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Swansea Arena hosted fewer performances than expected in opening year

28 Feb 2023 4 minute read
Photo Ian Leach

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

Swansea Arena has hosted fewer performances than expected in its first year but ticket sales and demand for conferences have been strong, its operator has said.

Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) has put on 56 performances and sold 105,000 tickets since opening last March. A further 85 conferences, seminars and other corporate events have been held, taking the total figure to 141 events.

ATG run the venue on behalf of Swansea Council, which provided the figures in a written response to a question by councillors from the Uplands Party.

The response said 21 of the 56 performances were sold out, including a concert by rock star Alice Cooper, the Jersey Boys show and several high-profile comedians. Average ticket sales, it said, were 80%.

When ATG applied for a licence for the arena in 2021, it envisaged 100 performances in the first year, 115 in the second and 125 in the third. The council has previously given differing numbers for the total number of performances and events at the venue, ranging from 160 to 221 per year. In 2019 it said it expected some 230,000 arena visitors per year.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked ATG and the council about the up-to-date performance and event numbers, whether they expected 115 and 125 events to be held in years two and three, and whether the 105,000 tickets sold thus far was in line with expectations.

Business plan

An ATG spokesman said: “At our licensing hearing we quoted the figure from the business plan we put forward during the tender process in 2017 as an example model of how a ‘business as usual’ year would look at that point in time.

“As you will appreciate, the industry landscape has changed considerably since then for many reasons – there are fewer artists currently touring, the rising costs of those tours and the productions that go along with this.

“Although performance numbers were down, the quality of the artist and the overall strength of the programming has been much higher than anticipated, as shown by the number of artists who have included us on large-scale arena tour schedules.

“Incidentally, occupancy across the entire programme has been much higher than expected, with a solid majority of events selling out, and there has been such an incredibly high demand for shows – the likes of Hollywood Vampires, Michael McIntyre, Paul Smith and Russell Howard, for example – that in some cases the response has caused artists to add additional dates.”

He added that the demand for conferences and corporate events at the 3,500-capacity arena had exceeded expectations.

The spokesman continued: “Apart from some unexpected factors such as the increase in utility costs and some construction delays, we are on track with our projected ticket sales and visitor numbers for year one.

“Our performance numbers are in line with established venues of a similar size for this financial year, which makes us feel confident that we have been recognised as a valuable inclusion on tour routing in our first year.”

Arena Swansea image by Richard Youle

ATG operates more than 50 theatres and arenas in Europe, mostly in the UK, and manages venues in the USA. It also produces shows and runs theatre ticketing websites.

The arena cost around £48 million to build and was part of the £135 million Copr Bay regeneration project, which includes a coastal park, flats, commercial units, a bridge and multi-storey car park. The council borrowed money to finance Copr Bay and is getting £26 million back through various grants, including a chunk of regional City Deal funding.

Entertainer Max Boyce, comedians Jimmy Carr and Russell Howard, and Welsh heavy metal band Bullet For My Valentine are among those performing at the arena over the next five weeks.

Referring to expected performance numbers for the coming 12 months, the ATG spokesman said: “Year two onwards remains to be determined, with tours still moving and slotting in across all genres, however we are forecasted to improve on this year’s performance and show the expected growth in line with the first five years of a new business.”

The council did not comment as it said the questions related directly to events held at the arena.

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