With live entertainment making a comeback across the UAE following a dormant period enforced by the pandemic, Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena is ramping up its efforts in becoming a key host venue for indoor sporting events.
Since opening its doors in 2019, the City Walk landmark has staged rock concerts, comedy shows, an international classical music festival, Bollywood performances, basketball games and plenty more.
From Maroon 5 and Maluma, to Wayne Brady and Russell Peters, to Paul van Dyke and Aly & Fila, to Tony Robbins and Alicia Keys, Coca-Cola Arena quickly established itself as a popular venue that has played host to some of the world’s biggest acts. When it comes to sports, though, the arena is just getting started.
After welcoming the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA) in October 2019, hosting the Ultimate Kricket Challenge behind closed doors in November 2020, and staging an influencer ‘Vegas-style’ fight night, dubbed the Social Knockout, in July, the arena will venture into the world of indoor tennis by bringing the Tie Break Tens series to Dubai on October 22, featuring the likes of fan favourite Gael Monfils and British No 1 Dan Evans.
Dubai is no stranger to hosting professional tennis events but the indoor tennis experience hasn’t fully been realised yet, with the majority held outdoors. If you’ve tuned into the Laver Cup tennis action that took place over the weekend in Boston’s TD Garden, you’ll understand how electric the atmosphere can get watching sport in an indoor arena.
When the PBA came to Coca-Cola Arena two years ago, nearly 9,000 fans walked through the venue’s doors across two days to get a taste of the second-most watched basketball league on the planet.
“It was incredible,” Mark Jan Kar, general manager of Coca-Cola Arena told The National.
“It was sport like nothing else, sort of the thrill and the excitement, the unpredictability; in game two, there was a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to take the game into overtime and the crowd completely erupted. The joy and the thrill and the passion of sport is completely different to a concert or a Bollywood show or even a corporate event.”
The Tie Break Tens will feature a series of fast-paced knockout tennis matches, with the winner walking away with a Dh500,000 prize cheque. A unique, made-for-TV concept, Tie Break Tens took place for the first time in 2015 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It has toured different cities since then, and will make its Middle East debut next month.
The event was initially meant to be held in 2019; was postponed to 2020 and then got pushed again due to the coronavirus pandemic. The promoter, Boqin Group, holds the UAE license for the showpiece for three years.
“Our venue agreement is for one year, plus an option to continue for the next two years. We’re hoping the first event is a great success and then we can tie up a long-term partnership for the remainder of the three years, at a minimum,” explained Kar.
“Obviously you’ve seen some of the major Grand Slams with their centre courts having retractable roofs, there are some European indoor tournaments, and I think the fact the [Coca-Cola Arena] venue can house up to 17,000 for a rock concert, or a fully-seated Bollywood show, the ambience and the acoustics of bringing a live sporting event to play in the middle of Dubai is something that not only tennis fans would be excited about, but sports fans in general; just to see how it looks and how it sounds.
“There’s no bad seat in the house, the way it will be positioned and designed.”
The inaugural Dubai Tie Break Tens will have between 3,500 to 5,000 spectators, thanks to a flexible design that allows organisers to scale up if needed. Kar says future editions can have up to 10,000 fans in attendance.
In terms of hosting professional tennis tournaments, CCA is limited by the fact it can only have one court for all matches. As a venue, it would be perfectly suited for an event like the ATP or WTA Finals that feature the year-end top eight players, competing over seven days using one match court.
CCA also holds the advantage of having access to the detailed blueprint of the ATP Finals that were held at London’s O2 Arena from 2009 to 2020. The O2 Arena is run and owned by AEG, which is a subsidiary of ASM Global, the operator of CCA.
“Those decisions are led on a governmental level through Dubai Sports Council and DTCM. And if the opportunity came about, we certainly would be ready to host an ATP or WTA Finals. But from an arena’s perspective, we haven’t been involved in any of those conversations to date,” Kar says.
There are other grand plans in the works, though. Kar revealed that the venue is looking at opportunities involving ice hockey games from the Russian and German leagues, which are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
“The Russian game will be a regular season game, the potential German team game is during the Winter Olympics, so that will be an exhibition game, with the ultimate goal being that Dubai picks up a sports franchise team, whether that’s ice hockey or basketball, and Coca-Cola Arena has an anchor tenant, and is the home of that franchise,” he added.
Russell Peters live at the Coca-Cola Arena - in pictures
“We’d love to be in a position to not only undertake global exhibition games, but also work with leagues and franchise owners to have a franchise team, whether that’s a basketball team competing in the Europa League, or ice hockey competing in the Russian league, or whatever it may be in that capacity.
“Dubai is well-known for its hotels and beaches and hospitality experiences, and we host some of the world’s best sporting events like the DP World Race to Dubai, Meydan World Cup, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but we don’t have a team.
“I guess you can say to some extent Godolphin is sort of the homegrown team, but that’s obviously horse racing. But in a traditional sense of a sports franchise team, on a personal note, and behind-the-scenes, the ambition is perhaps within three to five years to have a team that represents Dubai competing in some of the world’s best leagues.”