Why Public-Private Partnerships Are Key to Oak View Group’s Global Expansion Plans

The Oak View Group (OVG) will soon enter a key phase of its long-planned pivot to international markets with the opening of Coop Live in Manchester, United Kingdom, next month.

After its record post-pandemic run — which included opening seven arenas in 16 months, including Climate Change Arena in Seattle, UBS Arena in New York and Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs, Calif. — the Tim Lewieke-led management and development company will transition from U.K. venue developer to U.K. venue operator in one of Europe’s largest concert and live entertainment economies.

First Manchester, then the world, says Francesca Leiweke-Bodie, OVG’s COO (and Leiweke’s daughter). She explains the United Kingdom will be the launch point for expanding the company’s private-public partnership model, which looks to government groups to aid in land acquisition in exchange for fully private financing and development work. Leiweke-Bodie says the model is key to driving expansion opportunities into Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where huge gaps in the world’s touring infrastructure prevent popular arena and stadium tours from accessing hundreds of millions of fans.

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Billboard recently caught up with Leiweke-Bodie to discuss the opening of Coop Live and detail OVG’s near-term expansion plans around the globe.

Why did OVG decide to begin their international expansion efforts with the Manchester project?

London and the U.K. have always been a frontrunner for where we as a company want to plant a flag and show the other countries and municipalities that we’re speaking to about public-private partnerships and prove what is possible when the private sector can step in and invest. That doesn’t happen as much overseas, where the market is really heavily driven by municipal financing. Having this project in the U.K., a $375 million privately funded arena with huge community support and more than $1 million going back to the local business — when other potential partners come to Manchester and see what we are doing, there is no doubt that we’re the real deal and will deliver on our promises.

What’s the biggest challenge OVG faces in its efforts to expand internationally?

I think the hardest thing to come by, whether it’s domestically or internationally, is land. We want to build in the urban core. We want to be where the fans want to be — in the city centers. We can do everything else. We’ll build it. We’ll finance it. We’ll book it. We’ll take the risk. But the partnership that we’re always looking for is the land opportunity. Most of these cities are much older than the United States with dense urban cores that we can’t even fathom. To find four or five acres available to build these types of projects with access to public transit is the crux of what we’re trying to create with these city partnerships. There’s also inbound opportunities from local owners and developers that see an opportunity to take land that they might have identified for retail and say, “Let’s rethink this.”

Once the Manchester facility opened, what’s next for OVG?

Hamilton, Ontario is next. It’s an existing 18,000-seat arena we’ve already started work on, taking the building down to its studs and [which] will reopen in late April. It’s the first project in Toronto that was a public-private partnership and ultimately became a renovation project, but it’s effectively a new arena. In North America, there’s only a few strategic markets left where one could make a really big difference with another arena. But overseas, we have a tremendous amount of opportunity because of the growth internationally of global music, from American country music to Latin.

What other metropolitan characteristics appeal to OVG?

Countries or cities that not only attract from surrounding countries but serve as the point of destination for a much broader area. One example is Sao Paulo in Brazil. From a financial perspective, Sao Paulo is an incredible point of destination for not only Brazil, but for Latin America. That’s why we want to plant our flag there because it doesn’t have an arena. Vienna, Austria is the same thing. You know, it is central to continental Europe. You can get to it from six different countries via car. We have about two dozen cities like that we’ve identified.

How does programming and booking drive the OVG strategy?

That’s such a key element. The first domino that we were really thinking about and analyzing from a construction and design perspective is making sure that the building is both turnkey and equipped with all acoustic treatments and back-of-house amenities to accommodate major tours. We talk to local promoters, and figure out what is coming in the rider and work with our partners at the building to alleviate costs. Arenas have to compete with the stadium shows and we have to make the economics work so we’re really looking at the take-home revenue for an artist to make sure that their touring costs are competitive and can exceed the expectations of fans and market partners.

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