What is Virgin Money Unity Arena?

Virgin Money Unity Arena was the world’s first socially distanced music arena.

The North East’s leading event production company, SSD Concerts, did what no one thought was possible this year; it launched a full-production 2,500-capacity outdoor music venue. The hugely ambitious arena provided an all-out festival experience throughout the months of September and August 2020, while strictly adhering to all government guidelines regarding social distancing. Groups of up to five people were given their own private platform to watch the show from, toilets were rigorously cleaned throughout the performance and face masks and physical distancing were mandatory in all areas outside of private viewing areas. The huge stage and socially distanced platforms were built in the grounds of Gosforth Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Kicking off with local hero, Sam Fender.

The venue played host to some of the biggest names in the music industry, including The Libertines, Van Morrison, Becky Hill, Patrick Topping and Chase & Status.

How it Came Together

We aimed to sell out 25 shows in the space of 30 days and most importantly, keep the public safe. We knew that the scale of this project would come with scepticism, so it was our job as Virgin Money Unity Arena’s PR specialist to instil the general public with confidence in the arena. Some of the key challenges we had to consider before setting out on the campaign included the potential for poor ticket sales, negative reviews and public perceptions, paparazzi and of course, a Covid-19 outbreak. What we needed was a water-tight strategy and meticulous attention to detail. SSD started by assembling a dedicated and passionate team of marketers, social media specialists, photographers, videographers, artist liaison specialists and, of course, PR strategists, which is where JAC Media came in. Key to the success of Virgin Money Unity Arena was its rapid reaction time. As soon as the COVID-19 crisis hit, SSD’s Managing Director, Steve Davis immediately began looking for a solution. The short time frame meant we had just six weeks to promote the programme of live music, entertainment and comedy.

Building the Buzz

To generate excitement for the launch of the arena, we put together a rigorous PR campaign that included media partnerships, previews, artist interviews and competitions across TV, radio, regional press, blogs, national papers and arts magazines. Working closely with marketing and social media specialists, we continued to reach new audiences in the period running up to the launch weekend. Following a sell-out opening show from Sam Fender, our priority was to maintain this level of hype throughout the following weeks. We achieved this by opening our arms to regional, national and international media, building a purpose-built, socially distanced media tent and viewing platform to ensure our guests were safe and comfortable. We invited the very best music journalists from broadsheet newspapers and music magazines, as well as regional reporters from the North East’s leading TV channels, radio stations and print publications. From the first show to the last, we delivered daily press releases, providing the media with a stream of high-quality, fresh content, including artist interviews, previews, video content and photography from our ten in-house photographers and videographers. Paramount to our campaign was promoting not just the artists, promoters and production companies behind the event, but also the region as a whole. With national and international coverage from the likes of Fox News, CNN, The Telegraph and The Times, we made sure that the North East received the recognition it deserves as a centre for global live music.

The Result

• The six-week series of live comedy and music was a massive success with 80% of events selling out, zero negative reviews, and zero reported cases of Covid-19.

• In total, 2,626 pieces of coverage was secured for Virgin Money Unity Arena with a combined reach of 8.7m.

• And with over 300 local event professionals hired throughout the project, the Arena injected a sense of optimism into the struggling industry.

• The live events industry is facing one of its biggest challenges to date and we know for many organisations in the sector, the future's looking bleak.

• The success of Virgin Money Unity Arena just goes to show what is possible, even in these times of uncertainty. If your organisation is considering socially distanced live events, get in touch with us at JAC Media!