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Interview

£50m revamp will keep AO Arena at ‘cutting edge’ as Manchester market hots up

Images: ASM Global

ASM Global, the operator of AO Arena, is confident that the ongoing renovation project at the Manchester venue will enable the facility to stay at the “cutting edge” of live entertainment amid the impending  competition from rival venue Co-op Live.

In April, ASM Global unveiled a £50m (€57.4m/$59.8m) plan to transform  the 21,000-capacity arena, with work already underway. The revamp focuses on “state-of-the-art” infrastructure expansion and innovative  guest features.

The upgrades at AO Arena, a previous winner of TheStadiumBusinessAwards‘ ‘Venue of the Year’ award, are designed to enhance the experience for guests and performers alike. The works are scheduled for completion by next autumn.

“We’re increasing the venue capacity, as the AO Arena remains one of the  largest indoor arenas in the UK,” says Marie Lindqvist, senior vice-president of operations for ASM Global in Europe.

“We are also adding new hospitality lounges including the recently completed Beautiful North – an exclusive members-only super suite complete with its own private bar, food service and unrivalled views of the stage.

“The customer experiences will be completely reimagined, with brand-new arena entrances to welcome guests to the venue, and new food and drink offerings, as well as using the latest in-venue technology and transforming the concourse experience.

“AO Arena’s back-of-house will be dramatically upgraded with a complete overhaul of the backstage experience for artists, production and crew. This includes new artist dressing rooms and production areas, a  world-class green room with meet and greet facilities, an overhaul of crew catering, and first-class connectivity and technology.”

Major upgrades to the arena’s backstage are nearing completion, with the finishing touches currently being added. The area has been reimagined to improve the “complete experience” for artists and crew.

A new arena entrance is also being created, while the concourse area is receiving upgrades. Work has been carefully planned to ensure that the arena can remain open for events, with Kendrick Lamar, Florence + the  Machine, Westlife, Peter Kay and Rod Stewart among the acts scheduled to perform before the end of the year.

“There will be technology upgrades at the arena as we look to transform and innovate, to ensure the venue is at the cutting edge of live entertainment and venue technologies,” says Lindqvist. “These upgrades will enhance venue safety and security, as well as improve the customer experience, offering a seamless and swift arrival to the venue.”

Other work being carried out at AO Arena includes upgrades to the venue’s digital signage to elevate the customer journey, while an upgraded website has been launched to engage guests more effectively.

With AO Arena celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2025, Lindqvist confirmed that there will be plans to mark the occasion, with details to be revealed nearer the time.

Before then, Manchester will see the opening of a further venue in the shape of Co-op Live, which counts City Football Group and Harry Styles among its backers. Construction work on the project commenced in May 2021, and the arena is expected to host around 120 events annually.

When asked whether AO Arena and Co-op Live can co-exist, Lindqvist said: “Yes, why not? We have confidence in the city, and in the north-west region and welcome the new arena – there’s room for us all.

“Undoubtedly, Manchester is an exciting market. The AO Arena has been a part of Manchester for almost 30 years, so we understand the city, and have witnessed its continued development and growth first hand.

“ASM Global operates over 350 venues in the UK and beyond and has strong relationships with promoters across many different markets. We put on thousands of shows every year with promoters from the UK, Europe and further afield. With this unparalleled global network, we will continually deliver the very best live experiences for all of our guests across all our venues.”