Co-op Live Sneak Peek (Pollstar Live! Panel Recap)

Areal rendering of Co-op Live, which is set to open its doors to the world in April.

In just a couple of months the largest, most expensive, and most modern live entertainment arena in the UK and Europe is going to open its doors in Manchester, England: Co-op Live.

On day two of Pollstar Live!, the building’s executive director and general manager, Gary Roden, and strategic programming director, Katie Musham, took the stage to give delegates an idea of what’s to come.

Manchester’s economic and demographic trajectory, its musical legacy, the fact that the city used to be a top 5 worldwide music market on Pollstar’s rankings for decades, and of course the suitable patch of land on the Etihad Campus of City Football Group (CFG), an equal joint venture partner in the venue, were all part of the reason, OVG (Pollstar’s parent company) built its first arena outside of North America in Manchester.

At 23,500 capacity, Co-op Live will be the UK’s largest arena, yet, it promises to feel as intimate as a club or theater, thanks to a reimagined bowl design that was only made possible because there’s no incumbent sports tenant using the building. This allowed architects Populous to design a building with a roof much lower, and seats much closer to the action, than one would expect at an arena of this size.

‘This Is Going To Change Our Industry Forever’: Co-op Live Topping Out Celebrated In Manchester

Musham, said 80% of the program hosted at Co-op Live would be music. The arena also boasted the largest standing floor in the UK, at 7,500 capacity, which will likely be increased along the way. Because the seats are so close to the action, promoters can use price one all the way to the upper tiers, changing their ticket pricing options, and leading to a higher gross. Eric Clapton, for instance, who’s part of Co-op Live’s opening season lineup, was only doing two price tiers, Musham explained.

Alongside the music, sustainability has been at the core of all considerations. Co-op Live aims to be the most sustainable venue in Europe, being 100% electric, with no gas used in the building; 10,500 square meters of solar panels on the roof; a zero-waste, and plastic-free policy, 100% rainwater harvesting, and more. Populous designed a very energy efficient, breathable building, meaning there’s no energy surcharge when hiring Co-op Live.

Roden talked about the various partners involved in the project, including Manchester City Football Group, whose “excellence on and off the pitch,” made them an amazing partner to have on board.

Another one was Harry Styles, who grew up very close to the city, and not only invested money into the building, but also consulted the team on many aspects that shaped the final design – including the completely blacked-out bowl, which will feature no branding whatsoever, and suites discreetly curtained off, so there’s nothing distracting from what’s happening on stage.

The naming rights partnership with Co-op really set the building apart, Roden continued, highlighting some of the ways in which Co-op will have a presence inside the building. 23% of the half-a-million tickets Co-op Live has sold so far, were sold through the Co-op Live presale, already increasing Co-op’s membership significantly, even before the first show has taken place at the venue.

OVG and CFG are intent of developing the entire Etihad Campus into a fully fledged entertainment district, giving people a reason to come even when there’s no concert or soccer match on. A 400-bed hotel currently being built will incentivise those who come to stay on for a while. There’s $4 million being invested just on the walk from Picadilly Station to both Co-op Live and Etihad Stadium, in order to turn the 20-minute walk into an interactive experience, including soundscapes, photo moments, light arches, and a walk of fame, where football players will be planting their feet, and artists their hands.

Another important partner for Co-op Live is Bristol Street Motors, which is the naming rights sponsor for The Street, a 2,500-capacity space outside the main auditorium, also programmed by Musham and her team, who expect to host classic club nights there, but also some day-time clubbing, which is a thing in the UK.

Bentley, and Moet are taking over two of the VIP spaces, Seven Bro7hers brewers are supplying craft beer, and Rhubarb, which OVG acquired last year, “is going to revolutionze the way we’re doing food and beverage inside arenas,” according to Roden, who concluded.

A big motivation for the whole Co-op Live team is to put Manchester back on the international touring map where it belongs. The ticket sales data showed that people were willing to travel to the city from far and wide, Roden said. He went into more detail in a recent Pollstar interview, which features in the current Pollstar Live! special issue, saying, “Up to 30% of people are traveling more than 100 kilometers to see us at the moment, 50% are traveling more than 50 kilometers, so we really are pulling from all around the UK.”

When looking at the arena’s that have been opening in the U.S., he continued, it could feel like the international markets were a bit behind the curve. As venues like Co-op Live begin to set a new standard for live entertainment buildings across the pond, U.S. artists will no longer have the feeling that facilities are lacking when they leave the States.

A total of $500 million in investment makes Co-op Live it the most expensive arena ever been built outside the U.S. The entire team around OVG CEO Tim Leiweke have emphasized throughout the entire build that it’s an investment into Manchester’s community. The building will be donating some $1.5 million per year to a local charity. Local students were offered apprenticeships during the entire build period of Co-op Live.

What is more, Roden explained, the economic impact of Co-op Live in the first 20 years was estimated at $2 billion, adding to the regeneration of East Manchester, rejuvenating the city, including it’s flourishing hospitality sector.

Musham thanked the whole of the industry “for wrapping their arms around us,” explaining that the support from promoters and agents has been immense.

With 40 shows in Co-op Live’s opening season, kicking off at the end of April and running through June, her team have their work cut out. But the onsale success will like be all the motivation they need, with 82% of the possible gross across the opening season already sold.

Take That performing seven nights in Manchester, vs. six in London, or Nicki Minaj performing twice at Co-op Live, vs. one night in the English capital; and, of course, Eagles giving their last-ever UK concerts in Manchester are just a few examples highlighting the impact this building is already having.

“We just cannot wait to share this with everyone,” Musham concluded.

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