The UK’s new arenas respond to demand to invest in grassroots music venues

The government has also responded to Music Venue Trust's plea for a lifeline for the spaces that produce future arena-filling UK talent

A number of the UK’s proposed new arenas have responded to the demand from the Music Venue Trust for them to invest back into grassroots music spaces or else not be allowed to open.

This week saw the MVT launch its 2022 annual report, laying out the value of the sector to both the UK economy and the music industry as well as the grave danger that venues and UK face without urgent action. As it stands, the latest figures show that audience numbers were at 89 per cent of their 2019 level at about 21million.

The report was first shared during an event attended by NME at the Houses Of Parliament, with a sobering speech from the MVT laying out action required from government as well as calling on new large UK arenas to “contribute to the security of the wider music ecosystem by investing a percentage of every ticket they sell into the grassroots music ecosystem”.


As it stands there are eight new arenas proposed to be built and opened in the UK: Manchester’s Co-op Live (set to open in December 2023 with a capacity of 23,500), YTL Arena Bristol (to open in 2025 or 2026 with a proposed capacity of 19,000), New Cardiff Bay Arena (proposed to open in 2025 with a capacity of 17,000), Edinburgh Arena (to open this year or next with a capacity of 8,000), Gateshead’s The Sage (proposed for next year with 12,500 capacity), London’s long-mooted MSG Sphere (still under discussion, with plans to host 21,500 people), Sunderland Arena (still in discussion with 10,000 capacity), and the still-under-discussion Dundee Arena (with a proposed 10,000 capacity).

“I’m putting the music industry on notice: we are over the edge,” Davyd told those assembled at Parliament. “We’re not near the edge, we’re over the edge and we’re tumbling down. You need to throw a lifeline down. We can’t pay £79million a year to create the artists that are going to appear on your festival stages. It’s not possible for us to do that.

“There are eight new arenas being built in the UK. I told someone from the industry this and they couldn’t believe me, although it’s probably their artists that will be filling it for the next six years or so. But they won’t be filling it in 10 years, because it’s possible that The Rolling Stones will eventually die.”

Davyd continued: “We have got to have a proper research and development arm in this country that supports new artists, develops their careers and brings them out of this. That is the responsibility of everyone in this industry, and it simply isn’t good enough to wait for a lone venue operator to take a chance on a new band, losing money until you can wait until they sell enough tickets to take it up a level so the artist can never go back there again and there’s no return for that venue operator.”

A rendering of the MSG Sphere London. CREDIT: Press

Pointing to the eight new arenas being built across the UK in the coming years, Davyd demanded that “not a single one of those arenas should open unless it has a policy where every ticket sold is investing back into grassroots music venues and grassroots artists”.


“Otherwise, you’re building a carbuncle, a white elephant in the middle of our major cities that will not be filled in 10 years time because there won’t be the artists to fill it,” he argued. “Co-Op Live in Manchester will be a 23,500 capacity venue due to open later this year or early next year. It has no plan at all to invest in the grassroots venues that are going to create the artists that will fill that stage in 10 years time. That is not good enough.”

He went on: “I’m telling Andy Burnham, I’m telling Manchester MPs, I’m telling Manchester City Council: ‘You should not grant a licence for that venue to open if it can’t work out how to put money back into the grassroots system from which the artists it relies on are being produced’.

“Say no to these arenas unless there is a pipeline. The arenas have got to get on board. You can do it for 50p on a ticket. You know how much these tickets cost? At 23,500 tickets a night, you’d raise £11,000.”

Davyd added: “The distribution of wealth in this industry has got to change and be sustainable for grassroots or we all heading down over the cliff. You’re coming with us, you’re chained to us, don’t leave us dangling, come and support us.”

When contacted by NME, a number of the proposed venues responded to MVT’s demands and comments.

“Music Venue Trust’s statement that Co-op Live have no plans to invest in grassroots venues is inaccurate,” Manchester’s Co-Op Live developer Oak View Group International’s COO Mark Donnelly told NME. “We have previously reached out to the organisation following initial conversation on December 7, and are currently awaiting a meeting to discuss collaboration as we prepare to open our venue.

“We are committed to giving back to the local community, having pledged £1million annually to the Co-op Foundation, and working towards Manchester City Council’s target of net zero carbon by 2038. This ethos extends further into the grassroots sector, working alongside Manchester’s vibrant Night & Day Café to host our recent countdown event.”

A spokesperson for YTL Arena meanwhile, told us: “Bristol is famous for its vibrant grassroots music scene, and we want to make sure that the opening of YTL Arena positively contributes to this.

“We have been developing a community strategy which includes initiatives to support up-and-coming, local artists, and we will be sharing more details of this closer to our opening date targeted for late 2025 to early 2026.”

A statement issued to NME from Sunderland City Council on behalf of their new arena read: “We’re continuing to look at our options for what could be a major leisure development.

“While we are working in challenging economic circumstances, we are delivering on our City Plan for a more dynamic, healthy and vibrant Sunderland.”

London’s MSG Sphere, Dundee Arena, New Cardiff Bay Arena, Edinburgh Arena and Gateshead’s The Sage were unable to respond when approached by NME.

UK grassroots venues
Venue in the UK. (Picture: Gary Calton / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Music Venue Trust also made a number of demands of the government as it launched its report. It asked for a reduction in VAT applied to venue ticket sales, which is currently the second-highest in Europe, one of the highest in the world and far above the level of most major music-producing nations.

It also called for end to “excessive and anti-competitive” business rates which are “crippling” these cultural spaces and that the DCMS pressure the Chancellor for a suitable and urgent extension or expansion of Energy Relief Scheme that is workable for venues.

Additionally, the MVT urged that it be afforded the same privileges as the Theatre Trust regarding being approached when planning applications are submitted from neighbouring developments. This move helps to prevent developments coming about and noise complaints potentially shutting down existing venues.

Responding to the MVT’s demands, a DCMS spokesperson did not touch on the majority of their comments but told NME: “We know this is a difficult time for music venues and we remain firmly on their side. The government has delivered an £18billion package of support for organisations through the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, which includes arts venues and businesses, through the winter.

“The scheme will continue to provide valuable assistance to organisations until the end of March before the new Energy Bills Discount Scheme comes into effect to provide additional assistance for the following year.”

Sports Team
Sports Team live at Bristol Thekla. Credit: Jamie MacMillan

Last year, MVT also launched its ‘Own Our Venues’ campaign aimed at providing ownership to grassroots music venues across the country.

The scheme, which was backed recently by Ed Sheeran, aims to secure the long-term futures of these venues by directly tackling the issue of ownership. The scheme has been likened to “The National Trust, but for venues”.

As part of Independent Venue Week, patron Philip Selway told NME how small gig spaces helped shape Radiohead (and what the future holds for the band), while rising noise punks Benefits told us how “independent venues are not ‘stepping stones’ – for many bands this is our Wembley”.

Beabadoobee, who is also an ambassador for IVW 2023, recently spoke to NME about what grassroots venues mean to her and her upcoming shows with Taylor Swift. You can find out more about this year’s Independent Venue Week here.

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