The Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield arena wars – who’s winning?

leeds-arena-16-web-668x341Over on BBC Radio Sheffield yesterday morning at breakfast time they were playing the Leeds-Sheffield arena game.

It was six months to the day since the Leeds arena had officially opened. So a good day to ask the question that’s been being asked in Sheffield for years: had the Leeds arena harmed the Sheffield one as everybody feared it was going to?, the presenter asked.

Reassurance was promptly at hand.

“There are plenty of acts to go round and they (the two arenas) can work together very well,” a reporter from Radio Leeds contributing to the programme said.

"There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn't"

“There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t”

Which got me thinking … Was he just being nice? Are there really enough acts to go round? And is each of the arenas getting enough of the good ones to keep them cheerful? And solvent?

So I had a look at which acts are appearing this year at each of our region’s three competing arenas – Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

And here’s what I found.

First, the EXCLUSIVE ACTS that each of the three have either hosted since February or are going to host by the end of 2014.


Let it be noted: not just one gig, but FIVE NIGHTS of the Bublémeister, two of Beyoncé, and one of Lady Gaga.

A Lady Gaga stage

A Lady Gaga stage

Why the Manchester Phones 4U Arena gets these massive names and Leeds and Sheffield don’t isn’t clear.

Is it about the arena’s capacity and/or layout? Do Beyonce and Lady Gaga demand a stage of a certain size and type to strut their stuff on?

Or maybe they aren’t coming to Leeds this time around because it wasn’t established on the circuit when the bookings were made?

Who knows? Time will tell.

Still, Leeds has got some exclusives too. Not as many, but some.


After a pretty storming start last year – Springsteen, Rod the Mod, Elton John, Stereophonics, Field Commander Cohen, Sports Personality of the Year – there are four acts booked for the Leeds first direct arena during the rest of this year that aren’t going to either Sheffield or Manchester.

Three of them are admittedly pretty big ‘old-school’ names, though none have sold out yet (unless you believe Clapton sold out when he left The Yardbirds).


The four exclusive events at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena are in a different league: the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a higher education convention, motocross, and ice hockey.

Going everywhere: lovely Ant and Dec

Going everywhere: lovely Ant and Dec


What about the other acts that are doing the rounds this year?

Well, a lot of them are going to all three arenas: Ant and Dec, McBusted, Miranda Hart, Gary Barlow, X-Factor Live, Dancing on Ice Live, (endless nights of) Lee Evans, John Bishop, Premier League darts, Diversity …

Then there are the acts who are appearing in two of the three.

Which sadly means more bad news for Sheffield:


Add the 15 acts above to the one-stop wonders listed earlier … and that’s a lot of big names that are driving up or down the M1 without stopping off at the Motorpoint.

That’s not to say that Sheffield aren’t getting some decent acts. Here are the ones that are bypassing Leeds and going to both Manchester and Sheffield.

(“Kylie’s coming! And she’s not going to Leeds!” crowed the BBC Radio Sheffield breakfast presenter yesterday.)


So, what are Leeds and Sheffield both getting that Manchester isn’t? Something stellar?

Erm … Disney on Ice and WWE Wrestling.

How else can we measure how this battle of the Arenas is going?

There’s takings (but we’re not likely to hear about them).

And there’s bookings.

They’ll all be adding more, of course, but here’s how many events have currently been announced (more may have already been booked) from today through to the end of the year (288 days) in each of the three arenas.

Enough acts to go round? I’m not convinced.



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14 Responses to The Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield arena wars – who’s winning?

  1. oludenizdollz says:

    Oooh Riding School of Vienna! Didn’t know they were coming I will get that booked for my horse mad daughter.

  2. I seem to remember the ‘feasibility’ was done on 110 sold out events a year, but I could be wrong! Hopefully the rent that we get for the Arena is fixed and long term, so that the council investment is safe as houses, whatever happens to the Arena market in coming years.

    • Been looking for it, but no luck so far. I did find a para from a 2009 appraisal report for Yorkshire Forward which said that an outline programme developed for the arena included 106 events a year.

      I’d say the estimate at the time (2009) that Sheffield would lose 24% of its paying customers (mostly for rock/pop gigs) to Leeds looks about right.

      What the national arena market is doing now, I don’t know. Last I saw arena attendance nationwide was down 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, with 5% fewer events put on.

  3. Wigton Lane Winker. says:

    What, no Chubby Brown ? What a liberty.

  4. Simon Cooke says:

    So if the venue ‘solution’ to Bradford’s former Odeon goes through what effect will that have? Are there actually enough gigs to go round?

    • I think the planned Odeon venue (is it 2,000 capacity?) would be booking different kinds of acts (and cheaper) to the arenas.

      I reckon they might stand a good chance of making a go of it, as there isn’t really a dedicated music venue of that size in the Bradford catchment area – the nearest are the Brudenell and O2 in Leeds, who seem to get loads of acts and punters.

  5. Yes, you’re right. Brudenell is much smaller. It must have popped into my head as comparable because it puts on and easily sells out some of the kind of acts you might expect to see at a venue like the Odeon: Orb, Fall, Johnny Marr etc etc

  6. Mick McCann says:

    I think you’re right that the larger capacity may give Manc the edge in a few cases but I doubt it’ll often sell out.

    As you say, too early to say with the Leeds Arena but it’s biggest competitive edge for me is the 21st Century design – Sheff and Manc are so 20th Century – much better sound, sight lines etc. Leeds Arena was designed primarily for gigs, sight and sound were central, Sheff is 30-odd years old and ‘multi-purpose while Manc shoe-horns gigs into a venue designed for a completely different purpose. The design also makes the gigs more ‘intimate’ and will generate a better atmosphere.

    When word of this gulf in the quality of the arenas starts to spread amongst artists and punters it’ll make a big difference. I hate big gigs but could just about stand them at Leeds Arena, not at the other two, the crap sound and straining to see the dots on stage would make me grumpy.

    • I’ve nothing to compare it with – the Leeds one is the only arena I’ve ever been to. And the sound was truly fantastic.

      When I looked at Manc in February three of the five Buble nights were sold out, both Beyonce and one Justin Timberlake. Sheff have sold out their one Timberlake and Gary Barlow. Leeds has so far sold out (since Feb) Pearl Jam and the Eagles.

      It’s a complicated business. Not just capacity, configuration, contracts/deals between promoters and arena managers but other factors mentioned by Tony from Leeds Arena yesterday: artist preference, regional demographics, history with a venue (what you referring to above, I guess), the cool factor, building rental cost, driving time for lorry drivers.

      I’d add to that the taste of the staple “home” audience, which can’t be easy getting right. That’s without mentioning the economic climate and the national state of the arena market. Yikes!

      • It is a risky venture – and one that I hope and pray does well – not least because we have so much council money wrapped up in it. Having such a thing built by the council when so many services and jobs are being cut is unfortunate timing. I simply don’t understand why the risk was not left to a private sector investor to bear? When the council starts to speculate in areas where the private sector wont…

  7. Jay says:

    It’s a fucking joke that Manchester gets more attention than Leeds. Leeds is a bigger city and has a far larger catchment area which extends across North and East Yorkshire as well as West Yorkshire. Manchester just seems to be the token mention when anyone mentions the north because it has two football teams and therefore if arguably more famous. Well fuck Manchester and their open sewers.

    • Loiners revenge says:

      In reply to Jay, have you ever stepped out if your parents house son?
      I have been all over the UK and abroad with the Service boys and believe me son as much as I dislike Man Utd scum their city is far bigger than Ours, for Christ sake look at their city centre three times bigger than ours, they have had trams as long as I can remember since a kid travelling to away matches to scums ground , they have massive international airport. As much as it pains me to say Manchester feels like a big European city with big buildings, bustling with people from all over the world. Leeds on the other hand feels like a big town not a city. You need to get out if your parents house in Horsforth Jay.

    • Gill Gipton says:

      I think the issue here is Manchester and the world are comfortable with the view of Manchester, Manchester already knows it’s a large European city, here I’m Leeds on the other hand we have little identity outside the north, people down South think Manchester is the north and abroad very few people have heard of Leeds. It’s pointless shouting we are bigger than Manchester then sticking our heads in the sand, it’s painfully obvious Leeds is much smaller than Manchester. I think other posters have hit the nail on the head. You just have to visit both cities to see how much bigger Manchester is and just how smaller and far behind Leeds is. I wish this were not the case, it’s high time the council and powers in our city woke up and did something to put us on the map.

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