Co-op Live licence application sees ASM, OVG resume battle

Featured image credit: Co-op Live

Oak View Group (OVG) and ASM Global, the respective operators of Co-op Live and AO Arena, have resumed battle over the development of the new venue for Manchester, as OVG seeks to secure a licence ahead of its official opening in April.

A two-day hearing into the licence application for Co-op Live came to a close yesterday (Thursday), with proceedings proving to be another verbal sparring match between OVG and ASM. The development of a second major arena for Manchester had seen the two rival companies at loggerheads throughout the planning phase.

ASM had strongly opposed OVG’s plans and lodged a formal objection to the proposal back in June 2020. Earlier this week, it was announced that comedian Peter Kay will be the first act to play at the new 23,500-capacity venue on April 23.

Co-op Live will be the largest arena in the UK when it opens. The venue had been due to stage its first event in 2023, but last June the opening date was pushed back until April 2024. Co-op Live is being built at a cost of £365m (€426m/$460m) and is a joint venture between OVG and City Football Group, parent company of Manchester City. It will form part of the Etihad Campus, which houses City’s Etihad Stadium.

In December, Co-op Live’s application for a licence that would allow operating hours to extend until the early hours of the morning drew strong opposition from local councillors, who claimed the move was not in the “spirit of the relationship” developed between both sides.

At this week’s hearing, lawyers for OVG and ASM traded barbs, with the former company electing to make a late change to a proposal regarding operating hours. According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Co-op Live previously requested to open 24/7 on 25 occasions every year in what was viewed as an attempt to stage boxing and mixed martial arts events that would be suitable for a US TV audience.

This was more than double the originally applied for 12 occasions, with Gary Grant, representing ASM, stating: “We say trying to more than double that is simply unlawful. The general public has never been consulted on 25 24/7 events. It’s wrong in fact, morally, and in law.”

Instead of 25 opportunities to host a 24-hour event, Co-op Live is now said to have asked for 12, with a further 13 opportunities to open the 23,500-capacity auditorium until 4am GMT. ASM is reported to have accepted OVG’s proposals to keep the main Co-op Live venue open until midnight, but is said to have opposed a bid to keep its ‘ancillary spaces’ open until 2am at the weekend.

“It’s the equivalent of the night time economy the size of somewhere like (Manchester suburb) Didsbury inserted into a place with very little night time economy,” said Grant. “There’s a famous Mike Tyson quote that says ‘everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face’. The same is true of (Co-op Live’s) dispersal policy. Humans will go where they want to.”

Grant added ASM believed it was “important that when a new arena comes in” that Manchester’s nightlife “reputation is not damaged”. He continued: “That’s the risk if too much flexibility is given to Co-op Live in a residential location.”

In response, Jeremy Phillips, representing Co-op Live, reiterated claims that ASM has been seeking to prevent competition in the Manchester events space. Phillips said: “The (AO) Arena has taken every opportunity to restrict the proposal before you. Mr Grant complained that the attack on his clients and (ASM-appointed expert) Dr Hadfield ‘does not bode well for good neighbourliness’.

“There’s a saying about pots and kettles. It would be clear to the committee that it was not us that started any animosity to the Arena, or tried to strangle this venture from the outset. I accept entirely that AO is entitled to comment on the application. All that I ask is they be open and transparent about their motivation and admit fundamentally (this is) only about trade protection.”

Phillips continued: “It’s wholly a trade objection to add restrictive conditions to our licence. If they had acknowledged the position and said ‘we are struggling financially and because of that, the arrival of these premises will impact on how we operate’, that would be a different thing. None of that is being done. That’s being done through a residential objection.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service said a formal decision on Co-op Live’s licence application is due to be released within five working days.