Video Interview: John Drury, SSE Arena Wembley

Pollstar speaks to John Drury, Vice President and General Manager of London’s  – about his background, work, exclusivity deals, Egaming, a new app and more.

John Drury was born in Chesterfield, UK. He began his live journey in theater, working for the local Pomegranate Theatre, moving from backstage to the front of house. He moved through Newport Centre in South Wales, came to Wembley for the first time in 1990, went on to London Arena, before becoming Live Nation UK’s venue booking manager in 1999, a position he held until 2008.

Which is when he returned to the all-new SSE Arena, Wembley, where he now oversees a staff of 20, growing to 200 for major events. Pollstar spoke to the man about his as well as the arena’s history and current hot topics of the trade.

When Drury returned to Wembley arena in 2008, it was “essentially a new building,” he recalls. “Lot of new facilities, lot of changes on the complex.” The whole of Wembley Park is being developed, with 7,000 new homes and many retail outlets under construction.

Drury loves “his office,” as he refers to the arena. “It is special, the atmosphere is great, the sound’s really good. [Of course] I would say that, but it is.”

He thinks the recent changes will enhance the experience: “We’ve got a new draping system that allows us to go from a floor to a full arena and have different formats that suit whatever capacity we hit.”

Drury also spoke about the partnership with SSE, which came about when the arena became an AEG venue a few years ago. “They’re not just a name above the door, but very active on our shows.”

Asked about exclusivity deals, which are at the center of a current dispute between AEG and Madison Square Garden, Drury said: “We stand on our own. Wembley is a venue that doesn’t get pulled into that conversation. What we do is represent ourselves in the strongest way we can.

“I suppose the way we do that in the industry is to be as flexible as we possibly can be. Whether it’s renting out the building as standard rental, [or doing] co-promotions, [or paying] guarantees. We’re always open to flexible deals. We found that works really well.”

Drury also talked about the variety of new events that work in a live entertainment format, such as Egaming. “We’ve done it with a cut-down arena, with shout casters commentary positions at the back of the arena, a shortened space for about 6,000, but it’s always full.

Great atmosphere, it fells like a sporting cauldron.

“We’ve done League of Legends, and we’re hopefully going to do an annual event with ECS Esports Championship Series. So every June they’re doing their finals with us.”

Drury also announced a new SSE Arena, Wembley app, which is supposed to launch in the next couple of months. He also answered some personal questions about his favorite bands, concerts and venues outside the SSE Arena, as well as offering advice to up and coming venue operators who want to set foot in the business.

“Get some experience. No matter what you do, volunteer, get involved with the industry if you can. That experience of the industry, however you get it, is really important.”