The Changing Nature of Arenas

August 4, 2014

The first decade of the Twenty First Century saw major changes in the music industry which directly affected the way people accessed popular music. The result was the decline in dominance of record companies and the ascent of live music performances and merchandise sales as the predominant revenue stream for many of the world most popular performers. While the introduction of portable music devices and peer to peer technology was largely responsible for the decline in album and single sales, it was the by-product of this technology which seemed to have made the most impact. The freedom of access to music reduced the exclusivity of owning music and created a more divergent music market, where audiences aspired to find the latest sounds. The unique experience of the new was often more sought after than the quality of music. This pursuit for the unique experience has ultimately driven the greatest change, particularly in the developing markets within Asia, with a growing middle class hungry for entertainment at a global scale.

This growing demand in Asia and, to a lesser extent, Europe has generated an evolution in arena design itself. The operational and technical demands of live music events, whether it’s children’s entertainment or  popular music concerts, is driving the design and development  of a new type of facility to replace  the traditional sport-centric arena model. Understanding how this new type of arena operates and planning for its specific requirements for adaptability and flexibility is the key to unlocking the potential of tomorrow’s arenas. They will be configured to suit the desired atmosphere of the artist, provide the best experience for the audience, and create successful and viability facilities for operators.

The biggest change for the next generation of arena design is the fundamental differences between sports floor and stage performance events.  By optimising the facility to accommodate the greatest number of occurring events, rather than for the greatest number of potential events, many of the operational expenses and shortcomings, standard pitfalls for arena operation, can be avoided. This includes minimizing event turnaround times, allowing for a more full event calendar with reduced staffing requirements, decreasing lost seating to the rear stage area, and  enabling a greater capacity during the majority of events. It means more of the audience will be in the most desired location, without the maintenance expense of unsold seats and underutilised washroom and food and beverage offerings.

Similarly, many shows now have  longer runs, with artists performing in the same venue for multiple nights, and so backstage areas are starting to shift away from the traditional handful of small generic unfinished dressing rooms to spaces which are more conducive and comfortable, with ample facilities for technical crew and support staff.  Equally, increases in stage and ancillary spaces are already occurring to allow for a greater variety of show. As touring shows increase in size and complexity, so too the requirements increase to provide safe and readily accessible rigging and technical areas.

However, it is in the patron experience where there is the greatest potential in the next generation of arena design. Front of house offerings to patrons will become more varied, providing more intimate and unique spaces. Generic concourses  now become  a destination, providing patrons with a variety of engaging experiences, from  pre-booked dining options to a variety of exclusive lounge spaces. These  are offered during  and, just as importantly both before or after the event, enticing patrons to arrive earlier and stay longer to savour in the experience of the show for longer.

Populous has already experienced this shift from the multipurpose sporting arenas to primarily live music event based designs in both the O2 Dublin and Leeds arena and is currently expanding on this suite of ground breaking arena designs with the Philippine Arena in Manila and the Theatre at Darling Harbour Live in Sydney.  However, the evolving requirements and changing potential and opportunities of the next generation of arenas are still to be fully exploited and the shift away from providing the generic sports facilities has proven complex. The new demands that live music performances place on arenas is evolving rapidly as live shows are becoming increasingly technically and physically demanding.


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