Co-op Live will have a capacity of 23,500. The $445 million arena is projected to open in 2023. (Courtesy OVG)

U.K. grocery brand signs 15-year deal; sources put value at $125M

Oak View Group has signed a 15-year naming rights deal with Co-op, one of the U.K.’s biggest grocery brands, for its $445 million planned arena in Manchester, England. The total value of the agreement is $125 million, sources said.

The agreement for Co-op Live, the venue’s official title, comes three years before the 23,500-capacity venue is expected to open next to Etihad Stadium, home of Premier League soccer club Manchester City. 

The deal positions Co-op as the arena’s official grocery partner. 

Co-op Live

Co-op Live (lower left in rendering) will be part of a campus adjoining Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. (Courtesy OVG)

The Co-op brand dates to 1863 and its businesses extend to funeral services and insurance. On its own, the grocery co-operative has 5 million to 6 million members across the U.K. and is looking to grow that number, said Amanda Jennings, Co-op’s director of marketing. They pay a minimal membership fee. In turn, members help shape the supermarket’s business and which products are stocked at the 2,775 Co-op stores.

The company, whose headquarters are in Manchester, generated about $12.8 billion in fiscal 2019 among its various lines of business, according to financials published by Dun & Bradstreet. 

“It’s a humble grassroots brand,” Jennings said. “We’re a purpose-driven business. We don’t answer to shareholders but to communities and their well-being. It’s about putting people at the heart of our business.”

Co-op has previously sponsored some music festivals but this is its first naming right deal for a venue. It also marks OVG’s first naming rights agreement overseas, although Sam Piccione, president of OVG International, who spearheaded the deal for arena ownership, completed deals internationally for arenas in China, France and Germany while with AEG. 

Jennings helped put together the deal for Co-op Live. She’s known OVG co-founder and CEO Tim Leiweke for several years. (OVG also owns VenuesNow.)

Jennings worked on naming rights for The O2, a deal signed in 2007 and extended three years ago. At the time, Leiweke ran AEG, which owns the London arena. Jennings was head of partnerships for Telefonica, O2’s parent company. She has been with Co-op since April 2015.

OVG’s first meeting with Co-op took place in December 2018, about the time OVG’s London office opened, Piccione said. The initial conversations occurred a full year before the pandemic struck. The two parties also had to contend with the U.K. exit from the European Union, which occurred Jan. 31 as the result of a 2016 referendum.

A transition period will end when the U.K.-EU relationship begins under new rules with the start of 2021. 

The uncertainty over the financial implications has affected the value of the British pound and created issues over potential employment in the U.K. for those living elsewhere in Europe, Piccione said.

“We had the double whammy with Covid and Brexit and we still got it done,” he said. “We’ve been living with this (Brexit) thing since 2016. It just made things go slower. This deal was very complicated to put together because of the overall environment we are in today.”

As part of its activation, Co-op’s food products will be sold at four locations within a food hall/atrium at the arena, which will serve as the building’s main concessions destination. Vending machines and community-style cafes will also carry the Co-op brand and items, Jennings said. 

“The way people buy and consume food and beverage is important to them,” Piccione said. “They were attracted by our vision of what a new live entertainment venue is going to be. It’s the first arena in Europe built for music.”

To that end, Co-op members receive presale ticket offers, priority access for events, discounts on arena food and drink, and opportunities to win free tickets and backstage VIP experiences. Co-op gets exclusive access to a suite and will have its name on a lounge, Piccione said.

The arena’s exterior will feature two permanent Co-op Live signs as well as digital signs.

The strategy behind not including the word ‘arena’ in the official title was intentional, as OVG wanted to push away from the typical model for developing a public assembly facility, he said. With no sports tenant, the focus is purely on live music.

Co-op Live, designed by Populous, will stand as the U.K.’s biggest indoor venue, with a low roofline and seats 65 feet closer to the stage than at the O2, Piccione said. The lower bowl has 10,000 seats. The total of 27 suites will lend to the intimate feel without stacking multiple levels of suites. There will still be multiple hospitality spaces, including in the upper deck, he said.

“We kept the suites along the sidelines,” Piccione said. “You look across and see a wall of fans and that’s what the artist wants. It will be the largest event floor of any venue in the U.K. We’re putting the bands and the fans first. It will feel like a hot, sweaty concert hall.”   

Earlier this week, the city of Manchester approved the project, clearing the way for construction to start this fall. The site sits a little more than two miles east of ASM Global-managed AO Arena (formerly Manchester Arena), which opened in 1995. It’s about a 20-minute walk between the two buildings, Piccione said.

The Etihad Campus, where the soccer stadium sits and where Co-op Live will be built, is part of a mixed-use district that encompasses a transit station, velodrome, Manchester City’s training academy, a college, office and retail, and other recreational sports facilities.

More developments are planned over the coming years, Piccione said.

“I’m new to Manchester and just getting to know it,” Jennings said. “The biggest difference over London is the people are so down to earth. They love their music and like to let go and have fun. A drive within 2 1/2 hours takes you to Yorkshire, Lancaster, Liverpool and North Wales, down to Birmingham.” 

“That amounts to 10 million to 11 million people,” she said. “We’re ensuring that all people can come to this venue and can afford to come. Membership doesn’t mean exclusivity. It’s about inclusivity. There will be opportunities for those less fortunate, as well as benefits for members.”