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April 30, 2024

Why bigger isn’t always better - marketing lessons from the Co-op Live PR disaster

Running a venue isn’t an easy business - just ask Gary Roden, the General Manager of Co-op Live Manchester who resigned recently after the UK’s biggest-ever arena failed to open on time. 

The first round of events, including Peter Kay and The Black Keys, have all been repeatedly postponed until May, causing huge disruption and cost for thousands of ticket holders. 

Throwing Stones in Glass Co-ops

First, there was the problem of how they dealt with the competition. Manchester already has the vast AO arena, which has been operating since 1995 - did the city really need a second one? The Co-op Live answered this by trash-talking the competition. 

"It's going to be difficult for an artist to say, 'Yeah, I’ve booked the arena that is 30 years old versus the arena that's brand new'," said Mr Roden. "That's the reality of the situation.”

Another key problem was that Co-op Live over-promised on what they would deliver. 

"My challenge, though, is that the AO [Arena] is up and running and it's operating. So we've got to open, we've got to open well, and we've got to make sure all those things that we've been celebrating, saying, 'They're going to be great', are great in the delivery - which I'm very confident they will be."

These issues were compounded by an interview in the BBC, in which Gary argued that some smaller music venues - the lifeline of the music industry and shutting at an alarming rate - were struggling because they were “poorly run”. The irony couldn’t be more cutting. 

Then there were the remarks regarding a potential ticket tax. There has been ongoing discussion about implementing a £1 levy on arena tickets which would be channelled to smaller venues to keep them afloat. Gary’s response was to call the conversation “too simplistic” and “quite aggressive.” Maybe he’s out of work now, Gary might appreciate the severity of problems facing live music owners and why a bit more diplomacy wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

Somewhat incredibly, Tim Leiweke, the US entrepreneur behind the launch of Co-Op Live, has since outlined plans for a new music London arena just days before the re-re-scheduled launch in Manchester. The social media comments are just as scathing as you might assume they would be. 

Co-op's Dilemma

Amongst all this, you have to feel for Co-op, the sponsors of this PR disaster. When they signed up for a 15-year naming rights deal for £100 million, they were no doubt expecting ecstatic reviews and millions of eyeballs on their brand.

By any metric, the PR has over-delivered, but the reviews have not been kind, and we can only imagine the levels of boardroom stress as Co-op presumably looks for a way out or reparations for the failed launch. The Co-op are now the name associated with one of the biggest live music failures in recent memory - and they’ve paid very handsomely to do so. 

Lessons learnt 

Co-op Live has displayed some good marketing skills in many ways - it’s pivoted quickly into crisis communication mode and has been sympathetic to ticket holders. But, as the old adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. 

The Co-op Arena has committed two of the cardinal marketing sins by overpromising and underdelivering while picking fights with smaller venue owners - alienating the wider live entertainment industry in the process.

By repeatedly missing opening dates, it has hugely damaged the trust needed to build up a fanbase. Considering there are 23,500 tickets to sell for each show, a lot of trust needs to be won back. 

The hard work starts now. 

Are you struggling with reputation management? Want to improve your brand? One Nine Nine is an expert at crisis management. We work with global music and entertainment names, creating and delivering compelling digital, marketing, and creative strategies that change the narrative and support your ongoing commercial and critical success. 

To find out how we can impact your marketing, please contact our team at 01138444111 or email us at

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