal in Luxembourg said he’s worried that the price of tickets might drive fans away. However, his venue too is debating whether to put up rents or leave them flat and work other revenue streams instead.

According to Fitzpatrick, the app his arena has invested in is now seeing 9% of turnover prepaid before customers leave the house.

Guy Ngata of AEG Ogden shared plans for the forthcoming Dubai Arena which is currently being built. “We’re a 17,000-seat arena in the heart of Dubai, right by the Burj Khalifa,” he said, saying they’re anticipating a soft launch in Q2 next year. “We will be co-promoting, self-promoting, dry hiring. We have a very supportive owner, but it’s not a cash cow,” he said.

The panel all said they’d seen huge growth in comedy ticket sales in the last year.

With much buoyancy among the arenas, Langford said there’s a sobering reminder from Bev Whitrick of the Music Venues Trust, a campaign organisation in the UK which supports grassroots venues. “There are big problems,” she warned, saying that from 2007-2015, 36% of the grassroots music venues on the UK touring circuit have closed.

“Grassroots venues have to be right for the musicians, promoters, audiences of the future”

"The average ticket price is £8 for small [UK] venues compared to a €48 average in [European] arenas," she reminded the room, adding that rising business rates are having a hugely detrimental impact on venues.

She shared graphs that showed that it’s taking longer for bands to go from grassroots to festival headliner slots, and that festivals feature increasingly older headline acts.

“Grassroots venues have to be right for the musicians, promoters, audiences of the future,” she said.

Langford said: “As an arena operator, I’m worried about future content coming through. I can’t help but feel that the pipeline is getting squeezed at the bottom. Will we face a shortage of talent at arenas?”

Rockhal’s Toth shared his venues' strategy for supporting emerging artists – by having two venues – one is club-sized with a 1,100-cap, and the main room is 6,500-cap. “But even draped, the club venue was too big. So we took a space we had for conferences and converted it to host concerts. It’s now a 250-cap venue for local talent,” he said.

Aissata Hartmann-Sylla from Mercedez-Benz Arena in Berlin, said they are building a new venue that will be 1,000-4,000-cap, right next to the arena. “It helps us bring small bands to the site, where we can help them grow with support from the arena, playing the smaller venue multiple times until they’re ready for the big arena.”

She reported that the German industry has embraced the idea. “We’ve had promoters coming here and being really impressed,” she said. “The tech will be high-end, of course, but food and beverage will be different. We’re looking at at-seat service, fewer entrances, and everything right in front of you.”

Ngata said flexibility is an important part of the new arena’s strategy. “A lot of the venue design is around cut-down modes from 17,000 to 3,000. We will have our own line array in house and can configure that, plus a modulated scoreboard, rigging, trussing etc so we can reset for those shows, and eliminate the costs for some of the regional activity. It’s important we’re seen as not just doing international shows, but local regional content too.

“We’re looking at 50+ events in year one. Which is very aggressive, but it’s about driving visitation and giving people greater opportunity.”

Other sessions in the Venue Summit series:
Venue Summit: Sponsorship & branding
Venue Summit: Corridors of power
Venue Summit: Esports

The Venue Summit 2018 was run in association with: