‘The Schedule Is Packed With Everything Live Entertainment Has To Offer’: Q’s With The O2’s Steve Sayer

Steve Sayer 2019 USE THIS ONE
Steve Sayer, senior vice president, and general manager of the world’s busiest arena, London’s O2. (Photographer: www.lukedyson.com)

Pollstar speaks with Steve Sayer, senior vice president, and general manager of the world’s busiest arena, London’s O2, which takes the pole position on our annual Magna Charta ranking after a record year 2023.

Sayer, who’s approaching his ten-year anniversary with AEG Europe in April, talked about the state of business, upcoming highlights both in terms of shows coming to The O2, and new offers for fans and members, as well as the many measures implemented by the team to make the building, and the industry as a whole, more sustainable. It’s clear that The O2’s 2024 schedule is packed with everything live entertainment has to offer, from concerts, residencies, comedy, award shows, e-sports, festivals, and much, much more.

Pollstar: What’s your state of mind right now? From a business perspective, and, if you care to share, from your personal perspective.
From a business perspective, I am excited about the next few years ahead. 2024 is shaping up nicely, building on a really strong 2023. We’re also hearing good things about 2025 at arena level. Lots of new music coming out and a number of big artists and some new ones getting ready to tour again. As far as the venue side goes, we opened our exciting new members space late last year and had the official opening in January. The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways was a multi-million investment by AEG and has set a new standard for premium experiences in music and entertainment venues. It is the first of a number of capex investments that we have planned to ensure that The O2 remains the market leader for fans, bands and brands.

From a personal perspective, I will hit my ten-year milestone with AEG in April. It’s been an incredible ride and having recently stepped up to SVP I am excited to see where we can take it next. I turn 50 later this year and that’s a huge personal milestone and I will be celebrating throughout the year. My celebrations will include my first trip to Glastonbury for some time and a return to the desert for Coachella amongst some of the highlights. Life is for living and there is so much to be thankful for at work and at play!

Muse The O2 2nd October 2023 by Luke Dyson LD1 1305
Muse performed two nights at The O2 in October 2023. (Picture by Luke Dyson)

Another massive year for blockbuster entertainment has gone by. How does 2024 look in comparison? More of the same, meaning: more blockbuster entertainment? Or are there any notable differences, like new genres becoming more popular, comedy bookings increasing, or anything along those lines? Please elaborate.
More blockbuster entertainment for sure! The diary is incredibly busy with a plethora of shows confirmed for 2024 (and 25).

Whilst 2023 was all about the pop punk resurgence, including multiple sold-out shows from blink-182, Paramore and Fall Out Boy, 2024 looks like it’s leaning into the heavier side of the rock genre, with metal taking centre stage. Bring Me The Horizon kickstarted the year with two incredible performances under the tent. The recent confirmation of Sleep Token is an exciting addition to the diary as well as two huge Slipknot shows at the end of December to make it a very metal Christmas indeed.

The world’s biggest pop stars are certainly not in short supply, either. Ne-Yo brings his “Champagne and Roses” tour to The O2 for two incredible nights in March, Olivia Rodrigo brings her sensational “GUTS” tour to us in May, the iconic Girls Aloud are poised to make their triumphant return in June, and Niall Horan joins us for what is sure to be a stellar headline performance in early September.

Our dance/electronic content this year is looking strong with Pendulum, Pete Tong, and the newly announced Jungle, plus the familiar family-friendly content like Strictly Come Dancing and Hot Wheels Monster Trucks return this month.

Finally, we’re also looking forward to welcoming an impressive and diverse set of artists to The O2 to play their first headline performances.

The O2 Busy ED AEG Reception and Eurovision Store 12th May 2023 by Luke Dyson LD1 0092
The entertainment district inside The O2 during Eurovision week in May, 2023.

Can you confirm a trend of artists increasingly playing (mini-)residencies at venues?
In terms of residences, there seems to be a consistent theme of artists playing multiple nights at the venue, and the great thing about doing them at The O2 is that due to the space we have, we can explore various possibilities which ultimately results in an enhanced fan experience – something that is a big priority for us. Whether it be a takeover of our advertising boards, themed entertainment in public spaces, dressing the venue appropriately, or a complete artist takeover, and activations through management, we like to be flexible and want the excitement of a residency to not just be in the arena, but to be felt across the site, which enables both the fan and artist to feel part of something big.

Upcoming, we have The 1975 playing four sold-out nights this month, and after playing two sold-out nights here just last year, is a testament to not only their popularity as a band but how the residency model works for artists at this level.

D-Block Europe also play an impressive four shows in a row this month with a much younger audience demographic than some other artists we have in the diary.

Olivia Rodrigo headlines the arena for the first time with four shows in May, Take That and The Killers are both booked for six shows in April, and July respectively, and Liam Gallagher brings his “Definitely Maybe” 20th Anniversary tour in June, the same month that Girls Aloud return for five shows. The same is true for comedy, with UK comedian Michael McIntyre performing five times in April and, of course, the record-breaking monthly residency of UK comedian Peter Kay continues to storm on.

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Lizzo at The O2 in Mach 2023. (Picture by Luke Dyson)

The 1975 just played a string of carbon-removed shows at The O2 this month. What measures were you taking to reduce the environmental impact of the carbon removal shows?
These pilot events [used] a portfolio of carbon removal methods to physically extract the carbon generated by the events from the atmosphere, and durably store it out of harm’s way – a game-changing step on the path to helping the global live events industry reach genuine net-zero. That’s in addition to a real focus on driving down emissions.

There’s a whole host of initiatives that we already have in place, or are implementing which include:

  • Reviewing our menus: together with our catering partner, Levy, we’ve already removed beef from our menus (the highest carbon emitter of all foods), and banned air freight (which contributes hugely to carbon footprints). However, for these shows, [we’ve trialled] a whole new low-carbon menu, which is our next step on the journey towards net zero menus by the end of 2025. Hitting net zero on F+B for scope 1, 2, and 3 will be a major achievement and almost certainly a world first for venues.
  • Reusable cups: Our new reusable cup system reduces waste and carbon footprint
  • NotPla Serveware: Our partnership with NotPla, a seaweed based plastic alternative, drives down the carbon footprint of our serveware and allows us to process all associated waste onsite in our biodigester and wormery. This reduces the carbon emitted by heavy transport and from food rotting in landfill.
  • Carbon levy on carparks: A small fee has been added to our carpark tickets which helps fund climate and energy reduction initiatives around the arena, as well as acting as a discouragement to drivers.
  • Green Rider: our industry leading green rider document engages incoming tours on the impact of their behaviours and helps raise the bar for everyone who visits the arena. It gives every production concrete information on how they can use The O2’s infrastructure to reduce the impact of their tour.
  • Energy saving initiatives: Our ongoing roll-out of LED lighting throughout the arena has already saved enough energy to power 108 UK households for a year, and is continuing throughout 2024.

We’ve teamed up with CUR8, which specialises in the timely and durable drawdown of CO2, through high-quality carbon removal portfolios and with AGF’s (A Greener Future’s) expertise, the venue can now predict the emissions of an event in advance of it taking place, based on expected outputs for categories including catering, travel/transport and electricity, which equates to over 100 tonnes per show for The 1975 at The O2.

If successful, the intention for these pilot events is to create a best practice-model for venues, promoters, and tours worldwide on how to execute a carbon-removed event, and more broadly, to encourage and inspire the reduction of carbon emissions in the live entertainment industry as it transitions to a low-carbon future. Whilst we accept that reducing the emissions in the first place has to be the main goal, this two-pronged approach means we can do our very best for the environment whilst continuing to deliver high quality events.

Luke Dyson
View of the fine dining experience by The Ninety Third by Qatar Airways, the new premier entertainment space inside The O2. (Picture by Luke Dyson)

The top end of this business is in rude health. Are you at all worried about the lower end, the smaller to medium shows, and especially, venues? What needs to be done to make sure the next generation of headliners has enough rooms to play in, and grow, before they can reach (Indigo at) The O2 level?
The challenges facing grassroots music venues should be a concern to everyone in the live music ecosystem, and the recorded side too. Undoubtedly technology (streaming and social media) has made it easier for artists to build their fanbases, and for fans to connect with those artists, but live is where the artists hone their craft, and it’s live that drives the highest levels of engagement and joy. At The O2, we’re actively engaged in working with the Music Venues Trust, and other stakeholders to find ways that we can support. One idea is to host a fundraising gig or series of shows on an annual basis. We have done this for the NHS in the past. We provide the venue [free of charge] to a promoter which is a significant contribution. We’re open to discuss this with agents and promoters who might want to join up in support of the grassroots.

Speaking of the Music Venue Trust: the charity has called for the top-end of this industry to reinvest their profits into the commercially less relevant, yet culturally very relevant, grassroots sector. Does this chime with you, is it a viable way of securing this sector’s future?
There is a live discussion between the NAA (National Arenas Association), of which The O2 is part, LIVE (the umbrella association for live music which also includes the promoters, agents, managers, and MVT alongside the NAA and others), and DCMS [the UK government’s department for culture, media and sport], about other options that could prove to be much more sustainable in the long run, such as the levy-on-tickets idea which is used in some European countries. The O2 is trying to take a lead where we can, and is open to exploring that model.

It’s also worth noting that, in some European markets, music and arts benefit from a cultural rate of VAT, which is lower than the standard threshold. Alongside the business rates relief, the VAT cut during the pandemic was a lifeline for the industry in getting back on its feet. I can envisage a world where the redistribution of some income could be funded by such a cut. In that world the beneficiaries could extend beyond venues at risk, to other important causes within out sector such as DE&I, music education, and the creation of a more gender-inclusive business. There is a view in the industry that this could help to reset things, and stimulate even more growth for the economy, and that’s from a sector that already employs over 225,000 people and generates over £5.2 billion [$6.6 billion] in revenue.

Luke Dyson
The world’s first retractable walkway is part of The O2’s new premium offering. (Picture by Luke Dyson)

What else about The O2’s 2024 would you like to highlight, be it particular events, ticket sales, any of the many other offerings around the building, etc.
As I mentioned already, we’ve had a big start to the year with the launch of our brand new 300-capacity multi-million-pound VIP members club – The NinetyThird by Qatar Airways. It boasts uninterrupted views from every seat, and elevates the premium hospitality experience with the world’s first retractable “Walkway,” and reimagined fine dining. Members get access to over 200 events a year at this new industry-leading space, which we’ve been working on for over five years.

In terms of the arena, after a record-breaking 2023 with over 2.5 million arena tickets sold, this year is set to be another stellar year with a huge variety of diverse content attracting a broad fanbase. Residencies will be big for us, with runs already confirmed with artists including Liam Gallagher and The Killers, and we’re really looking forward to seeing artists who will be headlining the arena for the first-time including Jo Koy, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Karol G, Noah Kahan and Jacob Collier.

As always, we are proud to have the return of two of the UK’s flagship award shows – the BRITs and the National Television Awards – as well as the site-wide festival Country to Country, which returns for the 11th year. Always a big highlight for us.

Plus, we’ll see sport from the USA Basketball Showcase, and welcome one of the largest and most popular gaming and sporting events in the world, the 2024 League of Legends World Championship Finals towards the end of the year. Esports has been growing fast for so many years now and the LoL World Championships is the pinnacle event. We’re proud to host that, and to see the whole venue come alive as we do for other site-wide takeover events such as C2C.

Behind the scenes we’re working hard to make the venue more sustainable which will see capex investments made to reduce our energy consumption, and through our groundbreaking carbon-removed shows with The 1975 hopefully pave the way for a more sustainable industry.

See: O2 London All Set For Another Record Year

List of artists celebrating their first headline performance at The O2 this year.

• MIRROR – March 12
• Pendulum – March 29
• A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – May 2
• Jo Koy – May 3
• J Balvin – May 5
• LeAnn Rimes – May 8
• Olivia Rodrigo – May 14-18
• Romesh Ranganathan – May 24-25
• ShxtsnGigs – May 26
• Smashing Pumkins & Weezer – June 8 (it’ll be the first headline performance for Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins have already done it in the past)
• Doja Cat – June 14-17
• James – June 15
• IVE – June 16
• Karol G – June 18-19
• Heart – July 1
• Michael Bolton – July 25
• Noah Kahan – Aug. 21-22
• Niall Horan – Sept. 3
• Texas – Sept. 5
• Jungle – Sept. 12
• Jacob Collier – Dec. 9

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