‘I Want To Better Utilize The Buildings’: Talking Shop With Thomas Ovesen

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Thomas Ovesen with 50 Cent, who performed in Dubai last September.

When we reached out to Thomas Ovesen for this feature he had just joined All Things Live, where he’ll run the company’s newly launched Middle East division. Teaming up with the European live entertainment powerhouse would make him “a much better partner for the touring artist, for the agents, and the tour promoters, and, indeed, for the fans here,” he said. That’s coming from a man with more than 1,000 shows under his belt, one of the most recent ones being the sold-out Sept. 30 concert by 50 Cent at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, which sold 12,796 tickets for a gross revenue of $1,156,495, according to the Pollstar Boxoffice. The new business will be based in Dubai, but its scope will be the entire Middle East, “and,” Ovesen added, “we are also committed to some events in India. As each market is different, our engagement in these markets will be slightly different as well. Whilst we would take all the risk [and promote ourselves] in the UAE, and Gulf States, we’ll probably partner on events in some of the other Middle Eastern markets, like in Saudi, right now. It’s perhaps a little premature to go all in just yet, and instead partner on programming and producing shows. But my ability to undertake events, and to partner both with artists, agents, and managers, but also with local and regional promoters, has become much stronger because of this partnership.”

See: All Things Live & Thomas Ovesen Partner In The Middle East

Ovesen believes, “we have to develop the fan experience at events. Arenas are still a relatively new thing in our market, and I want to maximise the business potential in the arenas we already have.” As opposed to established, and growing touring markets, where arenas are being built to meet a demand that’s already there, the first state-of-the-art entertainment arenas in the Middle East, Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai (opened in 2019), and Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi (2021), probably opened before the business warranted it, Ovesen explained. What did warrant it, however, are the extremely hot regional summers, which put all outdoor activity on hold for around four months. “Indoor air-conditioned buildings could extend the season by up to 50%, which was a major incentive to open arenas,” Ovesen explained, and continued, “we don’t have the same volume and frequency of events yet that some cities in the rest of the world have to justify an arena. I want to better utilize the buildings. But I’ve always said that once we get the purpose built venues, our business is going to go to the next level.”

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The auditorium of Coca-Cola Arena Dubai during the 50 Cent concert.

Buildings like Coca-Cola Arena and Ethiad Arena have made it possible that arena tours can even consider touring the UAE without having to adjusting the production to an outdoor setting, “maybe not a lesser fan experience, but a different fan experience. We can now offer the fans in Dubai, or in Abu Dhabi and in some of the other markets in the region with indoor buildings, the exact same experience as you’d get [anywhere else in the world].” They also added an entirely new VIP experience for premium clients, and make for a much more relaxed night out. “In the old days, the outdoor venues were located outside of town. We used to open doors at 4 p.m., when the show started at 9 p.m. We used to tell people that we to arrive early to avoid the traffic or queues. So we had people in the venue for three, four hours, perhaps even more. At Coca Cola Arena or Etihad Arena, people can walk up half an hour before the show,” Ovesen said, adding that it improved the fan experience on every level.

See: Middle East Focus Index Page

Saudi is a long-term project, in Ovesen’s view, where the majority of the population is under the age of 30, implying that new arenas will find and audiences eager for entertainment. “They just gotta bring some buildings into play, then it’s a phenomenal market also from a local and regional promoter perspective.” And, thinking about other promising country developments, he mentioned Egypt, which has seen “massive real estate investments, particularly on the Mediterranean coastline, the northern part of Egypt”. And Ovesen adds “Bahrain has come tremendously far over the last year with their new Al Dana Amphitheatre, and new flexible indoor venue lay outs in the convention centre there. So not only have they got a couple of new, fantastic venues, they are also actively booking those venues themselves. And it’s a pretty impressive lineup of events that they have. Great stuff.”

Backstreet Boys performed at Al Dana Amphitheatre in May. The venue has played its part in putting Saudi on the touring map. (Picture courtesy of Al Dana Amphitheatre)

The economic forecasts for the region are positive, Ovesen confirmed. “Tourism has had a massive upsurge, because of the many investments in the region,” said Ovesen, which includes entertainment districts like City Walk around Coca-Cola Arena, or Yas Island around Etihad Arena. Despite the economy looking relatively strong, there was no incentive to increase ticket prices. It allowed people to attend more shows than they used to, on a more regular basis, he explained, “That’s why you’re seeing a much higher occupancy of ticketed events in the arenas this year compared to last year. If you talk to the the venue owners, they will be able to tell you that there’s many more ticketed events than they had in the past.”

And he added, “we have communities in all of our markets, where people didn’t grow up attending live entertainment events. They haven’t grown up in a market where you had a theatre on the street corner, they are only just becoming ticket buyers, and a lot of it is down to family entertainment. The kids in those families become the concert goers of the future.”

“We need to be cautious not to get ahead of ourselves and overcharge on tickets, because that would potentially backfire. But there’s room to put on more content, there’s room to grow. Family Entertainment has got huge potential. It’s the one constant across all of the countries in the region: families want to be entertained. In some markets, it’s more urban music, more Latin, and some have a domestic touring scene. But family entertainment is a constant.”

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