A Visit To Dubai’s Home Of Live Entertainment

Coca Cola Arena City Walk Dubai SMALL
Coca-Cola Arena Dubai, operated by ASM Global.

When Pollstar caught up with Mark Jan Kar, general manager of Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, all COVID-related event restrictions in the United Arab Emirates had just lifted. The building has been hosting live events again since late July 2021, but not at its full capacity of 17,000.

Now that things are almost back to normal, Kar and his team are working on a 2022 calendar that’s rapidly filling up. The live industry in the Middle East is used to much shorter lead times than in Europe or North America.

See: ‘The Dawn Of A New Era’ – The Middle East Is Open For Business

Mark Jan Kar2
Mark Jan Kar, general manager of Coca-Cola Arena Dubai

“Announcing a show seven weeks before the event may be considered criminal in other markets, but for us, that is a very long lead time,” Kar said. “Our message to global promoters is, if you have a gap, that is anything less than seven weeks, pick up that phone, we are more than interested to have a conversation.”

Kar sees Coca-Cola Arena’s point of differentiation in his team’s focus on the commercial side of things. “Our remit,” he said, “is how do we entice and work with international promoters to make it as easy as possible. If they break even on their first show, they’re going to return.” To make sure that happens, Kar’s team provides more than just the keys to the venue on the night of the show.

State-of-the-art technology, multi-functionality, clean and comfortable backstage facilities – those aren’t the standards by which a venue is measured in 2022. Sure, if the building’s infrastructure enables short load-in and load-out times, it does make the promoter happy. But what makes them even happier is a kick-ass show that’ll be talked about for ages.

Building A Circuit: How The Middle East Is Becoming a Full-Fledged Touring Region

Coca Cola Arena Maluma 14th Feb 2020
Coca-Cola Area on Feb. 14, 2020, when Maluma took the stage.

To make sure international artists flying over are greeted with the same enthusiasm they’re used to from markets where they are established, Coca-Cola Arena offers marketing support. The building is owned by Dubai Holding, as is the largest radio network in the region, the Arabian Radio Network (ARN), which runs a dozen different stations, representing different genres.

“We’ve teamed up. We’re bringing in exclusive content, they support it with radio airtime – everything from your standard 30-second ads, competitions, right through to RJ mentions,” Kar explained, “In this market, radio has gotten stronger with the digital revolution. The country has a population of about 9.5 million, and we have about 13 million cars. Public transport is available, but most people drive. And although the country is small, you’re still looking at average commute times of 20 to 45 minutes. Radio plays a very important part in in people’s lives.”

The ARN multimedia network also comprises a cinema chain where shows can be advertized, too. While many people have moved to streaming platforms to watch films, blockbuster genres like James Bond, Mission Impossible, the Marvel Universe and others have reignited a love for the cinematic experience. There’s hardly a more ideal audience to advertize concerts, family shows and sports competitions to.

Coca Cola Arena l James Blunt 6
James Blunt performed at Coca-Cola Arena in January.

One “exceptionally important stakeholder” in Coca-Cola Arena’s business, according to Kar, is Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. One, because it is the authority deciding whether an event can take place or not. Two, because its popular Dubai Calendar promotes upcoming activities in the local area. Looking at events across the board, about 80% to 85% of Coca-Cola Arena’s audience are residents. Another 5% to 10% visit from the surrounding countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. International guests, who mainly visit during the holiday season, make up the remainder.

See: ASM Global APAC Appoints Commercial Director For Coca-Cola Arena Dubai

Coca-Cola Arena helps the DTCM in implementing its vision for the city of Dubai, and the image it wants to present to the world. Exhibitions, like Expo 2020 that concludes at the end of March; concert tours and comedy festivals; national holidays; besides boosting the local economy, all of these events offer an opportunity for Dubai to shine on a global stage. The country has everything from beaches to mountains to luxury dining to world-class entertainment, and Coca-Cola Arena plays its part in showing it to the world, particularly that last bit.

What the region has yet to see are international tours making multiple stops across the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, in other words, tours that form a full circuit. Since popularity of artists and venue infrastructure vary from country to country, some flexibility and improvisation are necessary. “We are talking to venues; we are talking to promoters. We are attempting to string together what may be an arena show in Dubai, with a festival slot at an outdoor festival in Saudi Arabia, and an intimate performance in a newly constructed opera house [elsewhere],” Kar explained.

Maroon 5 2 Coca Cola Arena 14 June 2019 SMALL
Maroon 5, who played Coca-Cola Arena in 2019, are the first major international act stringing together a three-stop, multi-market tour in the Middle East this year.

Plus, there’s always the chance that a big Formula 1 or sports event creates additional performance opportunities along the road. One of the silver linings of COVID, according to Kar, was the fact that the entertainment industry in the Middle East “got together and united around the vision of what we’re trying to achieve [for the entire region]. It is more than a fly-in-and-fly out destination. There hasn’t been a regional tour as of yet, but we hope to achieve that sometime in 2022,” he explained.

Through March, Coca-Cola Arena hosted concerts by Tiësto, Ronan Keating, Maluma, and more, as well as a comedy show by Russell Peters. There won’t be any live activity during the holy month of Ramadan, which began around April 2 this year.

Come May, Coca-Cola Arena will host the one-week Dubai Comedy Festival. And because Coca-Cola and payment partner VISA are partners of world soccer association FIFA, fans can expect live events around the World Cup in Qatar as well.

Coca Cola Arena l Dubai Ice Show 5
Dubai Ice Show: There’s hardly an event gere Coca-Cola Arena cannot host.

Despite priding itself as a flexible venue, not just in terms of capacity configurations, but also in terms of the many event genres it likes to host, live music still rules the calendar of Coca-Cola Arena. Kar worked in sports most of his career before joining ASM Global at Coca-Cola Arena in 2018. It reads like a huge transition on paper, but the core fascination has always remained the same for Kar: the unpredictability of live events. It’s his job to manage that unpredictability to such an extent that artists, their teams, the crew, but especially the fans still feel safe and looked after.

See: Live Nation, Done Events, Coca-Cola Arena Win At The Middle East Event Awards

According to Kar, “The experience starts from the moment you purchase that ticket. You know, what you’re going to wear, where you’re going to eat, how you’re going to get there. If my taxi drops me off right at the front of the arena entrance, if the person checking my ticket asks me if I’m excited about tonight, all of that will make a difference. What the artists do, that’s on them. Our job is to add to that experience, to make sure our guests have the best time, regardless of the artist. So, when we announce another show,
they may not know the artist, but they’ll still buy a ticket, because they loved the experience of coming to a show at Coca-Cola Arena.”

His main professional takeaway from the past year is that this business is all about being flexible and maintaining relationships – with colleagues, clients, and commercial partners. “At the time we signed the deal, they may have had one vision and strategy. Then the world changed, it’s different now. So, to some extent, you have to be understanding, and allow them to move forward,” Kar explained. It’s the commitment to those relationships during two of the most difficult years ever, that has allowed Coca-Cola Arena to truly become Dubai’s home of live entertainment.

Subscribe to Pollstar HERE