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Arena battle for Manchester

8 August 2020

THE DEBATE over whether the city needs a second arena has heated-up as Manchester Arena (cap. 21,000) operator ASM Global unveils plans for an upgrade to 24,000 capacity,

Rival Oak View Group (OVG), also US based, is proposing a 23,500-capacity arena in the city’s Eastlands district, saying it would be the largest in the country when open.

London’s The O2, owned and operated by AEG, whose AEG Facilities offshoot merged with then Manchester Arena operator SMG to form ASM Global in 2019, is currently the largest at slightly over 21,000.

The plan for Manchester Arena includes a new exterior, remodelled main entrance, additional exits and entrances, along with a new concourse and VIP facilities.

ASM Global director of business development Tom Lynch says, “We’re consulting with our neighbours and the City Council, and we look forward to launching public consultation [with] the rest of the city.”

Meanwhile, OVG’s £350 million venue will be located on the Etihad Campus close to Manchester City FC’s 55,000-capacity stadium. The initial plan envisages a rectangular building wrapped in a prominent layer of external LED, with wide flyover footbridges allowing access over major roads.

Both OVG and ASM Global cite independent reports which support their opposing views, on a second arena.

Claiming the support of a raft of centrally-located businesses, ASM believes a new Eastlands arena would dilute Manchester’s arena-level offering and pull customers away from the city centre. It cites research by Charles River Associates (CRA) which describes OVG’s planning application as “flawed” and that,

“Current events coming to Manchester would not support two venues of this size. Dividing the current pie … would mean one or both venues would be unable to breakeven,” it says.

OVG points to a report by Amion Consulting and The Audience Agency which says there is more than enough latent demand in the city to support two arenas, with potential for 2.05mannual arena visits to both venues by 2035.

Additionally, Mike Blackburn, chair of Marketing Manchester, which promotes Greater Manchester nationally and globally, says, “A second arena will grow the overall [local] economy and will bring more visitors and much-needed expenditure for city centre shops, restaurants, clubs and bars. And it will serve as a reminder that Manchester remains a globally significant entertainment destination.”

OVG chief operating officer of International Mark Donnelly says, “Other major UK cities are thriving with two or more arenas and we are so confident in Manchester’s potential that we are willing to commit [to an] entirely privately funded investment to the city, creating 3,350 jobs during construction, and a further 1,000 once open in 2023.”

He says preparatory building work for the project could start in October.

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