A Personal World Tour Venue supremo Paul Sergeant OBE, has run arena and stadia on both sides of the planet. IQ asked him to share a few lessons learned.... There’s only one similarity between my hometown of Stoke in the UK and my adopted home of Sydney, Australia – they both begin with the same letter. It’s been a hell of a journey over the past 30 years and if I’d only known then what I know now... I couldn’t wait to leave school armed with two very useful O levels (metalwork and cooking). After a few false starts, my first real venue job came along when I joined Wembley as their junior assistant merchandising manager (aka programme seller). I progressed to takeover inhouse merchandising, then car parking, catering, and anything else that generated cash on the day of an event. Corporate hospitality, sponsorship, and marketing followed and I later became responsible for all operational elements for the stadium and arena. In 1999 I moved on, eventually taking charge of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Rugby, like football, had no appreciation of the live industry, but perseverance brought a change of attitude and the impact was instant. Promoters gave us a chance and we built from there, eventually moving the business into profitability. After three and a half years at the helm it was time to move on, this time to manage the excellent Suncorp Stadium. Fast forward a few years and here I am back with AEG Ogden in Australia at Acer Arena, one of the finest indoor venues on the circuit. On the way around the world I’ve learnt a few things about venues. As a new decade looms I’m increasingly aware that the inventory on offer reflects the constantly changing popular culture of the period, and venues must change with the times. In Roman times it was gladiators in The Coliseum, in modern day arenas we have UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Fifteen years ago, ILMC was all doom and gloom as we anticipated kids retreating to bedrooms to acquaint themselves with Playstations (amongst other things!). Collectively we had to reinvent the live experience otherwise we’d die. Well, we did. We changed with the times, building arenas fit for purpose and changing the management culture to meet the changing expectations of bands, promoters, and most importantly – the ticket buying public. As long as we stay in touch, the need for live events will continue as an insatiable part of our human condition. The prevailing popular culture will always need a venue. Arenas will always be part of that in some way, but the future will be determined by the industry’s ability to evolve
and to continue to reinvent itself. The challenge is to stay ahead of the curve, read current trends and secure the appropriate events for the arena. And with significant yearround costs, we have to look outside of music to consider an ever increasing line-up of product. In 2011, major nonconcert arena spectaculars tour Australia with Walking With Dinosaurs, Disney on Ice and Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco. Looking further ahead, shows recently or soon to be presented at the world’s most prolific arena, The O2, include Les Miserables, Apassionata and Batman and these are of considerable interest to us.
“ If the concerts are not there, then we may well have to become mainstream producers of events.” Modern arenas are also now built to accommodate stand-alone corporate functions for a growing market of organisers looking for something different, which we are keen to increase. Today’s arena manager has to be proactive, create opportunities and entice clients. An arena that is as flexible and accommodating as possible with a management attitude to match is imperative to attract an array of events to fill our diary. If the concerts are not there, then we may well have to become mainstream producers of events but in the short term we work with the industry, supporting any model that will develop talent and events. Currently we supply showcase opportunities for new talent at pre- and post-show functions at our events. Constant awareness is also essential. No one can have an accident nowadays, anywhere in the world – it’s always someone’s fault. Arenas invest a huge amount of time, resource and capital to deal with the single, most important component of managing the building – people’s safety. We have to blend our legal responsibilities with the commercial demands of numerous stakeholders whilst playing our part in providing the customer’s entertainment ‘fix’. Very experienced people dedicate massive amounts of time to thorough planning and risk assessment and if we comply with legislation and follow industry guidelines we’re in a good position. So, Stoke to Sydney, a hell of a journey, never dull, and always a delight!
IQ Magazine issue 33.