Co-op Live: The relationship between Man City and delay-hit arena

Things may be developing nicely on the pitch for Manchester City at the moment as Pep Guardiola’s team chase an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League title alongside the FA Cup, but the same cannot be said for the Co-op Live arena, which lies in the shadow of the Etihad Stadium.

The sight of looming cranes — some of the biggest in Europe — has become a regular feature of the matchday experience at City over the past year. With the Co-op Live rising so close to the Etihad, there is no surprise there is a formal link between the two.

City’s owners, City Football Group (CFG), are believed to have invested just shy of 50 per cent of the £365million ($457m) total cost of the project. Singer Harry Styles is also a minority investor.

Neither City nor the CFG will benefit directly from the arena financially when it is up and running, but there is a hope that the venue will add value to the group and will play a central part in the regeneration of the area around the Etihad.

That is, though, more or less where the links end as City have been separated from the major delays that have forced the arena to postpone or cancel its first events, as well as its CEO to resign.

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The inside of Co-op Live (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Co-op Live)

Co-op Live had been scheduled to open its doors on April 23. It is now hoping to start on May 14 after several performers, including comedian Peter Kay and music artists Olivia Rodrigo and Take That, saw their performances either cancelled or rearranged.

Sources familiar with the matter — who do not wish to be named to protect the law of confidence — say that although there are regular meetings between staff from City and Co-op Live, the Premier League club have not provided any operational support throughout the project.

With such major work ongoing so close to City’s own infrastructure, the club have had to maintain regular contact with the arena to plan for their own events and how the site as a whole will operate on days when there are matches and concerts on the same day.

City have their own development project ongoing as they continue to expand the Etihad’s North Stand. That is entirely separate from the work at Co-op and involves the construction of a hotel and a covered fan park. It will cost £300million.

That work is thought to be progressing as planned, with the stand scheduled to open in the first part of the 2025-26 season.

Despite regular meetings, City staff were taken aback by the scale of the delays at Co-op Live and the string of late cancellations or postponements in the past fortnight.

There has been no offer from City to provide operational support despite — or perhaps because of — those high-profile setbacks that have beset the venue and made national headlines.

At the end of April, the first test event at the arena (a Rick Astley concert) had its capacity reduced from around 11,000 to 4,000 just hours before its scheduled start time. This led to Peter Kay’s shows, which were intended to open the arena, being postponed for the first time.

A second test event was cancelled with little over 24 hours’ notice and Kay’s shows were postponed again. Then, last Wednesday, U.S. rapper A Boogie Wit da Hoodie saw his show cancelled with some fans already inside the arena.

Manchester City Council’s building control is yet to sign off on the building and concerns have been raised by the police and fire services. Videos posted to TikTok have shed light on the problems inside the venue, with wires hanging from ceilings or taped to walls.

City are equal joint venture partners with Oak View Group, the major U.S. sports and real estate enterprise that is responsible for the works.

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City are chasing an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title (Matt McNulty/Getty Images)

OVG, based in Denver, awarded the construction contract for Co-op Live to BAM, the company behind City’s Etihad Campus training complex, which opened in 2014 and is situated on the other side of the Etihad Stadium.

OVG has 133 other convention centres, amphitheatres and music and sporting venues largely in the U.S. and Canada, including the Philadelphia Phillies’ 43,000-capacity baseball stadium Citizens Bank Park, the 35,000-seater Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, and the 5,000-capacity Utilita Arena in Cardiff, Wales.

“This is the most expensive arena ever built outside of North America,” CEO Tim Leiweke said of Co-op Live last month, as he bullishly claimed the arena would open on time.

“I know for the next 30 years, no one will remember the first seven days,” he added.

That will still be the case even if the delays last another month or two, with some of the biggest artists in the world lined up to play, though the situation has deteriorated since his comments, with fans already shelling out for travel and accommodation to attend gigs that have not gone ahead.

City declined to comment, but a spokesperson for Co-op group spelled out its position.

“Co-op Group is the naming-rights partner, we are a sponsor and do not own or run the venue,” a statement provided to The Athletic reads.

OVG’s Leiweke said: “It’s not been the smooth start we had planned for, and I know that has caused a huge amount of disruption and frustration to thousands of people On behalf of all of us at Oak View Group, I’d like to express my sincere apologies to all those that have been affected. We understand that there is work to be done to rebuild your trust in us. This starts now.”

An OVG spokesperson added: “At this time, we do not expect further impact on our opening season.”

BAM did not respond to a request for comment by the time of going to publish.

The arena has attracted some of the biggest names in entertainment, with Olivia Rodrigo, Liam Gallagher, The Killers and Nicki Minaj signing up to perform in what were scheduled to be the first weeks of the arena.

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Construction work at Co-op Live (Toby Melville/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It remains to be seen how the Etihad Stadium and Co-op Live will co-exist once everything is up and running, though — there will be occasions when upwards of 50,000 people attend a City match while events take place at the 23,500-seater arena.

That was due to happen last Saturday, with City hosting Wolves in the Premier League at the same time as music fans arrived for Olivia Rodrigo’s gig, putting a strain on the roads and public transport systems servicing the area.

Meetings between City and Co-op Live have focused on these scenarios as both parties work to ensure that more people than ever can move around the site problem-free.

The only chance of two events coinciding before the end of this Premier League season would be if a Barry Manilow concert on May 19 is given the go-ahead. City kick off at 4pm against West Ham, but fans could stay much longer after full time if their team wins the title.

City know that if they win their three remaining matches against Fulham, Tottenham and West Ham, they will be crowned champions again. The Co-op Live’s immediate future is far less certain.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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