AO Arena: The many names, events and landmarks of Manchester’s Arena and what future holds as Co-op Live opens

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The Manchester city centre venue has welcomed some of the biggest names in music and sport - but soon there will be a new kid on the block.

Manchester is constantly on the forefront of music venues, with iconic spots of all sizes located around the city. The Night and Day Café is one of the more popular, intimate venues and the portfolio will be added to next year when the large-scale Co-op Live opens its doors

The AO Arena, sitting in pride of place in Manchester city centre, has been the premier events venue in the city for nearly 30 years. Music, sports and a plethora of other events have taken front and centre at the venue over the years. 

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The arena’s concept was first considered in the 1980s, and the first steps towards the construction of what is now the AO Arena took place in March 1993. The ground on the venue was broken and development got underway shortly after. The venue opened its doors for the first time in 1995, and is of course handily placed on the doorstep of Victoria Station. Few venues of its size can say it is located so close to metro services and national rail trains, but the ease of which you can get to the AO Arena makes it popular. 

The NYNEX, the MEN and now the AO Arena

Over the years, the Arena has changed name on a regular basis. For certain age groups, however, it will always be known by a particular name. Upon opening, the arena was christened the NYNEX arena, a name it held for three years. The new millennium was seen in with the arena going under the name of The Manchester Evening News Arena- a name which it was given in 1998. This is the name which the arena held for the longest, only changing in 2011. 

It had no sponsorship name again until 2013, when it was unveiled as the Phones4U Arena and then from 2015 to 2020 it was known simply as the Manchester Arena. From then on in, it’s had the name we all know it as now - The AO Arena. 

From the Rolling Stones to Peter Kay

Over its near 30 years of existence, the AO Arena has welcomed some of the biggest names in world music, comedy and pretty much everything else in between. The Rolling Stones, Prince and Madonna have all graced the stage, with the top musicians of the era owning their time in Manchester by putting on legendary performances. Bolton-born comedian Peter Kay has enjoyed a lengthy residency at the venue, and his return to stand up has seen the Manc crowds welcome him back with open arms. 

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Home to sports teams and major events

A general view of play during the Vitality Netball International Series match between England and South Africa at AO Arena on December 05, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for England Netball)A general view of play during the Vitality Netball International Series match between England and South Africa at AO Arena on December 05, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for England Netball)
A general view of play during the Vitality Netball International Series match between England and South Africa at AO Arena on December 05, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for England Netball) | Getty Images for England Netball

Music has had a home at the AO Arena since the very early days, but plenty of other events have stopped by over the years. It has without doubt become one of the homes of big British boxing nights, thanks in large parts to the exploits of a certain Ricky Hatton. In more recent years fellow home favourites Anthony Crolla and Scott Quigg have enjoyed big, raucous nights at the arena. Ricky's son Campbell might soon follow in his dad's footsteps.

In 1995, Manchester Giants Basketball Team and ice hockey side Manchester Storm moved into the arena, with both staying until the early 2000s.  After the Storm folded, a new team was formed in its place to bring top flight ice hockey back to Manchester. The Manchester Phoenix called the arena their home for 2003 and 2004. 

Over the years there have also been several one off big sporting events at the Arena. Just this year, there has been the annual instalment of Premier League Darts, a week of Davis Cup tennis, international netball and performances from the world famous basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters. 

2024 and beyond - the arrival of Co-op Live

The AO Arena continues to build and grow as a premier events venue in the heart of Manchester. Thousands of people will attend a wide range of exciting and captivating performances over the coming months, and the events schedule is already looking exciting with doubtless plenty to be still added. 

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2024 will however be an interesting year for the AO Arena, with the opening of Co-op Live acting as potential competition for the big events in the region. Hits Radio Live appears to be the first major event to swap the AO for Co-op next year. At the end of the day though, the opening of a second large scale music venue in Manchester will increase the chances of these big bands coming to stop off in the city on their tours.

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