Co-op Live Arena: I went to the opening of Manchester's newest venue - here's what to expect

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We had a first look inside the new Co-op Live arena.

After years of planning, construction and anticipation, Manchester’s new Co-op Live arena officially opened its doors on Saturday 20 April for an opening ceremony and tester gig headlined by the one and only Rick Astley. 

The £365million arena has a capacity of 23,500, including 9,200 standing. So far around 34 acts have been announced for the music-first arena’s opening season, including Olivia Rodrigo, Nicky Minaj and Liam Gallagher. The headliner for the first official gig at the arena, taking place on Tuesday 23 April, will be comedian Peter Kay. 

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We were one of the lucky ones invited to the opening event. Here is an overview of the big day and what you can expect if you’re thinking of getting tickets for one of the upcoming gigs. 

The Co-op Live arenaThe Co-op Live arena
The Co-op Live arena | ManchesterWorld

Our day started outside the building itself, which is an imposing all-black structure that stands in stark contrast with the sky blues of Manchester City’s Etihad stadium next door. As we waited to be taken inside, the sound of a brass band started to emerge from along the newly-refurbished walking route that leads to the arena and before we knew it we were surrounded by carnival performers and the lively German techno brass band, Meute. 

After a brief photo opportunity, it was finally time to step foot inside. We entered through entrance C, which leads into a foyer area called The Street. It has a large bar that runs along the whole side of the room, and one thing that I definitely wasn’t expecting – but probably should have – a mini Co-op shop that was selling drinks, snacks as well as some hot food. 

The Co-op Live opening ceremony.The Co-op Live opening ceremony.
The Co-op Live opening ceremony. | ManchesterWorld

With a glass of bubbly in hand, guests took their seats for the opening ceremony, which was MC’d by radio presenter Clara Amfo. Guests heard from representatives of the Co-op Live shareholders, which includes the City Football Group and Oak View Group, an American sports real estate company. There was one high-profile investor who was missing from the event, however – Harry Styles, although he did have a video message to the crowds later. Council leader Bev Craig also spoke about the benefits the new arena will bring to a city like Manchester, known for its musical heritage. A video featuring messages of support from some Manchester-related famous faces, like David Beckham, was shown as part of the big countdown to the official opening, followed by another video of John Cooper Clarke, in which he recited a rousing poem and love letter to the city. 

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Finally, we were let into the main room of the arena, or the bowl, for a sneak peek. As a reporter who has been following the progress of the arena’s construction and line-up announcements with great interest, and as a regular gig-goer, this was a big moment for me and I was not disappointed. Like the exterior of the building, the inside of the arena is almost all black. And unlike other arenas, there is no advertising or corporate branding inside the bowl, designed intentionally for a more immersive experience. The true test for this impressive space, however, was yet to come. 

The Street foyer area of the Co-op Live arena. The Street foyer area of the Co-op Live arena.
The Street foyer area of the Co-op Live arena. | ManchesterWorld

There are a couple of bars within the bowl selling the usual range of drinks. Prices are on the steep side, with a small bottle of wine costing around £8.95 and a spirit and mixer costing around £11-14.  

The project architect Declan Sharkey spoke to journalists about some of the building’s features and highlights, such as the nine other club venues that are also part of the Co-op Live. Sadly, these areas are still not ready to open, as are the upper levels and VIP boxes of the – but we were promised another tour when it’s all complete. Another really interesting fact about the arena is that, despite its large capacity and floor space compared to other arenas, audience members will still be 23m closer to the action than at comparable arenas. 

While we were waiting for the main event, there were reports that some people who had bought tickets to the test event had had their tickets rescinded at the last minute. Co-op Live have apologised for having to reduce the capacity at last minute, but have offered those affected tickets for next week’s Black Keys gig. 

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Rick Astley performs at the Co-op Live arena opening test gig. Rick Astley performs at the Co-op Live arena opening test gig.
Rick Astley performs at the Co-op Live arena opening test gig. | ManchesterWorld

By 6:30pm, it was time for the music to begin and we finally got to see the new arena in action. If there is one thing you want from a gig venue, it’s sound quality. And while I am no expert, the clarity and depth of sound was notable. Even from the back and the sides, you could feel the bass in your chest and pick out the individual instruments in each ensemble. 

Visibility was also good. Granted, this was a much smaller crowd size than the arena will be pulling in when the opening season commences, but I still had a decent view of the stage from the back end of the floorspace – and I’m 4ft11. 

The first act to perform on the stage was local duo The KTNAs and it was fantastic to see homegrown talent be the first ones to welcome in the crowds. Muete came back for another exciting set, followed by Everything Everything. Danny Jones was the surprise act and he had the whole crowd singing along with “It’s all about you.” Then it was time for the headliner, Rick Astley – and it’s safe to say that I left a fan. He sang a mix of old and new songs, with a handful of covers thrown in, all of them crowd pleasers. 

When it was time to leave the arena, everyone filed out towards the Metrolink stop, where we got free trams towards the city centre. Approaching the Met stop, I was a bit worried that it would take ages to get through the queue, but it moved fast enough and we were able to get on the first one that arrived without too much commotion.

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Before the opening ceremony of the Co-op Live, I was slightly sceptical about whether Manchester really needed another arena, but the state-of-art technology used to craft the gig experience inside the venue is truly impressive. There is still some work to be done on the arena as a whole, and it’s still hard to imagine what it will be like in all its glory and how all those additional bars and club venues will be utilised. However, this is a promising start and I look forward to a proper, full-capacity gig there.

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