Venue Profile: The O2

Access sits down with Steve Sayer, Barnaby Hooper and Becci Thomson of The O2 to talk about what the future holds for the UK’s busiest music venue.

When asked what it’s like to be part of the team coordinating events at The O2, Steve Sayer, Barnaby Hooper and Becci Thomson don’t hesitate to admit it can be an intense experience.

“It’s quite full on,” says Hooper, the communications director for the venue. “I think I can speak for all of us here.” But all three are eager to add that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“There’s a real energy amongst all the team,” says Sayer, the commercial director, “Everyone gets a buzz coming into The O2 in the morning; it’s a great place to work. When we have a big announcement like Adele, it gives everybody a buzz and reminds us what we all enjoy about working at The O2.”

Adele’s four-night stint is just one of a number of huge musical acts expected to fill the arena in 2016, with Muse confirmed for five nights and many more expected over the coming months. In the world of sport, boxer David Haye has announced he is coming out of a three year retirement for a comeback fight at The O2, taking place later this month.

“That is huge,” Sayer says.“ The Hayemaker is back and fighting here at The O2, so we’re delighted about that.” Sports competitions are hugely important to the venue, which will be welcoming the UFC, NBA and the WWE back for 2016 and the ATP World Tour, for another three-year stint at the arena.

Alongside the mainstays of music, comedy and sport, the venue has had increasing success with corporate events, and the trio are confident that 2016 will outdo 2015 in terms of conferences and corporate events.

“The O2 is such an iconic venue that when some of the big corporates imagine what their event could be like here, it changes the way that they think about how they might produce their event,”says Sayer.

“We’re not a large exhibition hall; it’s The O2 and it’s got that incredibly strong brand.”

Becci Thomson agrees. “When I came on board there were lots of perceptions about The O2, about it not being serious about corporate events, that it’s too big and too expensive. That’s actually not the case at all.”

The venue is continuing to push the envelope by announcing Conference Week at The O2, a week of back-to-back conferences in September 2016 to encourage smaller businesses to try out the location for a one-off corporate event. Conference Week is part of an ongoing attempt to redefine what The O2 can mean to consumers.

“We’re looking for other content that can come in and fill the arena,” Sayer continues. “That’s a big challenge that we always have. Not just thinking about the content but asking ourselves, ‘How does The O2 stay ahead of the game?’”

“We want to lead not follow. The O2 set the benchmark and staying ahead of the game is important to us. We want to host anything that’s world-first or world class — that type of content. Music, sport and entertainment will stay at our core, but we do think there is a big opportunity for The O2 to look at more niche programming.”

Original content may also play a part in the venue’s future, although not any time soon.

“We have looked at a number of different YouTube opportunities,” says Sayer. “We haven’t found the right opportunity yet, or the right content, but we’re definitely looking at that.”

In terms of structural investment, the venue is launching a hotel on the site in early 2016 and there are plans to build a retail outlet over the next couple of years. There are developments in the technology used at the venue too, with high density Wi-Fi installed in the arena to give blanket coverage for visitors.

“We’re also looking to develop a venue app in 2016,” Sayer reveals. “That will be a new initiative to get closer to fans and give them better connectivity to the venue.”

Sayer, Thomson, and Hooper clearly love their venue and are passionate about expanding its range. When asked about his dream event, Sayer says: “Mine is a little bit off the wall, It’s not a music event. It’s not a traditional event that you would necessarily expect to see at The O2, but I would love to see TED Talks on a massive scale. I think that would be awesome and would just fit with what we’re about, which is doing stuff that’s unique and maybe presenting content in a different way.”

This feature originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Access All Areas, out now.