This story first appeared on VenuesNow.
Oak View Group (OVG), Pollstar’s parent company, held the topping out ceremony for its next big arena project, Co-op Live in Manchester, England, July 5. With roughly ten months left until the scheduled opening in April 2024, there was already a lot to see, and most guests could be seen craning their necks to take in the vastness of the space – apart from the construction workers, who already know every nook and cranny by heart, of course.
It was them, who OVG CEO Tim Leiweke mentioned first, when he took the mic to address the crowd. Without them this impressive structure couldn’t have been realized, particularly during years of economic and political adversity. “Thank you to the construction team, and to the workers for building the greatest arena ever built in Europe and the UK,” he said.
For Leiweke, the visionary behind the £365 million ($464 million) project, it marks an auspicious return to the UK, where, 15 years ago, he opened another building, which went on to become the world’s busiest arena. And while it’s too early to tell how Co-op Live will fare in Pollstar’s year-end rankings, the plan is to get Manchester back into the top 5 of Pollstar’s year-end market rankings, where it used to have a firm place for decades.
Compared to opening The O2 in 2007, building, and eventually opening Co-op Live in April 2024 made him even prouder, Leiweke told Pollstar on site. “It’s an emotional one for me,” he said, “because I’ve spent so much time falling in love with the UK. I’ve always said, ‘man, when somebody comes to Manchester, and builds a world-class arena, it will be the greatest arena ever built, and the people will flock to it.’ So, when we started our company seven years ago, I looked at everybody, and said, ‘we’re going to go to Manchester, we’re going to find a piece of land, and we’re going to build the greatest arena in Europe.”
The land was found on Etihad Campus, home of Europe’s most successful soccer club at the moment, Manchester City. It was Ferran Soriano, CEO of City Football Group (CFG), who first decided to lease the land to OVG. “And then they looked at what we were building,” Leiweke recalled, “and said, ‘Wait a minute, we’ll be your partner, and put up half the money’.”
That’s because OVG’s and CFG’s visions aligned perfectly, as Soriano said. “It feels like many years ago now, when Tim and I started to talk about this. Several times, I said to our people within Manchester City and City Football Group, ‘you don’t truly get what this is. You will be blown away when you see the magnitude of what we’re trying to do. As I got in today, I was blown away myself.” He was sure that Co-op Live would become “one of the best concert venues in the world, and for sure the best in Europe. It is amazing that we’re able to develop this in Manchester, with OVG, with Co-op, and [position] Manchester once again as the center of music.”
He talked about how CFG was developing the football club, as well as the facilities around it, including the stadium, which is about to receive a 10,000-capacity upgrade. “This project is not built in isolation,” Soriano said, “it is built in the context of everything else that is going here. We are going to expand Etihad Stadium, we will develop a new area with hotels, food and beverage, other entertainment venues, and this whole are is going to be an entertainment district open every day of the year, where, every day, something interesting is going to happen.”
Another investor in the project is Harry Styles, who is from Manchester, and who designed the back of house himself. Add naming rights partner Co-op, who made their first foray into the world of live entertainment in one of the most challenging economic and political environments in recent history, and you have a strong team that has made it possible to build the venue privately, without asking a penny from the taxpayers.
“To have this vision, and to do something special in Manchester, is actually a prouder moment for me,” Leiweke said, “because I own the company, because I love this city, and I think this is going to be one of the greatest arenas in the entire world. I cannot wait for the artists to come here, because they’re going to be shocked at how good this building is.”
Co-op Live GM Gary Roden said he had shown around countless promoters and industry experts, some with 30, 40 years of experience in the game. “They all have been amazed by this venue,” he said, “they said they’ve never seen anything quite like this. And that’s because we’ve created something completely unique here, the way that entertainment should be for the future.”
It’s a future that will rely on new talent coming through, talent that is eventually able to fill Co-op Live’s 23,500 maximum capacity. The building will therefore feature multiple performance spaces to present up-and-coming acts, which was a topic close to the heart of Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham. “I’ve got a thing called Mayor’s Artist of the Month, where I pick up-and-coming Manchester acts and give them a bit of a profile every month. And some of them will play on those stages dotted around the place on a big night. Sometimes I think we’re a bit guilty of trading on past glories in Manchester, and I talked about it too much probably, but we’re all sometimes looking too much towards the past. We’ve got to look to the future, and I love the fact that this place will bring on the Manchester music of the future, and all of those young performers will get their place in here as well.”
One message that all speakers aimed to bring home was the fact that the £365 million project ($464 million), despite its international appeal, chiefly benefited the local community of Greater Manchester. As Leiweke put it, “This is for Manchester by Manchester and of Manchester. We are made up of Manchester companies, small and large. 90% of what you will ultimately eat and drink in this building will come from people that grow and produce within this region.”
The construction itself was done by BAM, whose executive director James Wimpenny said, “about 80% of the construction work has been done by local businesses from Manchester, and from the Northwest, and the majority of that from the Greater Manchester area. Almost 200 million of the funding that’s been put into this arena has been spent in the local community.” And he shared a few more stand-out results: “Alongside our team at BAM, we welcomed 386 local suppliers, 40% of which have been based within 5 miles of this development, and a further 36% from the Greater Manchester area. We’re actually proud to demonstrate the value that we provide as a construction business, and I know I’m speaking on behalf of our team here, we often don’t get the recognition in construction for what we do, but we’re pretty proud of what we do, and what we add back to the local community and how we do that.”
Aside from the many jobs it created, Wimpenny was particularly happy about the 96 apprentices that got their first taste of, and a potential head start in, the construction business. “A heartfelt thank you to everybody from BAM, I know, it’s been a tough couple of years, not the easiest of economic environments. Thank you, everybody, for all the work that you put in getting us to this point. I’m sure we’ll be here in April, having another celebration when we open the venue.”
Alongside the construction workers, the crowd attending Co-op Live’s Topping Out ceremony included partners, premium guests, venue stakeholders, and media. Addressing them all, Leiweke concluded, “we are committed to you, to our partners, our premium holders, and to our artists who will brace these stages. This is going to change our industry forever.”