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Co-op Live, Manchester's new £365m arena, will open with big capacity and plans

Co-op Live, Manchester's new £365m arena, will open with big capacity and plans

  • Written by Ian Young
  • Entertainment and arts reporter

Comment on the photo, The new arena is part of the development around Manchester City's Etihad Stadium

The new £365 million venue is set to become the UK's largest indoor arena when it opens in Manchester.

Co-op Live, a giant black box next to Manchester City's football stadium, has a capacity of 23,500 and aims to attract more major events from London.

After a test event with Rick Astley on Saturday, it will be officially opened by comedian Peter Kaye on Tuesday.

Olivia Rodrigo, Take That, Eric Clapton and Liam Gallagher are among the other stars lining up to perform there.

Harry Styles invested in the development and advised on design elements of the arena.

Comment on the photo, Can Harry Styles land his next British award in his own arena?

While the singer supports the arena, he is a secondary partner in terms of money and muscle.

Co-op Live was built by City Football Group, owned by Emirati billionaire and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour. Along with Oakview Music Group, co-founded by American music mogul Irving Azoff.

Azoff's son and business partner, Jeff, manages Styles and U2 among others, while Irving has managed the Eagles for 50 years.

So, it's no coincidence that the veteran Californian band won't be visiting London or anywhere else in the UK on their farewell tour, stopping only in Manchester for five nights at Co-op Live next June.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, The new venue is the only UK stop for the Eagles' final Long Goodbye tour

“There's no reason why Brits can't come to the north,” says Gary Rhoden, CEO and managing director of Co-op Live, which also wants it to be “the UK's combat sports hub”.

Comment on the photo, Workers are putting the finishing touches on the place before its official opening on Tuesday

Backstage, he points out the state-of-the-art suites and gymnasium for the performers. Inside the hall, there are no billboards to distract the artists while they are on stage. Rhoden says that was Styles' suggestion.

“It's all very focused on artists having the best experience, and that costs us money because there are no ads here. But this is a decision we made in order to maximize the relationship between artist and fans.”

He says fans sitting in the back will be closer to the stage than in similar arenas. This is because the Co-op Live ground, which can hold 9,200 fans, appears shorter but wider than other existing arenas.

“It doesn't seem like a big deal when you're up there,” Rhoden says, pointing to the upper seats. “But when you're here, you feel like you're at a huge event, and that's what we want. It's like you're in a stadium standing here.”

Otherwise, the design is fluid yet familiar. They did not try to reinvent the basic design of the arena.

Comment on the photo, Olivia Rodrigo will kick off her UK tour at Co-op Live in May

He believes Manchester could support two major indoor stadiums, and says the ambition is to “not compete with” the city's existing AO Stadium.

“If we focus on bringing more to Manchester, we will be OK,” he says. “It's about Manchester having a facility that can bring in someone like the Eagles who will come to Manchester instead of going to London.”

In fact, Co-op Live is competing with its existing rival in Manchester, and it's not clear whether the city is big enough to accommodate them both.

“It would be hard for an artist to say, ‘Yes, I booked the 30-year-old arena versus the brand-new arena,’” continues Rhoden. “That’s the reality of the situation.”

The other arena, which has been open under different names since 1995, has responded with a £50m refurbishment and expanding its own capacity from 21,000 to 23,000. It has tried to ban Co-op Live for a late-night licence, and is running a campaign An ad letting fans know about its promotion and downtown location.

Comment on the photo, AO Arena claims to be 'Manchester's best venue' in an advertising campaign on the city's trams

A spokesperson for AO Arena said it welcomed the competition, which “raises everyone's game and is great for fans and artists alike.”

They highlighted her track record, saying the stars want to follow “in the footsteps of thousands of music, comedy and sports legends”.

“Being a great venue isn't something you can promise, you have to deliver, and we've been delivering terrifying experiences to generations of fans for decades,” they said.

The launch of Co-op Live comes six months after the opening of another major Manchester venue, the £240m Aviva Studios.

Meanwhile, small, struggling music venues looked on with envy at the boom in large halls.

“Aggressive” campaign.

Popular venues have made loud calls for arenas to give them a lifeline, with the Music Venue Trust (MVT) calling for £1 from every arena ticket to go to the pubs and clubs where many future headliners cut their teeth.

“All our big stars in the UK have come from popular music venues,” MVT chief executive Mark David told BBC Radio 5 Live this week. He said the major operators then earned “a lot of money” from those acts, and it was “frankly unbelievable” that they could not contribute “a small sum” such as £1 a ticket.

Rhoden says he's “fully aware that it's a hot topic” and that Co-op Live “embraces the conversation.” But he believes donating £1 for every ticket sold to the stadium is “too simplistic”.

He suggests the government should provide more assistance to popular venues, and says the talent problems extend to more than just these small venues. He says many new acts are now making their names on social media or television.

While acknowledging the financial pressures facing small venues, he adds that some are poorly managed and there is no robust system in place to determine who will get support.

Roden says the new arena will give £1 million a year to the charity the Co-op Foundation, which helps a range of causes, and will work with smaller venues on things like training.

“If the conversation stops being ‘give me a pound’ and quite aggressive – if it changes to ‘what can we do together to help?’, then I think that's where we start to get into the apprenticeship conversation and all those different things that we want to work through.” .

“We have a list of ideas that we are currently shaping, and I think once we are open for six months or a year, we will be able to really add something very important to the grassroots ecosystem in Manchester.”