The Hot Seat: Guy Ngata, GM, Allphones Arena

Published in The Music Network

 

Guy Ngata has had less than a month to get a feel for the enormous space that is his workplace, the Allphones Arena. In mid-September, Ngata succeeded Paul Sergeant as GM of the 20,000-capacity Sydney venue, which AEG Ogden manages on behalf of the Nine Entertainment Company. The New Zealand-born exec. arrives after a two-and-a-half-year stint in Shanghai, where he served as GM of the AEG-OPG Culture and Sports Company-managed Mercedes-Benz Arena. Ngata had presided over the opening of the Chinese venue back in 2011.

Prior to that, Ngata was Director of Operations and then CEO of Auckland’s Vector Arena. It’s been an eventful stretch for AEG Ogden. In late September, US-based Anschutz Company announced it was planning to sell AEG. Word from the top is that it’s “business as usual” for the joint-venture in these parts. Earlier this year, private equity operator CVC Asia Pacific announced plans to auction the Allphones Arena.

How’s business?
We don’t have as many shows as we’d like. Obviously part of my mandate is to work closely across the group in making sure we can secure as much content as we can. That’s my number one goal. And we want the patron experience to be exceptional. The Sydney Olympic Park Authority is looking at mechanisms for improving parking in the precinct, public transport options, and getting traffic flowing in and out. Obviously we can’t control what happens on the stage. But certainly we can control all the touchpoints around it and make sure they continue to improve.

How important is music to your model?

It’s probably around 60-65%.

You lost two dates when the George Michael tour was cancelled. Who is worst hurt by a cancellation?

It hurts the punter first and foremost. Obviously it flows from there. The promoter, us, the ticketing agent, the sponsor aligned to the building. Unfortunately those dates (November 17 and 18) were too close for us to be able to do much else with them. You’ve just got to focus on what you can change and what you can do better in future.

How many dates a year can you host events in a venue like yours?

Most shows of an international standard here require at most a one-day load-in. Realistically, you could look at 150-200 event days a year. There are different spaces in the building we can use simultaneously. We don’t have a situation like the Staples Centre in L.A. which has four anchored sports teams playing in that building and they build all their concert activity on top. They have 260-265 event days a year. Our market is not that big. But we want it to be as big as it possibly can. Perhaps 170-180 events, up to 200 events a year would be achievable. Business functions are really important for us. We cater in-house so it’s an important revenue stream for us. We’re obviously looking at family entertainment and TV-events.

You had a stint with the group in China. What did you learn from that experience?

It’s a pretty complicated and complex market in many ways. Like anywhere, you have to show people respect and that you’re working for the good of the organisation. We had a very strong commitment to our sponsors, as we do here. We had 11 sponsors in the building, from our naming rights partner Mercedes-Benz through to some of our suppliers Coca Cola and Budweiser. You need to put runs on the board early, establish the building, the reputation.

Is there a growing hunger for international music in China?

There is. And that will continue. The artists that have worked hard in that market are the ones who have reaped the rewards. There’s got to be a link to China that can drive the consumer. We had probably ten international acts through last year and there’ll be a similar number this year. You’ve got to remember, there’s a massive demand for home-grown content in China: Cantopop, K-pop, J-pop, and mainland Chinese music. Last year the Eagles played there the first time and we had 11,000 tickets sold for that show – close to a sell-out for us. Yet Faye Wong is an artist who came out of retirement and played six sold-out shows, to 75,000 people. The Chinese consumer still wants a lot of Chinese entertainment. But there’s a growing desire to see more international artists come through, as there’s greater exposure to the music on the radio, online and TV.

How much can we read into you playing a role in building a circuit with Asia?

That’s something we’re certainly looking to establish more of. There are promoters in that region with an interest in the Australian market, and there’s certainly a growing Chinese population here. I’ve started some dialogue and we’re looking at how we can support some of that activity in this region.

What are the biggest challenges confronting the arenas business Down Under?
The market seems a little bit soft in terms of ticket sales across shows. Consumers are sensitive to price, but that’s no different to a lot of markets. We’ve been speaking to promoters and we’re all mindful of trying to keep an achievable price-point for the mass audience.

 

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