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EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Coca-Cola Arena’s diversity goal

Four months on from its official opening, Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena set another first last weekend as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) held a ‘Back in Dubai’ spectacle at the 17,000-capacity venue.

The occasion marked the first-ever sporting event at the multi-purpose venue, which officially opened its doors to the public with a performance by Canadian comedian Russell Peters on June 6 before a sell-out show by US band Maroon 5 on June 14.

The first and largest fully air-conditioned, multi-purpose indoor arena in the Middle East, and the only arena to operate year-round in the region, Coca-Cola Arena is situated within the urban lifestyle destination of City Walk.

Owned by Dubai-based developer Meraas, Coca-Cola Arena is operated by ASM Global, the global facility management and venue services company formed earlier this month through the merger between Onex-owned venue management services company SMG and AEG Facilities, the venue management subsidiary of sports and entertainment giant AEG.

Coca-Cola Arena CEO Guy Ngata told TheStadiumBusiness how the venue will seek to deliver on its pledge to revolutionise the live events industry in Dubai and the Middle East.

TheStadiumBusiness: How does Coca-Cola Arena raise the bar in terms of design for the arena market in the MENA region, and globally?

Guy Ngata: “Coca-Cola Arena is the first of its kind in the MENA region in bringing to market a large-scale indoor arena that is purpose built for live entertainment and something that hasn’t been witnessed in Dubai before. Being able to enjoy a fully climatised indoor multi-purpose arena in Dubai is both necessary due to the climate conditions of the region and exciting for fans as it opens up the door for live events to continue through the summer months. In our opening summer we saw some of the biggest names in entertainment perform, which Dubai wouldn’t have witnessed before with large-scale venues traditionally being located outside.

“In terms of design, Coca-Cola Arena is a world first in many ways. The venue owner, Meraas, have shown a great vision in building the arena and to take it to market has been very rewarding.

Our roof design incorporates a state-of-the-art catwalk rigging system which cuts load in and load out times greatly. The roof weight load capacity is 190 metric tonnes, meaning the biggest productions in the world can be easily accommodated, as well as creating a really streamlined process for events coming into the building.”

TSB: Tell us a bit more about the ability of Coca-Cola Arena to stage events of varying sizes and the flexibility of the venue…

GN: “The bowl incorporates one of the most efficient and robust retractable seating systems in the world, providing quick turnarounds for back-to-back events and flexible configurations. The RGBW house lighting and permanent sports lighting systems are one of the first of their kind in the world, allowing for full colour change and patterns that can be utilised for all events whilst our permanent in-house PA JBL Professional Line Array system provides clients with a quality audio system. It is a fully functioning system that provides ample audio coverage for sporting events and end-stage concerts.

“If a live touring production were to bring in its own audio set-up using preferred rider equipment, the JBL system is still used for PA/VA. The main PA comprises two hangs of JBL VTX A12’s, 18 boxes flown either side of the stage, plus two side hangs consisting of 12 cabinets. To provide low-end frequency, there are eight JBL VTX S28 subwoofers flown per side, and a further eight are groundstacked under the stage.

“The drape reduction systems which operate at the touch of a button provide flexibility to scale the venue to the exact needs of the production, whilst the venue has a permanent broadcast infrastructure, extensive VIP BOH and BOH facilities and a fully covered loading dock to accommodate large international events. As we look to cater for a huge number of genres and cultures, having the capability to quickly turn around the venue to different setups is of extreme importance.”

TSB: Dubai is home to countless spectacular buildings and structures. How will Coca-Cola Arena make a visual impact?

GN: “The facade of the building is made up of 4,600 LEDs which really help to create that beacon of live entertainment. In a city which has an abundance of the world’s most iconic buildings, Coca-Cola Arena really stands out as a venue which draws people to it both on non-event days and event days.

“The arena creates a really great atmosphere inside and again, with the trend historically in the region of large-scale concerts taking place outside, it is a great addition to Dubai’s venue offering to be able to provide that environment where productions and atmospheres can reach their full potential housed in an arena that is built to cater for those aspects.

“Coca-Cola Arena is also the first large-scale entertainment venue that has a voice across multiple platforms. With the tradition in the region of temporary structures being erected to cater for concerts, in the past the fan experience that an arena provides hasn’t been witnessed. So, having that voice where we can communicate with patrons and performers across social media has been a huge change in what fans would have experienced before. It means we can build a personality for Coca-Cola Arena, which is a great way to connect to our visitors.”

TSB: What have been the challenges encountered during the first four months of operation and how have these been overcome?

GN: “Bringing a large-scale arena to market in the location Coca-Cola Arena is situated in was always going to present us with challenges, but also opportunities for positive change. Dubai had become accustomed to large-scale venues being located at out-of-town greenfield sites and locations that could only be reached by car and not surrounded by infrastructure.

“Coca-Cola Arena, however, is in an already thriving part of the city located in the urban lifestyle development, City Walk by Meraas, which provides an array of food and beverage options, entertainment and leisure attractions.

“A key strategy for the arena was to change the way in which people consumed live entertainment. Educating a market that driving isn’t a preferred option to reach the arena is a consistent message we use as we try and change the habits of patrons using cars to get to shows due to the history of having to get to out-of-town sites. Our location in City Walk is a perfect precinct to enjoy both before and post shows and we are working hard to ensure it will become a huge part of a patron’s arena experience.”

TSB: How have visitors reacted to the arena? 

GN: “Through our opening shows we have seen a really positive change in the way patrons are using the arena as the hub of their experience, whilst also taking in what else the location offers. Footfall into the heart of City Walk before and after a show is around 60% of the arena’s audience whilst many others are travelling on Dubai Metro. As the arena establishes itself into the market more and more, these habits will only strengthen.

“Dubai Metro has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of operations and we are working closely with the network to make travel to and from the arena on Dubai Metro as seamless as possible. That means good signage, good brand messaging and a simple journey from station to arena. It sounds simple, but the experience of visiting the arena starts with that decision to buy a ticket.

“We want to be ever present in that customer’s journey, from booking a ticket to enjoying the show and getting home instead of being an invisible entity, which has been the norm for many previous show experiences in the market.”

TSB: Looking forward, what kind of strategy will you be adopting in terms of bidding for sports and entertainment events?

GN: “Within our opening few months we have shown a snapshot of the diversity of content which will be the mentality we wish to continue with. Since opening in June, we have seen everything from western pop/rock with Maroon 5 and Westlife, to name just two, to the PBA bringing in-season league basketball games to the building in October and comedy from Russell Peters.

“We have also announced Why Not! Mazzika – a hugely popular Arabic music festival and a number of Bollywood shows. Lara Fabian has also been added to the bill, which caters for a different audience yet again. It is important that we remember the vast amount of cultures we are serving. It’s not just a case of having western concert after western concert, we are committed to providing content to all audiences.

“Being such a new concept in the region and the first large-scale venue in the region that has a voice, instead of a non-descript temporary location, Coca-Cola Arena has that desire to really spearhead the industry in the region. Of course, we work with the big global promotors such as AEG Presents and Live Nation to bring content to the building, but it’s also about the venue supporting local events and promotors such as Done Events and Book My Show as we look to grow the live entertainment industry in this part of the world.

“A case in point is Coca-Cola Arena’s partnership with Book My Show – a well-established entertainment company in the sub-continent, but breaking into the market as a promotor and a ticketing platform in the UAE. It’s our job to support them and encourage their growth in the region and to provide the platform for promotors and our partners to prosper is vitally important and something we are very pleased to be doing.”

TSB: What have been the demographic profiles of the visitors to the arena so far?

GN: “The great aspect of Dubai as a home city for the arena is that a huge mix of nationalities are on our doorstep, as well as those within a short flight away for incoming visitors. Coca-Cola Arena has picked up the name amongst patrons as ‘the people’s arena’ in its short history – a hub of live entertainment where everyone is welcome and everyone can experience a live show together.

“Because of that we have seen a huge amount of diversity in our audiences for shows since opening, which has been really pleasing to see. Maroon 5 (pictured above) sold out the venue and the mix of 17,000 patrons was made up of many nationalities including a huge Filipino fan base, local nationals and western concert-goers. We also saw that around 20% of the audience had travelled in from other countries highlighting the venue becoming a real hub of live entertainment in the region.”

TSB: Looking to the future, where do you see the arena in five years’ time?

GN: “Coca-Cola Arena is uniquely positioned in the world. The city in which we are located is home to a rich and diverse set of cultures and nationalities and Dubai itself is within a four-hour flight from over a third of the world’s population. That creates a fantastic opportunity for Coca-Cola Arena to become one of the world’s most diverse arenas and that is something we are striving for with the content that comes into the building. Having that diversity and becoming a heartbeat of live entertainment in the region as we move forwards is very exciting for fans and creating a live entertainment venue for everyone is something which we are very passionate about.

“It is a very exciting time in Dubai as the city strives towards its Tourism Vision 2020, while Expo 2020 is fast approaching. Looking even further ahead, Dubai is a city that thrives off live events and entertainment. For Coca-Cola Arena to be an integral part of the city’s growth from a visitation aspect, and ingrained in residents and tourists lives as the must-visit live entertainment destination in the region, is where we are aiming.”

Images: Coca-Cola Arena