IT was on target to smash records when the pandemic struck, but now Glasgow’s world class entertainment venue is looking to the future when it will host more performances the ever before in one single year.
The SSE Hydro, part of Glasgow’s SEC campus, will host 180 performances in 2022 through a combination of rescheduled and newly added dates as it builds back from lockdown and covid restrictions.
And while Peter Duthie, chief executive of the Scottish Event Campus, said they were proud to be able to play their part during the pandemic when the concert and conference campus hosted the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital, a specially created hospital designed to cope with rising covid cases, he says they are looking forward to bringing world class events and acts back to Glasgow.
Mr Duthie said: “Next year is shaping up to be a massively busy year for us as long as things progress reasonable positively. We have 180 performances scheduled in the Hydro for 2022, compared to our previous best of 144 performances in 2019.
“There has been a massive pent-up demand for activity and people are desperate to get back out and do things that reflect what you would describe as a more normal lifestyle.
“When relaxations were announced for August 9 our ticketing partner Ticketmaster saw massive activity on their site with people looking for tickets and events. In the UK the demand for refunds for tickets has been very low. It is running at about seven per cent and a significant proportion of that would be people who are just not able to attend on the rescheduled date. People genuinely want to hold on to their ticket and go and see the show. All of that gives us a high degree of encouragement.”
Mr Duthie said 2019 activities connected to the campus contributed over £457million to Glasgow, which is more than £1m a day, for the likes of shops, restaurants, hotels and worth more than £309m to Scotland as a whole.
He added: “We are a national asset and we do deliver nationally because people don’t just spend their money in Glasgow, they spend in around Glasgow and add on trips particularly conference delegates.
“All of that supports 6000 jobs in Scotland and 4000 net jobs in Scotland. Our last year before the pandemic was record breaking in every sector of the business. Exhibitions, conferences and live entertainment all exceeded previous bests. We had more than two million visitors to the campus, 47 exhibitions, 89 conferences, 11 of which were international and 144 performances at The Hydro and delivered just over 1.1m visitors to The Hydro and that is a lot of health and wellbeing agenda contribution.”
Since opening in 2013, with rocker Sir Rod Stewart the opening act, the Hydro has helped to put Glasgow on the world stage and is among only five venues in the world that has more than 1m visitors for live entertainment in 2019 – Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall in New York, the London O2, Auditorio Nacional, in Mexico City Mexico City and the Hydro.
Mr Duthie added: “When you compare the size of those cities, it shows that Glasgow is punching well above its weight in audience participation and that is because the people of Glasgow and Scotland love their music and support the venue massively which we never take for granted.”
As a major conference city, Mr Duthie said the ability for the conference delegate to have a wider experience is probably more important than the concert goer. And they recognise international delegates, who are spending a lot of time here, want to do other things and a big part of their sales push is what Glasgow has to offer.
“Glasgow’s offer in terms of culture, the museums and theatres, is a hugely important in part of the attraction in bringing delegates,” added Mr Duthie.
“We get visitors coming to see a show at the Hydro from all over the UK, and some from overseas, and they might take in other cultural offerings such as smaller gigs around the city, so the fact that Glasgow has a thriving music scene is important as well in providing that additional attraction.
“It is important that there is a tiered venue offering throughout the city and whether it is starting off at some of the smaller pubs and clubs, moving up to the likes of the O2 Academy, some of the theatres and then into the Armadillo and potentially into the Hydro. We have seen artists grow through that whole platform.”
For the SEC campus Mr Duthie says that while restrictions for the number of people attending events indoors is 2000, they will be applying for the option of increased capacity to Glasgow City Council for all their venues, adding “we are confident we will be able to deliver significantly above 2000. It has to be as otherwise events just aren’t viable. Physical distancing, reduced capacity events, just don’t work for the promoters.”
Mr Duthie’s support for the city comes as The Herald has launched A Fair Deal For Glasgow campaign, calling for the city’s venues and treasures to be funded appropriately and for both the Scottish and UK governments to come together to deliver a new funding plan for the city’s culture and leisure services.
It was prompted by figures that showed the crippling impact the pandemic has had on the council’s arms-length organisation, which runs the city’s culture and leisure.
Glasgow Life lost £38 million in income last year. The predicted income for 2021/22 is around £6.4m.
Mr Duthie said the success of Glasgow is crucial to the success of Scotland.
“It is easy to say that resources should be spread evenly across the country, but there is a critical mass impact of levels of investment in Glasgow and Edinburgh across that Central Belt that help deliver massive value across the whole of the country,” said Mr Duthie. “It can bring businesses, whether it is major headquarters or investment, into the country that wouldn’t necessarily be received elsewhere and that filters out through the wider supply chain. It is hugely important Glasgow and that the Central Belt is successful. Ensuring key assets are appropriately supported and funded is equally important.”
While the SEC Campus, which is this host venue for COP26 world climate change summit later this year, made a loss at the end of the financial year, with reasonable cash reserves, unlike some businesses in the sector, they will emerge well placed to resume business. And while arena seats might have been empty, it hasn’t stopped the SEC management looking to the future.
In May plans for the £200m expansion of the campus was given the green light by Glasgow City Council.
Consent was granted for Planning Permission in Principle (PPiP) for the major upgrade and extension of the existing SEC Centre.
Conversations are ongoing with the Scottish and UK governments over their proposed expansion plans which Mr Duthie says will bring huge economic benefits but argued it needs to be grant funded.
“We are trying to make politicians understand that a level of funding in some of these infrastructure projects offer a direct return to them in terms of tax revenues,” he added. “For every £1 of gross value added (GVA) that is delivered just through visitor spend etc, delivers 38pence in tax revenue. With changes in fiscal framework that goes roughly 50/50 to the UK and Holyrood. That economic activity generates tax returns so when looking at some of these investment opportunities, they need to understand that actually supporting cultural facilities which bring more international visitors into Scotland actually delivers a financial return to the government in tax terms. It is not just simply handing money away. There is a tangible return.”