If you claim to be the “home of live entertainment” you have to be able to back it up. The team running Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, managed by ASM Global, is doing just that. One glance at the building’s upcoming shows reveals events ranging from traditional Arabian Khaliji concerts to Indian Bollywood to family shows to comedy tours like Trevor Noah’s “Off The Record,” and some of the biggest names in music, including Bryan Adams, 50 Cent, Hans Zimmer or KISS, who bring their farewell tour “End of the Road” to the UAE in October.
ASM Global’s Executive Vice President for the MENA Region, Iain Campbell, summed up the state of business: “We’re seeing very good ticket sales at the moment, a big desire for all the genres that we do throughout the Middle East. A lot of the nostalgia shows are doing very well, particularly in Dubai. We had huge success with 50 Cent, Hans Zimmer, Majed Al Mohandes and so on. The more current ones are still doing well, but just not selling as quickly. Putting a calendar together has still been a challenge, because I don’t need to tell you how buoyant our industry is at the moment.” He said the circuit was coming along: A couple of years, he thinks, and artists will be able to visit more than just one or two cities, and route a proper tour through the Middle East.
ASM Global is leading the charge – in Dubai with Coca-Cola Arena and in Bahrain with Exhibition World Bahrain. Since both are so new, there’s not much data to fall back on, but Dubai “figure wise, 2023 is ahead of 2022, there’s no doubt about that,” Campbell said, “but in the early part of ‘22, it was such a demand everywhere else, we probably weren’t the first on the radar for a lot of the tours. I think that’s the reason ‘23 is doing better: we have more availability of artists. The forward bookings in 2023 are way ahead of what they were in ’22.”
Coca-Cola Arena’s general manager Mark Jan Kar confirmed, “2023 data indicates it will be a stellar year. Our event calendar, like more mature markets, is beginning to fill as far in advance as Q2 of 2024. Even though it may not be on the Coca-Cola Arena website yet, bookings are secured and will be announced in line with Dubai’s tourism strategy.” Kar said there was “a real appetite for live entertainment in Dubai, and the diversity of the shows in the program makes Coca-Cola Arena the go-to. It’s confirmed when we see artists or management visiting the venue as guests themselves and most recently offering to appear as surprise guests at another concert.”
Family entertainment traditionally does very well in the UAE. This year, Coca-Cola Arena hosted Sleeping Beauty On Ice, and Cirque du Soleil OVO, while Peppa Pig’s Adventure is currently on sale. In between concerts, the building may host an exhibition, gala dinner or corporate event, like a real estate launch or the CBBC brand sale in October. “Our ability to host back-to-back events on the weekends with corporate events in-between, showcases the dynamic space. We have hosted a live show for 2,000 attendees and have had an event of 15,000 attendees on the same weekend,” said Kar.
Coca-Cola Arena also hosted a new sporting competition in December, the World Tennis League, where some of the game’s biggest names competed. After the matches, the arena was transformed from a tennis court to a concert venue within 25 minutes, and some of the biggest names in music took the stage, including Wizkid, Tiestö, Ne-Yo and others. Kar said, “Of course, we do things differently in Dubai. We call the introduction of a concert immediately after a sports event ‘sportainment’.” He added that the prospect of a sports franchise based in the arena was “a real goal of ours. Sporting events like the World Tennis League can truly showcase the venue to the world through broadcasting.”
ASM’s new building in Bahrain may be an exhibition space at heart, but it still hosts concerts, just like the arena hosts major corporate events alongside the concerts and family shows.
“The way I was trained was, you turn a venue into a 365-days business,” Campbell said, “We’ll do four or five events in an arena in a given week, and three of those might be corporate events. It’s vice-versa with our convention and exhibition business. We don’t just do conventions and exhibitions. We’re doing lots of live entertainment, immersive experiences. Our job is to fill venues and make money, so the exhibition and conference business is huge for us in the Middle East.
“We can’t talk about them yet, but there’s some big announcements coming. We’re here for the long term, we have a very aggressive growth strategy, and it’s probably going to be more conference and exhibition than arenas. But that depends on how quickly these places get built, and who wins the bid.”
According to Campbell, “there’s venues ready to go in Qatar, there’s venues ready to go in Egypt. They need good operators. My honest opinion is that we’re probably a couple years away from having sufficient venues to [be able to route full tours through the Middle East]. I think Saudi’s the key. They’re doing it all at temporary venues at the moment. They have stadiums, but as far as arenas are concerned they’re looking at another three, four in Riyadh. Jeddah only has a 8,500-capacity building at the moment. So, I think we’re a couple of years away, but watch the space in Egypt, they have venues that will be ready to go real soon, which will be a game changer. And there’s a real desire in Egypt for content as well. Bahrain is ready, Qatar is ready, Dubai’s ready, Abu Dhabi is ready, Egypt’s almost ready. The final piece of the puzzle is Saudi having that infrastructure put in place. With a fair wind, I think it’s going to be a couple of years before they have their venues finished. And at that time, I think it’s ready to go.”