Coca-Cola Arena is back: new GM says Iron Maiden and Louis Tomlinson concerts on the way

The venue's diverse offerings reflect the cosmopolitanism of Dubai, its new chief says

Mark Jan Kar, general manager of Coca-Cola Arena says the venue will only get busier in the future. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
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The show will go on for Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena.Many high-profile concerts were cancelled last year because of the pandemic, but the venue’s new general manager, Mark Jan Kar, reveals that some of the nixed gigs are back on the cards – one of which is heavy metal titans Iron Maiden.

“That show was rescheduled and then we had to change it again because of their new world tour,” he tells The National. “So, yes, we are very close to securing them for a new date in 2022.”

Another big act set to return sometime next year is former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, who also had his solo debut Middle East concert cancelled because of the pandemic.

Jan Kar says the shows form part of a – hopefully – busy 2022 for the global concert ­industry. “When it comes to the big picture, I feel confident in saying that we will start to see big names returning in the second half of 2022 as part of world tours,” he says.

“At the moment, we are ­seeking out opportunities in 2021 and the first part of 2022 for acts to perform in the arena, but not as part of a world tour.”

A reflection of Dubai

On that score, the Arena is doing an impressive job.

Ever since announcing its return with a stand-up comedy show by the UK’s Paul Chowdhry last November, the City Walk venue has steadily built a diverse programme ­including a Christmas Day Egyptian pop concert ­featuring Mohamed Hamaki, an EDM show with ­Norwegian-British DJ Alan Walker in January and two performances by Pakistani musician Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in July.

The future looks even more eclectic with shows by Egyptian singer-songwriter Hamza Namira, US comic Wayne Brady and Russian rockers Mumiy Troll in September, followed by 16 back-to-back classical music concerts as part of the InClassica series.

What differentiates the Arena from other international venues, Jan Kar says, is how it plays an active role in promoting Dubai.

“We work together with ­promoters in that we look at the Dubai calendar and the different activities and festive periods, from the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises to Eid weekends, and find ways to drive benefit to the city,” he says.

He points to the Mumiy Troll concert next Saturday, September 4, as an example of that synergy.

“The Russian demographic is important when it comes to Dubai’s tourism market and we worked with promoters to find the right act that ticks the boxes,” he says.

“The ­interesting thing about that show is that all the ­marketing and promotion is done in Russia across many cities, with the message that one of your biggest rock bands is playing in Dubai.”

Supporting act to Expo 2020 Dubai

For Expo 2020 Dubai, running from Friday, October 1 to Thursday, March 31, 2022, Jan Kar says the venue is also in the mix.

“I believe there is a responsibility across the entertainment industry here to support Dubai’s vision for the Expo,” he says. “So there have been open conversations and an understanding of the Expo’s event calendar to ensure that we are not competing and that we appreciate the completely different experience that Expo is offering.

“What we are doing with the Expo, or the angle that we are taking, is working with certain country pavilions, such as the Russian pavilion for example, or event promoters who see an opportunity to leverage a country’s pavilion or the people from that particular country in this city.”

And with the Arena being multipurpose, in that its size can be manipulated to accommodate audiences as intimate as 1,500 people to a capacity of 17,000, no show is too big or small to consider.

It is a message bringing a measure of relief to US comic Brady, who is set to perform next Friday.

“We are educating talent and talent managers on what we mean by being ­multipurpose,” Jan Kar says.

“Brady is a great example in that he said: ‘hey, I am normally confident but I don’t think I am going to sell 17,000 tickets’. But for his show, we actually designed it for 2,000 people through our stage set-up, acoustic system and other features to make it work for the artist and their management.”

A slick operation

While those features are major inducements, what acts really look for in these times is a guarantee of safety for themselves and their crew, as well as the audience.

As the Coca-Cola Arena is one of the relatively small number of major ­international venues operating, Jan Kar says the industry has been following its progress with interest.

“We have been operating under capacity restrictions for a while now, so health and safety has become second ­nature to us,” he says. “We had to increase our staff, ­invest in additional ­equipment and we grew to become quite a slick operation when it comes to those procedures.”

That satisfaction, however, is tinged with sorrow for a once-thriving industry decimated by the pandemic.

“While we are all knowledge sharing, it is also, at the same breath, very difficult to be positive and talk about positive things,” Jan Kar says. “Other markets are completely depressed and our colleagues in Asia and Australia are ­wondering if they have a job next week.

“So, it is a case for all of us to find that balance and ultimately move forward.”

Updated: August 26, 2021, 1:23 PM