MANCHESTER ARENA RENAMED THE AO ARENA
ASM Global wants to start a £100m redevelopment of the arena

ASM: city centre’s future at stake as arena decision looms

Dan Whelan

The company that operates the newly rebranded AO Arena has called on the city council to reject proposals for a second large arena in Manchester and “protect” the existing venue and city centre.

Speaking to Place North West, Tom Lynch, business development director of ASM Global, said: “We hope the [planning] committee will look at the overwhelming lack of a market case for two arenas of this size in Manchester, particularly with one being out of town. 

“The existing arena is one of the most successful in the world. It is in the heart of the city and it is a huge institution in concerts worldwide and we need to protect its future.” 

Plans for a £350m rival arena, which would be built in Eastlands close to Manchester City FC’s Etihad Stadium, have been put forward by US-based stadium developer Oak View Group and recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers. 

OVG claims there is sufficient demand in the live entertainment sector for Manchester to support a second venue, based on the findings of a report it commissioned by Amion Consulting and the Audience Agency, which predicted that there would be an additional 2.5 million annual arena visits by 2035 – representing threefold growth from now.  

However, Lynch cited separate analyses by two different consultancies – Charles River Associates, and Grant Thornton and Oxford Economics – that he said depicted growth forecasts significantly lower than OVG’s predictions – somewhere in the order of 5% growth between now and 2035. 

OVG Eastlands Arena

The Eastlands arena is being developed by Oak View Group

He told Place North West: “You don’t need to be an analyst or an economist to know that [OVG’s projection] is highly unusual and very unrealistic, and our concern is that the council’s decision may be taken on the basis of flawed analysis.” 

As well as the future of its own arena, which has been closed since March due to Covid-19 restrictions, ASM Global also expressed concerns about the health of the city centre in general, adding that an “out-of-town” venue would take footfall away from the city centre. 

“OVG claims that people will still eat and drink in the city centre, but it is clear that very few people are going to arrive at Piccadilly Station, come into the city centre – which is coming away from Eastlands Arena – and then go to a show there,” he said.  

“It is just not how people interact with the leisure experience. They don’t walk away from their destination.” 

Investment trust Secure Income REIT bought the AO Arena from investor Mansford Estates for £436m in 2018, and ASM Global has 25 years left on its lease. 

The arena had been without a sponsor since 2015 when its previous sponsor mobile phone retailer Phones4u went bust. On the same day the AO sponsorship deal was signed, ASM Global lodged plans for the first phase of its planned £100m redevelopment of the venue, intended to increase its capacity to 24,000 people. 

“The plans represent our ambition for the next stage of the journey,” Lynch said. “We are very proud to have been part of the Manchester music and entertainment scene for the last 25 years, and we want to be here for another 25 years providing world class live entertainment experiences.” 

Arena Feedback

Feedback from a consultation into AO Arena’s redevelopment plans

However, ASM’s plans, designed by architect HOK, would not be viable if OVG’s are approved, he claimed.  

“If another arena was built in Manchester, our current business, between 130 –150 events a year, is going to be divided between the two venues which will have adverse consequences on our ability to invest in the redevelopment but also the ability for the arena to operate in the long term due to our rental commitments,” Lynch said. 

A consultation on the redevelopment proposals, which include the overhaul of the Hunts Bank entrance opposite Cheetham’s School of Music, among other features garnered 6,800 responses, 94% of which were in favour of the proposals, according to ASM. 

“People want to see a safe and secure venue in the heart of the city centre and that is what we aim to provide,” Lynch added. 

ASM has also questioned the transport strategy drawn up by OVG and says people will rely heavily on cars to get there due to its location outside the city centre and a relative lack of public transport infrastructure in the immediate vicinity, whereas the existing arena has “full integration with public transport and is walkable from both train stations”. 

The plans for OVG’s Eastlands arena are to be debated by Manchester City Council on Thursday. The company argues that its proposed 23,500-capacity arena, designed by Populous architects, would “support the growth of East Manchester as a thriving community and world-leading sporting and leisure destination”.

In deciding whether to approve the OVG arena plans, the council will have to weigh up the potential of a second arena to negatively impact a 25-year-old Manchester institution, against the promise of additional investment from OVG in a different part of the city. 

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One of the most successful stadiums in the world yet you chose to underinvest in it for years. Get this new arena built the competition will be great for the region.

By Bob

Great this cannot go ahead

By Anonymous

A second arena in Eastlands will not harm the city centre. AO Arena are simply trying to stop competition. Gosh, they may have to renovate and update their concrete box and actually make an attempt to attract people to it. The real threat to the inner city are people working from home. Now that’s going to kill the city centre before the new arena even finished

By EOD

I cannot help but feel that if it was not for sports and large concert events, Manchester would get only a fraction of the visitors it enjoys today. I would press on with this stadium and build on strength as Manchester is not a typical tourist hot spot, unlike say Liverpool or Edinburgh.

By Liverpool romance

If the current stadium were to close, it would be useless for anything other than a mass multi billion pound redevelopment of and around Victoria.

Do I think the council will decline to approve these plans?…

By Mike

If an arena out of town on a former wasteland takes business away from the city center with its “world class arena” and “second to none dining offer” then you might as well board up and go home.

By Harry

The Arena in Victoria is grim. It may attract a lot of huge names but from the outside it looks like a car park. It would be better to start afresh and redevelop the current one, with something more fitting with the arena’s recent history.

By Elephant

ASM have spent nothing on the arena, but made millions out of it. Now there could be some competitionion, they suddenly want to redevelop the arena. What a surprise! And they want to stop another Manchester arena being built. All ASM are worried about is the possible loss of revenue. Self interest, nothing more. Manchester *can* sustain 2 arenas. I hope the council approve the new arena. And ASM respond by finally investing and updating the AO Arena. 2 world-class arenas in Manchester. Manchester wins!

By jrb

I have said it before, where is the business case for two arena’s, competing for the same business? It doesnt matter on this scale if they are five miles apart, the big bands / acts wont go to both, they will chose one over the other. The promotors will put ‘their’ bands where they will get the best deal. There may be some additional bands, but it’ll become the battle of the stadia.

By Anonymous

Get the new arena built – healthy competition, elevated city status and regeneration of wasteland…

By Stuart

Chronic underinvestment for years in this very run down venue and they come up with this! Get the new venue built, if they can’t compete then close down and move out.

By Nve

Other cities support 2 large venues. I really find the whinging from the men arena ppl embarrassing. Can’t believe we still deliberating over this. Build it, the punter/consumer wins.

By Robert Fuller

There has been years of under investment in the existing arena with the owners taking customers for granted and they now have the cheek to object to some competition. Get the new arena built it will be good for the city and the North West.

By Monty

This would be disastrous for the city centre. Printworks and Corn Exchange could end up being boarded up such is their reliance on the events at the Arena and it’s clear the current arena would struggle to attract events

By Dan

As the new Arena is proposed to be very versatile, it wouldn’t surprise if they intend to target the smaller markets which the Liverpool M&S and Leeds arenas currently cater for.

By Anon

If the new proposed arena was a direct rival then, in the ensuing battle, I think the existing arena would come off worst.

I get the feeling it could be the beginning of the end for the AO. Could end up as a real second-choice venue if it survives at all.

By North by North-West

Don’t cities that have a great reputation for food have err… lots of great restaurants, don’t cities with a great reputation for live entertainment have err… lots of great entertainment venues. This isn’t a zero-sum game, it probably grows Manchester as a regional entertainment hub, even if its an initial challenge for the AO. The reality is vibrant markets segment the offer, they will find a market.

By Rich X

Anyone who has watched the recent Manctopia documentary will know that the City of Manchester is growing exponentially and the surrounding towns will hang on to it’s shirt tails.Just get on and build this magnificent arena and people will come.There is a need for a world class venue like this in the City.Other venues will raise their game to compete.

By Peter Chapman

Having now read the planning application that goes to Manchester Planning Committee today the existing Arena have put forward a pathetic case against the new Arena proposal. It is naked self interest – they not being prepared to face up to competition with a new world class Arena.

As for the arguments that this will damage the city centre hospitality industry – I think (unfortunately) there are bigger challenges out there right now – when built a second Arena will drive footfall to the city centre.

As for the existing Arena reduce the capacity to 10,000 and radically improve its offering!!

By Anonymous