Co-op Live nod: ASM’s envy, OVG’s pride!


Manchester Arena OVG update September 2020 Image: Oak View Group

The Manchester City Council in England gave the go-ahead on September 24th, 2020, for a new 23,500-seat arena to be built by the American global advisory, development and investment company for the sports and live entertainment industries Oak View Group (OVG), which hopes to begin work on the project in November. The Populous-designed arena will be the largest in the UK.

The recently greenlit Manchester arena also has a name to it – Co-op Live, as OVG teams up with Co-op, the largest consumer cooperative in the United Kingdom.

Following final nod from national planning authorities, OVG plans to begin work on Co-op Live as early as November, generating 3,350 jobs during a three-year construction phase. The arena will generate a further 1,000 jobs when the arena opens in 2023. OVG said it will prioritize hiring local people and has committed to paying all employees at least the Manchester Living Wage.

The Co-op has become a major player in the UK’s music scene, with pop-up shops at events like the Glastonbury Festival. It’s also synonymous with Manchester, opening its first offices there in 1863.

The £350-million arena (over $448 million in American dollars) will come up at Manchester’s Etihad campus, which currently includes Etihad Stadium, home of Premier League’s Manchester City F.C. The arena would target large concerts that OVG officials believe are currently passing over Manchester, though it would also strive to attract a wide range of sporting events that could include basketball, hockey, MMA, and more.

Around £1m a year will go towards social causes across UK – distributed by the Co-op Foundation – and the arena will be one of the most sustainable and socially responsible buildings of its type in Europe. It will be at the forefront of Manchester’s zero carbon agenda and help to tackle food poverty via a zero-food waste initiative. The Co-op is a strong supporter of apprenticeships and will back the arena’s apprenticeship program and provide direct employment opportunities for its six secondary and college academies across Greater Manchester.

Once Co-op Live is open, the Co-op will offer its members an array of exclusive benefits including: Pre-sale tickets up to seven days before general release; discounts on food and beverage; hospitality experiences, the chance to win free tickets and exclusive, money can’t buy, backstage VIP experiences plus priority entry-access to the venue. The arena will also sell Co-op’s award-winning and ethically sourced food range.

Remarked Steve Murrells, Group CEO, Co-op, in a press release sent out, “Co-op is set up with a clear goal to serve the interests of its members and invest for the long term. The entertainment arena brings to life the cooperative difference and our vision to cooperate for a fairer world, from its sustainable construction, support for communities, zero food waste and member-only exclusive benefits. It will not only enthral audiences, but every time people watch a live act they’ll be doing well to local communities across UK.”

“We’re delighted with this partnership and join together with the Co-op team to build the new world-class arena that Manchester deserves. Our shared vision with Co-op is what makes this partnership so special,” observed Tim Leiweke, Chief Executive Officer, OVG, in a press release.

“Our partnership goes way beyond a normal naming rights agreement. The shared values will help define the ethos of the venue, including bold commitments on sustainability and community. I’ve said from the beginning of this project that this arena will be of Manchester, for Manchester and by Manchester, and this partnership with one of the city’s most iconic brands is a critical part of that. We can’t wait to work together to bring amazing live event experiences, in one of the world’s best arenas, to Manchester.”

However, the OVG Group and venue and event management company ASM Global – who runs the Manchester Arena (now AO Arena) in UK – have always been involved in a war of words over the former’s arena plans in United Kingdom. The latter are simply not amused and refuse to buy into OVG’s arguments that two big arenas at the same place can bring in economic boom.

The arena would become the largest in the UK, with OVG asserting that the project will bring £350m (€382m/$445m) of private investment to Manchester. Pending final confirmation from the national planning authorities, OVG plans to begin work on the arena, which would sit on the Etihad Campus next to Etihad Stadium, by the end of the year.

The new arena would join the existing 21,000-seat AO Arena. A statement sent out by OVG stated that while Manchester has “historically been a world-leader for entertainment”, in recent years it has missed out on leading events and “is losing market share to other UK cities as they surged ahead with ambitious new arenas”.

The Manchester Arena (now AO Arena) is an indoor arena in Manchester, England, and can accommodate 21,000 spectators. It is one of the world’s busiest indoor arenas, hosting music and sporting events such as boxing and swimming. The arena has the highest seating capacity of any indoor venue in UK, and second largest in Europe.

Last month, OVG’s plans to deliver the venue picked up momentum and the company released new research which it claimed justified the “latent demand” for a second major arena in Manchester.

“We’re delighted that Manchester City Council has given our proposals the go-ahead, and we can’t wait to get started, bringing a £350m private investment, creating thousands of jobs, and delivering one of the world’s best arenas to this amazing City,” Tim Leiweke, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, OVG, said.

“I want to say a huge thank you to the community for taking the time to listen to what we had to say and providing feedback that ensured this arena is of Manchester, for Manchester and by Manchester,” Leiweke added.

Councilor Pat Karney, City Centre spokesperson, added, “Today’s decision is about confidence in our City, Greater Manchester and the North West. It is about new employment and training opportunities for thousands across East Manchester and beyond at a time when they are badly needed.”

“The City Centre, our communities and the wider City will be strengthened by our newest neighbor – Oak View Group Manchester. This is the next chapter in East Manchester’s regeneration.”

ASM Global, which operates AO Arena, has fiercely opposed OVG’s plans and lodged a formal objection to the proposal back in June. With the Manchester City Council giving greenlighting to the project, ASM Global said in a statement that it will “review all options” to ensure the future of AO Arena is secured “despite the pressures posed” by the approval of OVG’s plans.

ASM Global’s statement added, “We are, of course, wholly disappointed about the decision, which we feel completely negates the concerns of both ourselves and many key City Centre stakeholders. These concerns are backed by compelling evidence that shows there is simply no market for a second major arena in Manchester.”

“The above decision will have a significantly adverse impact for our existing arena, and the wider City Centre businesses and attractions it supports. Clear evidence has been presented on multiple occasions that demonstrate the application for an Eastlands Arena relies on flawed research, impossible market projections, is in defiance of national and local policy, and does not align with the adopted Core Strategy to support sustainable growth in the City,” the statement added.

“Why then has it been so readily approved? Fundamental questions remain as to whether this is truly the right choice for Manchester, particularly in the current climate,” the ASM statement questioned.

In March, an early-stage repurposing vision was unlocked for AO Arena that would expand its overall capacity to 24,000 and make it the largest indoor arena in Europe. The plans were unveiled to mark 25 years since the arena opened and to ensure the venue “remains at the heart of the City for the next 25 years and beyond”.

Declan Sharkey, Populous Senior Principal and Project Architect, said, “In line with Oak View Group’s vision, the new arena in Eastlands, Manchester has been designed to attract even more global headline events and acts to Manchester and become a catalyst for further economic and cultural investment for the City. Our team has worked intensively across all elements of the building’s ambitious design to ensure the arena succeeds in drawing visitors from far and wide and each one has an unforgettable, world-class entertainment experience.”

Proposals for the new venue at a site on the Etihad Campus were submitted in March following in-depth consultation with the local community. The final plans were shaped by community feedback and since then the project has received support from a wide cross-section of local stakeholders including local companies, MPs, ward councilors and a range of City Centre businesses.

The new arena will be a best-in-class sustainable venue, with renewable energy, energy efficiency and low carbon technologies integral to the design. During operation, the venue will benefit from the excellent existing transport links to the Etihad Campus. OVG has committed to investing in improving walking and cycling routes, as well as funding an expanded Controlled Parking Zone to minimize traffic snarls and disruption for local residents.

Though OVG is thrilled with the Manchester City Council giving the thumbs-up, the ASM Global is sulking over the whole issue and is furious. When the OVG’s Manchester Arena will finally open its doors, it will be a classic case of ‘neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’!

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