‘Tickets Are Selling Well Cross-Genre’: Q’s With Debbie McWilliams Of The SEC

Debbie McWilliams, director of live entertainment at the Scottish Event Campus.

Pollstar reached out to Debbie McWilliams, director of live entertainment at the Scottish Event Campus and its flagship building, the OVO Hydro. McWilliams talked about the fulminant return to live this industry has experienced, which wouldn’t have been possible without the fans, and looked ahead at the Hydro’s tenth anniversary, which is coming up next year.

Making Up For Lost Time: Glasgow Is Back In Business

Pollstar: Considering what this industry has been through, and what it’s currently going through, please describe your state of mind, now that the summer season is over.
After a challenging few years for the industry, it really is fantastic to be back. Since our doors reopened in September 2021, we haven’t stopped – it has been a busy year, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have maintained a positive outlook throughout, only made possible by the support of a brilliant team and a strong belief that live was far too important and would return with a bang. I had to be ready, the team had to be ready – that provided a focus. The beauty of live is that there is always something to look forward to.

What’s the atmosphere at the OVO Hydro and amongst your team like at the moment?
With 2022 being one of our busiest and best yet, the atmosphere at OVO Hydro is reminiscent of the industry before COVID, and you can feel that across the SEC campus from our committed and incredible, award-winning team. There is an energy around the venue, both front of house and backstage. Everyone is just so enthused to be back doing what they love most – delivering the best events for Glasgow.

Swedish House Mafia lighting up the OVO Hydro. (Photo by Michael C. Hunter)

You’ve had a busy 2022. On paper, everything looked like it was back to normal. Did you experience “normality” at all during 2022, returning to your core business of putting on amazing live experience for the people?
The success of our industry is borne from the ability to adapt to whatever obstacle is put in our way. This year was anticipated to be “return to normal,” and what is normal, has been our ability to put on our “business as usual” heads throughout, regardless of the circumstances. I am especially proud of the venue team whose focus has continued to be the delivery of the very best events for our clients and the people of Glasgow.

And in what ways can you see that we’re not back to normal yet?
I think we are still working through what normal is now.

You’ve confirmed it yourself in the past: the fans of Glasgow and Scotland are often referred to as the best fans in the world for their enthusiasm and engagement. Has their enthusiasm to return to shows facilitated Glasgow’s return to live? And do you also observe a hesitancy to buy tickets among certain demographics?
A successful Glasgow comeback was only possible with the support of the fans. They are the heart and soul of the venue, and this has been even more prevalent as they’ve returned in record numbers to Scotland’s home of live entertainment, trusting us to deliver events as the world was adjusting to the “new normal.”

Tickets are selling well cross-genre, and we’ve seen some of the best sales yet demonstrated recently with a five night sell out run of Scotland’s very own Paolo Nutini.

Kings of Leon
A packed Hydro auditorium during the Kings of Leon concert, June 28. (Picture by Jack Geddes)

What makes Glasgow the best city to work in. How did you experience the people, business owners, colleagues and partners during these past two-and-a-half years? Anything specifically Glaswegian that comes to mind when thinking about overcoming the past and current challenges?
Our city slogan “People Make Glasgow” was never truer during the last few years. The way the Glasgow events community pulled together to support each other was not unexpected in spirit, but never something we’d thought we would have to do at that scale.

The combined commitment of key stakeholders in the city to get the industry back on its feet was a collaborative effort, borne from a love of this industry and in recognition of its importance to the people of Glasgow.

Glasgow loves a night out, it’s deeply embedded in the minds of its people, earning them the title “the famous Glasgow audience.” Known and celebrated for creating an atmosphere like no other and one that’s hard to replicate anywhere else in the world.

What’s changed for the building, since OVO came on board as sponsor?
OVO Energy are on a mission to make zero carbon living a reality in everything we do, and are aligned with our ambitions to be a Net-Zero campus by 2030. The partnership has many shared ideologies, meaning we are able to work seamlessly together to deliver greener and cleaner events. OVO have been pivotal in supporting and funding our sustainable initiatives, including Stack-Cup which has eliminated single-use plastic across the campus, saving an estimated two million cups per year.

Congratulations on becoming the world’s first arena with A Greener Arena certification. The AGF criteria are no joke, so you must have really impressed them. How proud are you of this achievement, and what does it mean for the OVO Hydro’s future?
Thank you! Of everything we’ve achieved over the past nine years, the significance of this achievement cannot be underestimated and was a proud moment for everyone at the venue and OVO, our naming rights partner, who supported us throughout the process.

Although always on the agenda, sustainability and the environment became a much sharper focus for us during COP26, and this certification cemented both our, and the wider city’s commitment to fighting the climate emergency. Attaining this certification further affirms the OVO Hydro’s position as a world-class venue.

See: OVO Hydro World’s First Arena With ‘A Greener Arena Certification’   

Ovo Hydro SMALL

Sustainability also includes mental health, which has only gained in importance during these past years, when everybody’s mind was stretched to the max. How did you make sure you didn’t lose your mind when faced with the countless challenges of the past two-and-a-half years, and does the SEC offer any mental health guidance to its team?
There is no doubt the last few years have impacted everyone’s mental health in some way, however I have been extremely lucky to be supported by an incredible team at the venue and across the wider industry.

Although not our normal program of events, being able to support the NHS with the delivery of the Louisa Jordan temporary medical facility and vaccination centre provided a sense of purpose and direction in what was a very challenging time. Seeing the campus transform into a life changing facility was certainly a moment of reflection for us all in 2020.

In that same year and to support our team, I qualified as a mental health first aider and SEC developed a compressive mental health strategy and added “healthy” to the company core values.

What’s next for OVO Hydro, what would you like to highlight about the upcoming winter season, and already looking into 2023.
As we head into 2023, it is a significant milestone year for the OVO Hydro as we look forward to celebrating our 10th birthday. Before that, we are delighted to welcome Glastonbury headliner Kendrick Lamar in November, some well-needed Christmas cheer with Elf Live, and the return of Robbie Williams for a three night run.

In parallel to an incredible program of events, we will continue to implement greener initiatives, ensuring the venue continues to set the global benchmark for a more sustainable future in the live entertainment business.

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