Operators of the new purpose-built socially distanced venue in Newcastle said the success of its opening week prove punters want to “return to music in a safe environment.”
The 2,500-capacity Virgin Money Unity Arena, run by SSD Concerts, has seen “steady” ticket sales since its launch last week, with the success of its first two full capacity shows by local artist Sam Fender providing a boost to other ticket sales. Two Door Cinema Club, The Bootleg Beatles and Bjorn Again have all since played the venue, with Rumours of Fleetwood Mac appearing tonight and Supergrass headlining on Saturday.
Ali O’Reilly, head of the sponsorship, partnerships and events team at Virgin Money, told TheTicketingBusiness that while the venue is different to traditional live music events in that it’s completely socially distanced, the reaction from the audience and atmosphere at the venue have both been “incredible since opening night.”
She added: “There really is an undeniable buzz at the venue on event days, and the fans have been absolutely brilliant and have been supportive in terms of the health and safety measures that we have in place. Having local hero Sam Fender play to a mostly local crowd on opening night really was the perfect start.
“The feedback we’ve had from the audience has been really strong, and so it’s clear that this event model works. At Virgin Money, we couldn’t be happier to be part of bringing live music back to the UK.”
The COVID-19-safe live music arena, based at Newcastle Racecourse, accommodates 500 viewing platforms spaced two metres apart.
Guests arrive by car or bike and have access to their own personal dance/viewing platform, complete with a table, chairs and personal fridge.
The venue has a one-way system for access to the toilet facilities, while food and drinks are available for pre-order.
Following the venue’s first weekend of shows, O’Reilly noted that on the whole, people have been “very compliant with our guidelines.”
“The biggest challenge was arguably finding out what those final guidelines from the UK government were going to be and how those would impact our plans, but we are really happy with customers’ conduct while on site,” she told TheTicketingBusiness.
“We are not asking them to do anything difficult – they just need to turn up on time (to allow us to get everyone into the venue safely), wear masks when moving around the site, following the systems we have in place in terms of getting to the bar areas and toilets etc. and to remain within their platform space while the show is live.
“As the site is purpose built we have the luxury of spacious queuing areas and clearly marked exits for a socially distant egress, as well as lots of hand sanitation. The extra time we spent in the planning phase has definitely paid dividends and minimised any issues whilst we have been live.”
She also explained that ticket holders are welcomed into the site via staggered arrival times to ensure huge numbers turning up at the Virgin Money Unity Arena at similar times, adding that the queuing lanes on arrival have been configured to facilitate social distancing.
In addition, all of the viewing platforms, which hold up to five people, are spaced out so that they are two metres apart, and are tiered, “so that all guests have a fantastic view of the stage no matter where their platform is placed.”
If fans wish to leave the platform, they are required to wear a mask, and only one person per platform should leave their platform at any one time. However, O’Reilly said they have been “encouraging people to remain within their space as much as possible during the live shows.”
The venue has also received positive feedback about how the socially distanced set up has made attending live performances more inclusive for those who need or want extra space.
SSD Concerts’ Caitlin Maddison said on LinkedIn that she was “overwhelmed” by the success of the launch night.
She wrote: “From start to finish everyone has grafted 110% to make sure this event is everything and more.
“The stress is well worth it when you see that main stage lit up. At least we can say we put on gigs during the Summer of 2020.”
Images: Virgin Money Utility Arena