The man behind the O2 says Brits back ‘good times’ in the face of recession
The man behind London’s The O2 says that despite cost of living concerns, people are still spending big on events, with the consumer mindset shifting to “having good times”.
Paul Samuels, who heads up global partnerships at events giant AEG, told City A.M. that the arena is yet to see a dip in visitors amid inflation and the energy crisis.
“I think people just need a release, and with all the stuff going around them, they want a good night out now,” he said, adding that spend per head is actually on the up at the North Greenwich hotspot.
High-value shows like comedian Peter Kay’s upcoming tour have also nearly sold out until 2025, with Samuels explaining how most Brits view big-ticket shows as “the event of the year” for families.
The top exec explained there had actually been a spike in premium seating being snapped up too, as well as more corporate boxes being reserved – setting people back hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.
He said this was largely symptomatic of a post-Covid realisation that “value of face-to-face contact” was crucial for client relationships – attracting the top City firms to buy up the areas.
However, the O2’s journey to being a London go-to venue has not been a simple one, with Samuels originally acting as the bold twenty-something that was trying to convince the telcos giant O2 to sponsor the ‘Millennium Dome’ back in the early noughties.
As former head of sponsorships at O2, Samuels told City A.M. that when he was first approached by the dome’s owner AEG in 2004 about a potential deal, “I kind of laughed and put the phone down”.
As a “PR disaster” at its launch, with even former prime minister Tony Blair calling the dome “too ambitious” and costing about £800m to build, Samuels said he had to fight hard to get the telcos backing.
“They [the board of O2] didn’t want some huge PR disaster and huge debt on their books of something that could be really negative,” he told City A.M..
The firm, which has now merged with Virgin Media to become VMO2, was previously the sponsor of Arsenal football club, following suit of many other firms who were banking on sports sponsorships.
On this, Samuels said: “My answer [to the board] was if every one of our competitors sponsors football clubs, that’s the reason we shouldn’t sponsor clubs – even if I am an Arsenal supporter. We need to be different from the competitors. So we did the deal.”
The O2 arena was redeveloped an opened in 2007, but again, not without its haters – from people saying that nobody would come to the Greenwich Peninsula to watch a gig, to people suggesting the rogue sponsorship wasn’t going to pay off.
But, fast forward 15 years and the 20,000 capacity arena has become a landmark in itself, attracting some of the top artists in the world, and the biggest indoor sporting events.
It was also voted as the best sponsorship deal in the last 25 years in 2019, and regarded as one of the most popular gig venues in the world – with even US rapper Drake giving it a namesake in his hit single‘ God’s Plan’: “You know me, turn the O2 into the O3”
AEG runs a number of London events, including BST Hyde Park and All Points East, and has global presence, with iconic festivals like Coachella in California.
Nonetheless. Samuels regards the arena’s transformation as the highlight of his career. “I knew it was going to make me or break me,” he said.
But by the looks of it, it has certainly seemed to make him rather than break.