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What does the Co-op Live fail tell us about venue sponsorship?

By: Chris Bignell, CEO

A brand new music-first arena in Manchester—the largest in Britain—was scheduled to open its doors in April 2024. The venue was named after the primary sponsor Co-op, a retail pioneer of fair trade with strong roots in the region. Associating Co-op with such a hip new venue was sure to help inject new life into a historic but crusty old brand.

A catalogue of disasters

Some months ago, workers at the venue allegedly warned that the site would not be ready in time for the grand opening. Despite this, the opening shows were not cancelled until days before they were due to take place.  

The opening act, comedian Peter Kay, had to postpone gigs, not once but twice. Perhaps most worryingly, a 1st May gig with A Boogie With Da Hoodie was called off after a ventilation unit fell from the ceiling 15 minutes before the venue opened. There is some good news, however, as local superstars Elbow were full of praise for the project after the opening gigs last week.

An issue for the naming partner

While the Co-op Group is not the venue's builder or operator, the brand has copped more than its fair share of negative publicity for being associated with such a shambles. This is hardly surprising since the brand’s name is baked into the venue, and the company actively promotes the venue on its website. Fans have been particularly annoyed that gigs were not cancelled earlier—even when it must have been obvious Co-op Live would not be ready—meaning fans paid for travel and accommodation they could not use.

To date, Co-op has tried to distance itself from the troubles at the venue. However, with a reported £100 million invested in a 15-year naming rights sponsorship, the brand may struggle to wriggle out of its association easily.  

image of co-op live venue at night
Co-op Live has been dogged by teething problems. Image: Co-op Live

How to manage a sponsorship crisis

There’s an argument that Co-op should have known better than to back a major infrastructure project that was always likely to be delayed. But this misses the point. The issue is not whether the venue was ready. It’s that people were let down at the last moment—something that could have been avoided. 

If Co-op was aware of developments on site, the brand should have communicated more proactively with concert goers. If it was not, it should have paid more attention to a venue with its name on it.

Being visible, with accurate information and a clear position, is vital to any crisis situation. In this case, Co-op could have outlined a clear picture of the issues, admitting that—while it was not the brand's fault—it has a responsibility by association. Then, it could have apologised and offered shopping vouchers to affected customers.  

Brand sponsorships are a great way to raise a company’s profile but come with many potential pitfalls. Being proactive in planning a response should something go wrong is always time well spent.

P.S. I’m off to the venue myself in June for a gig so will report back after that!


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