Campbell Goes Out On Top

O2 London chief David Campbell certainly knows how to go out at the top, as the announcement of his departure from the arena coincides with the news that it can now celebrate its third year as the world’s top venue.

Campbell, who took over the white elephant that was the Millennium Dome and turned it into the world’s busiest entertainment hub, is leaving to join Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One empire.

A former boss of Virgin Radio who’s also worked for Ministry of Sound and headed the London Tourist Board, Campbell was hired by U.S. entertainment group AEG five years ago to run the £350 million development of the building on London’s Greenwich peninsula.

Campbell hasn’t yet commented on his latest move, although the venue has confirmed it. Sky News, which broke the story, says his new role is expected to focus on revamping F1’s sponsorship regime and other commercial aspects of the sport. It said he’s expected to leave AEG in the spring.

He’ll be leaving a venue that’s signaled its third year as the world’s No. 1 by posting 2.3 million ticket sales worth a record-breaking £60.3 million.

Among the beneficiaries are British taxpayers who forked out £600 million to build the old Millennium Dome, although the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group said it will be a long time before all the money comes back.

“When it went up in 1999 it ran wildly over budget,” said a TA spokesman, who did confirm that the venue is “finally leaving behind its white elephant status.”

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the arena, agreed to pay 15 percent of net profits to the government as one of the conditions of the Greenwich venue’s sale.

However, the net profit made by Ansco Arena, the AEG UK subsidiary that runs The O2, dropped from £15.6 million to £12 million because low interest rates mean it’s not making so much on its £65.5 million cash pile.

Ansco’s income is generated from a rental charge and from taking a portion of ticket sales. It still owes its parent company the £416.3 million it initially invested in the building, a debt that left Ansco with net liabilities of £213 million for the last year.

The arena represents the bulk of the company’s assets and is valued at £201 million, although the parent company is continuing to expand on the Greenwich site and is now planning a £200 million expansion that includes a 450-bedroom, four-star hotel and a conference centre.

Sold-out shows by a long list of international stars including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Britney Spears and Paul McCartney helped The O2 to its highest ever ticket sales total — 14 percent up on the year before and comfortably ahead of such rival venues as Manchester Evening News Arena and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

It took two years for AEG to transform the Dome into a 23,000-seat arena with 30 restaurants, bars and cafés, and an 11-screen cinema.

The Los Angeles-based company operates 51 venues worldwide and also owns the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer club, among other sports interests.