American billionaire Shahid Khan, who owns Fulham FC and Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, wants to add Wembley Stadium to his portfolio. And it’s easy to see why.
“Whether we are catering for 90,000 people at an England football international, 75,000 people at a concert or 500 people at a company AGM, all events at Wembley Stadium will be first class”, then Chief Executive, Michael Cunnah, said in 2006.
The Wembley construction debacle cost Cunnah his job, he had gone by the time the doors finally swung open on 17 March 2007, and his successors have smashed even his loftiest numbers prediction.
Certainly, it was the only place in the country Adele considered for her record-breaking, revolutionary Finale shows last summer.
“Wembley fucking stadium,” the Skyfall singer said, astonished at the level of her own achievement, packing an extraordinary 98,000 people in.
The Stone Roses were headliners/headline makers at Wembley 2017 too, playing quite possibly their last London gig.
“It’s busier now than it ever has been,” General Manager, Liam Boylan, says. “We had Adele loading in while ELO was loading out. There are four Ed Sheeran shows and two from Taylor Swift in play this year and promoters are knocking on the door for 2019. It’s limited availability though and tight turnarounds so we have to convince them and help them understand how the stadium works best.”
While Tottenham Hotspur has used the ground for home games this season, The stadium bristles with non-football events to the extent that, for Boylan and company, nothing is extracurricular.
A huge part of accepting Tottenham’s tenancy was ensuring the club’s wants could fit around the Wembley schedule, which includes Championship play-offs, England games, and concerts through June and into July. Then the groundsmen need to get the pitch ready for the Community Shield. At least two NFL events a year follow in October and that’s just the top of the picture.
Setting the stage
Liam Boylan is a product of what’s made Wembley Stadium realise its massive potential after struggling to find the balance when the covers came off.
The stop/start/claim/counter claim/spiralling cost of the project famously left management on the defensive and promoters chasing the coveted ‘first band to play new model Wembley’ title while the complex/Multiplex build battle moved the goalposts. In the end, fittingly, it was relatively local hero George Michael who brought the curtain up with two spectacular shows in June 2007.
Metallica and Muse followed in his tracks, the Live Earth festival was there and the Concert for Diana, all within four months of the stadium opening. But there were few words of praise from promoters or production teams among the criticism.
To its considerable credit Wembley Stadium listened and slowly, surely, made the changes. Boylan, who was less than impressed with the venue as Event Manager for SJM Concerts, switched sides in 2015 and has brought a real fluidity, a sought after sheen, to the operation.
“Between 2005 and 2013 I looked after all SJM’s outside events and I was one of the loudest voices in those early years to say to Wembley, ‘This isn’t working’,” Boylan tells Event Industry News.
“Ultimately, Wembley asked me to come on board and I brought in Darren Booth from The O2, who had worked at Liverpool Arena and Nottingham Arena, and we have rung the changes. Not least expanding the cut-out stage pocket, which means we can get shows in without going onto the pitch with plant or machinery.
“Henry Munro, who has a background in the technical side of arenas, joined us, bringing another very good reputation into the mix, and it’s a team the music industry trusts. We know what they want to achieve.”
“Our USP is our understanding of a production before it arrives,” Boylan says in summary. “Henry is like a magician in that regard. Adele wanted spotlights in the four corners of the stadium, for example, where there is no power, and Henry had it all ready.
“We want Wembley to be plug and play. PMs are starting to use the arch and the ribbon band, which runs around the inside of the bowl, for the big picture and we’re looking at putting in a concert-ready PA system, tailored to the space. If a show is ready for Wembley, we’re ready to put it on.”