Apr 22, 2024 4 min read

Co-op Live GM says grassroots venues are “poorly run”, before cancelling thousands of tickets to test event at the very last minute

Manchester’s big new arena venue, Oak View’s Co-op Live, is due to officially open tomorrow. However, technical problems forced the venue to significantly cut the capacity for a test event on Saturday, which led to lots of angry concert-goers venting on social media

Co-op Live GM says grassroots venues are “poorly run”, before cancelling thousands of tickets to test event at the very last minute

Staff at Manchester's new £325 million arena venue Co-op Live are in a frantic race to have the building ready for its official opening show tomorrow, after technical problems over the weekend meant that thousands of tickets for a test event had to be cancelled at the very last minute. 

Technical issues will happen, of course, though not everyone in the live sector will be particularly sympathetic about these teething problems after the General Manager of the new Oak View Group venue, Gary Roden - when asked about the crisis facing grassroots music venues - said that part of the problem is that some smaller venues are “poorly run”.

“As part of the opening process, we are in the midst of an extensive protocol of testing critical procedures”, an official statement from the venue read, posted just hours before the Rick Astley headlined test event was due to begin. “To enable us to test the spaces effectively, we have made the difficult decision to reduce the overall capacity for today's test event”. 

It was issues with power in the new building, impacting on fire safety and other emergency services communication systems, that forced the capacity for the test event to be slashed, reportedly from 11,000 to 4000.

A spokesperson for the venue told reporters yesterday, “Leading into our test event, some systems had limited electrical power which we were only able to mitigate by reducing capacity. This meant we made the difficult decision to reduce the capacity of our test event and deeply regret the impact this had on our invited guests”. 

Many of those who still got to attend were positive about the event on social media, though there was some criticism too. 

A report in The Business Desk noted that “there were basic problems such as hand driers in the women’s toilets not working. There were long queues in the ground floor marketplace bar area and food court for the free food and drink, and a heavy security presence around the site with fire marshals and safety experts checking and monitoring the systems in place”. 

Back on the social networks, some noted the exorbitant bar prices and one person posted a video that seemed to show exposed cabling and other random kit left in public areas. 

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, many of those who had their tickets cancelled so late in the day expressed their frustrations online, some having already spent money on travel and accommodation, others not finding out about the cancellations until they arrived at the building. Few seemed placated by the promise of free tickets to an upcoming concert by The Black Keys

The venue's spokesperson continued, “We do recognise that many people were inconvenienced yesterday evening at very short notice and apologise to all affected. We're working hard to complete Co-op Live and look forward to welcoming fans and artists to the venue soon”. 

As some defenders of Co-op Live pointed out on social media, a test event is a test event, and people should expect complications due to, well, everything being tested. However, when Peter Kay headlines the first proper show at the venue tomorrow, there will be even more outrage if there are any further technical problems. 

According to a Manchester Evening News report yesterday, Manchester City Council is yet to sign off on the venue because staff are still finishing off the corridors and wiring. The building could still open tomorrow night without that sign off being in place, however, providing Oak View instigates certain mitigations to allay safety concerns, presumably including the extra safety staff who were in situ during the test event. 

Co-op Live is opening at a time when the upper end of live music is booming again, but the grassroots is in crisis and even artists touring mid-sized venues are struggling to break even. This means new arena venues are being built - Oak View Group now says it is in talks to open a new arena in West London - while grassroots venues are closing. 

That has led to a call for the arenas to support grassroots venues, which play a key part in the music industry's talent pipeline, for both on-stage and behind the scenes talent. The Music Venue Trust has proposed that a £1 levy be added to tickets for arena shows that would be distributed through a fund to support venues, promoters and artists operating at the grassroots. 

When asked about that scheme by the BBC, Co-op Live GM Gary Roden said that the MVT levy proposal was “too simplistic”. He added that talent pipeline problems involve more than just small venues and that the government should provide more support, positions which supporters of the MVT levy proposal would likely agree with, except adding that none of that negates the need for the levy. 

Roden acknowledged the financial pressures faced by smaller venues, which operate on much tighter profit margins, meaning they have less room for manoeuvre amid surging production costs and the cost of living crisis. 

However, he then said, there's no “robust system” to decide who would benefit from the levy, and part of the problem is that some grassroots venues are “poorly run”. Which - whatever your view on the levy proposal - you must agree was an unfortunate statement to make ahead of this weekend's debacle.

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