AO Arena looks to next 30 years after £50m investment
Bosses at the arena are confident the future is bright for the city centre stalwart despite the looming threat of a rival venue across the city.
ASM Global, the company that operates the AO Arena, is close to completing a £50m upgrade of the guest and artist experience, aimed at futureproofing the venue for the next 30 years.
The scheme is the largest investment in the venue since it opened in 1995 and includes The Mezz, a restaurant concept from acclaimed chefs Simon Rogan and Tom Barnes.
The project, ASM hopes, will cement the venue’s status as Manchester’s premier destination for large events after a testing few years.
In 2020, the AO Arena was trying to come to terms with the chaos wrought by the pandemic, which his the events business harder than most.
But that was not the only thing troubling ASM – plans for a modern arena in Eastlands that threatened to undermine the AO were being worked up.
ASM was an outspoken critic of Oak View Group’s project, claiming that Manchester could not support two large arenas. That the demand simply was not there.
When the Eastlands arena – now known as Co-op Live – was approved, an ASM spokesperson said the project would have a “significantly adverse impact” on the AO and the wider city centre.
While that remains to be seen – Co-op Live does not open for another few months – ASM’s attitude towards its rival has softened in the last three years.
Chris Bray, European president of ASM Global, told Place North West that the AO Arena is “really well-prepared” to thrive in spite of Co-op Live.
Bray, who joined ASM after the two-arena saga had died down, has a different view of how the new venue will impact the existing one.
“There is more than enough content for two arenas here in the city,” he said. “Competition is good, it raises our game.
“Manchester is a powerhouse. It is the music capital of the world. I moved here two years ago and I have seen nothing but growth.”
Bray is not the only one who is confident about the AO Arena’s place in the market.
White goods retailer AO, which became the naming rights sponsor for the arena in 2020, has extended the deal until 2030 after the venue’s best-ever year in terms of visitor numbers.
With the opening of a shiny new destination in the east of the city just around the corner, ASM will be hoping the £50m invested in the AO ensures its appeal endures.
The AO Arena now has competition but there are two things the elder statesman will always have going for it: legacy and location.
“We are right in the centre of the city,” Bray said.
“You can’t build history, that grows over time. It has been an amazing venue over 30 years and this investment is going to set it up for another 30 years.”