As make-overs go, this one’s been particularly successful. Prior to its current incarnation, the Millennium Dome (as it was previously known) was a much unloved white elephant of a building that no one knew what to do with.
It seems inconceivable now but, eighteen years ago, the government of the day spent £789 million building it. (Ah, those were the days when government spending meant government spending!) They built it to celebrate the dawn of a new millennium (as well as a new second, minute, hour, year, decade and century; so a full house of time, in fact).
At the time, the idea that the UK could still build big things was a seen as a source of national pride. After all, this was to become the world’s biggest dome, covering 300 acres of previously derelict land in North Greenwich.
Those readers who are good at maths will have noticed the gap between 1999 (when it was built) and 2007 when it reopened as the O2 Arena and in fact during those ten years it lay empty and costing money. It’s estimated that £1 million a month was spent during those years just for security.
It may have been the world’s biggest dome but…well…it was a pretty useless one and instead of being a source of national pride it generated quite a lot of international amusement. Apart from being used as a dramatic backdrop in a James Bond film, few people knew what to do with it.
Step forward the Anschutz Entertainment Group, who bought the lease to the building and then promptly showed what Her Majesty’s Government couldn’t do; namely, how to make money from large domes, as they promptly sold the naming rights to mobile telephone provider O2, built an indoor arena that can hold 20,000 seats, put in a huge number of food outlets then sat back and waited for the fans to come.
And come they did. And still do. On a regular basis and in large numbers. Bon Jovi fans were the first to visit the new venue, on June 24th, 2007. Muse has proved to be the biggest draw so far attracting a record crowd of 21,000 (The venue was especially stripped down to accommodate them all).
But Take That fans have visited the venue the often. The band has played there no fewer than 29 times and they alone have sold 385,000 tickets. No wonder their song, “I want you back, I want you back for good”, is a favourite of AEG’s billionaire owner, Phil Anschutz.
Naming rights, ticket sales and concessionaire revenues have all turned the white elephant into a cash cow and one that was worth by 2013, £35 million. Not bad for big tent.