STRONG TEAM: On hand for the topping out of Co-Op Live in Manchester, England, were Gary Roden, left, Co-Op Live executive director and general manager; Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham; Ferran Soriano, CEO of City Football Group), Co-Op Live Director of Marketing Communications Amanda Jennings; and James Wimpenny, executive director, BAM Construction. (Courtesy venue)

Leiweke: ‘This Is Going To Change Our Industry Forever’

Oak View Group, parent company of VenuesNow and Pollstar, held the topping out ceremony July 5 for its next big arena project, Co-op Live in Manchester, England. 

With roughly ten months left until the scheduled opening in April 2024, there was already a lot to see, and most guests could be seen craning their necks to take in the vastness of the space.

It was the construction workers who OVG CEO Tim Leiweke mentioned first when addressed the crowd. Without them this impressive structure couldn’t have been realized, particularly during years of economic and political adversity. “Thank you to the construction team, and to the workers for building the greatest arena ever built in Europe and the UK,” he said.

For Leiweke, the visionary behind the $464 million project, it marks an auspicious return to the UK, where, 15 years ago, he opened another building, the O2 London, which went on to become the world’s busiest arena. 

Compared to opening The O2 in 2007, developing Co-op Live provides Leiweke with another proud moment, Leiweke told Pollstar on site.

“It’s an emotional one for me, because I’ve spent so much time falling in love with the UK. I’ve always said, ‘Man, when somebody comes to Manchester, and builds a world-class arena, it will be the greatest arena ever built, and the people will flock to it.’ So, when we started our company seven years ago, I looked at everybody, and said, ‘we’re going to go to Manchester, we’re going to find a piece of land, and we’re going to build the greatest arena in Europe.”

The land was found on Etihad Campus, home of Manchester City, Europe’s most successful soccer club at the moment. It was Ferran Soriano, CEO of City Football Group, Man U’s ownership group, who decided to lease the land to OVG.

“They looked at what we were building and said ‘we’ll be your partner,’ and put up half the money,” Leiweke said.

That’s because OVG’s and CFG’s visions aligned perfectly, Soriano said.

“It feels like many years ago now, when Tim and I started to talk about this,” he said, “Several times, I said to our people within Manchester City and City Football Group, ‘you don’t truly get what this is. You will be blown away when you see the magnitude of what we’re trying to do. ‘As I got in today, I was blown away myself.”

Soriano talked about how CFG was developing the football club, as well as the facilities around it, including the stadium, which is about to receive a 10,000-capacity expansion.

“This project is not built in isolation,” Soriano said, “It is built in the context of everything else that is going here. We will we develop hotels, food and beverage, other entertainment venues, and this whole area is going to be an entertainment district open every day of the year.”

Another investor in the project is Harry Styles, who grew up in Manchester, and designed the back of house himself. Add naming rights partner Co-op, which made their first foray into the world of live entertainment in one of the most challenging economic and political environments in recent history, and there’s a strong team that has made it possible to build the venue privately, without asking for a penny of public money.

Co-op Live General Manager Gary Roden said he had given multiple promoters and industry experts hardhat tours. “They all have been amazed by this venue,” he said. “They said they’ve never seen anything quite like this, because we’ve created something completely unique here, the way that entertainment should be for the future.”

See: Co-op Live Manchester Is Open For Bookings

It’s a future that will rely on new talent coming through as they build their careers from the ground up, able to fill Co-op Live’s 23,500 maximum capacity.

The building will feature multiple performance spaces for up-and-coming acts, which was a topic close to the heart of Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

“I’ve got a thing called Mayor’s Artist of the Month, where I pick Manchester acts and give them a bit of a profile every month,” Burnham said. “Some of them will play on those stages dotted around the place on a big night. Sometimes, I think we’re a bit guilty of trading on past glories in Manchester, but we’re all looking too much toward the past. We’ve got to look to the future, and I love the fact that this place will bring on the Manchester music of the future, and all of those young performers will get their place in here as well.”

ON TOP IN MANCHESTER: Amanda Jennings, Co-op Live’s director of marketing communications, addresses guests at the arena’s topping out ceremony. (Courtesy venue)

One message that all speakers aimed to bring home was the fact that the project, despite its international appeal, chiefly benefited the local community of Greater Manchester. As Leiweke put it, “This is for Manchester by Manchester and of Manchester. We are made up of Manchester companies, small and large; 90% of what you will ultimately eat and drink in this building will come from people that grow and produce within this region.”

James Wimpenny, executive director of BAM, the arena’s general contractor, said about 80% of the construction work has been done by local businesses. About $200 million of the funding put into this arena has been spent in the local community.

“Alongside our team at BAM, we welcomed 386 local suppliers, 40% of which have been based within five miles of this development, and a further 36% from the Greater Manchester area,” Wimpenny said.  

Aside from the many jobs it created, Wimpenny was particularly happy about the 96 apprentices that got their first taste of the construction business. “A heartfelt thank you to everybody from BAM, I know, it’s been a tough couple of years, not the easiest of economic environments. Thank you, everybody, for all the work that you put in getting us to this point. I’m sure we’ll be here in April, having another celebration when we open the venue.”