Anschutz Sells Manchester Arena

In the week Pollstar published that Manchester Evening News Arena holds a mid-year lead in the magazine’s 2006 worldwide arena ticket sales chart, it emerged that Anschutz Entertainment Group has sold the venue to a couple of real estate investors.

“It’s business as usual, except that we pay the rent to someone else,” GM John Knight told Pollstar, emphasizing that a change of ownership doesn’t affect the day-to-day running and booking of the venue because SMG has a management contract that runs to 2015.

What’s less certain, despite the £10 million or so profit AEG has made on the deal, is why it bought the site in the first place and why it’s selling it now.

Buying property and keeping it for a couple of years in order to make money on the real estate is not common practice for AEG, which tends to build or develop properties – the Berlin and London O2 Domes being examples – in order to grow its ownership and management portfolios.

At press time it wasn’t possible to get comment from AEG President Tim Leiweke, but comments made at the time of purchase – mid-March 2004 – suggest the company had some plan in mind.

AEG Europe managing director Detlef Kornett said the company might want to turn the 20,000-capacity venue and surrounding area into a “world-class development,” according to the U.K.’s Financial Times.

Former Warwick Balfour director Jayne McGivern, who recently switched to AEG to head up its U.K. property expansion, said it was looking to grow its interests around the Manchester site as well as the Thames Gateway site near the London Dome.

However, since paying Vector Investments about £50 million (then US$91.7 million) for the arena complex and neighboring property including two office blocks, a multi-story car park and land that has planning position for another high tower, AEG seems to have just sat on it for a couple of years and has now shifted it to a joint-venture between GE Real Estate U.K. and Capital & Regional for £61.75 million (US$114 million).

“The continued success of the arena under SMG’s management obviously makes the building an attractive proposition for purchasers,” Knight explained, but wouldn’t comment on whether he thought AEG had considered the Manchester city center site for one of the new super casinos proposed by last year’s Gambling Act.

Anschutz is known to be trying to put one on the Millennium Dome site, which has caused much furor in the U.K. press as deputy leader John Prescott has come under fire for not declaring his free stays at the Denver billionaire’s vast Colorado ranch.

– John Gammon