CONCERTS, events and conferences are back – with a gig by young star Sam Fender in March recording the highest-ever audience for a single show at The OVO Hydro, the chief executive of Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC), Peter Duthie, has confirmed.

Speaking on yesterday’s Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, Mr Duthie said that the 14,500-capacity Hydro, which was one of just five venues in the world to sell over one million tickets in 2019 – the last full year before Covid restrictions hit – was returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“The last couple of months have been incredibly busy and our future calendar is really strong with rescheduled concerts, live entertainment, conferences and some exhibitions,” he said.

The SEC has three buildings – The OVO Hydro, SEC Armadillo and the original building, the SEC Centre – with ambitious plans to expand with a new £200 million conference centre.

After making a statement on the world stage with the Hydro, which opened in 2013 and has since attracted the biggest names in entertainment, from Madonna, Beyoncé, Adele and One Direction to Scotland’s own Calvin Harris and local boy Kevin Bridges – the venue’s biggest-selling artist to date – it was always a question of “what’s next”, said Mr Duthie.

“One thing we don’t lack is ambition and the answer was conferences,” he added. “Our conference facility had been hugely successful – Glasgow punches well above its weight in the conference sector and we have a fantastic, award-winning convention bureau that we work closely with.

“So the opportunity to create a new facility that would enhance our capacity, enhance the scale of events we are able to attract to allow us to stage two events of scale at once – and also significantly bigger events – was there if we could build the facility to do it.”

The new conference centre, he noted, will “create something that is more modern, better suited to the needs of the market that will be moving forward over the next 10-15 years, and help us maintain our place and grow our place in what is increasingly international competition”.

Mr Duthie said: “Every major city around the world now is looking at enhancing their conference offer because they understand the value it brings.”

While the process of securing funding for the new facility is still in progress with talks ongoing with both the UK and Scottish governments, the “argument is quite simple”, he added. “The project will add something like £66m per annum GVA to Scotland. Every £1 of GVA delivers 38p in tax revenues for the Government – with the current fiscal framework that splits roughly 50-50 between the UK Government and the Scottish Government.

“So it will deliver somewhere in the region of £25m per annum in tax revenues once it is open. It will pay for itself in 10 years.”

Chief executive since 2014, Mr Duthie joined the team when the venue, then called the SECC, was being constructed in 1984. Very much a one-stop shop for conferences, exhibitions and live entertainment, the SEC has undoubtedly changed the landscape of the Clyde.

At the time, the NEC in Birmingham had just opened and was running indoor sporting events so the plan was to attempt to replicate that model when the SECC opened. “There were no arenas around the world, we were staging concerts in a temporary set-up in an exhibition hall like they did at the NEC and at Earls Court in London,” said Mr Duthie.

A bespoke concert venue was discussed over the years, he added. “There was pressure from artists who were looking for increased capacity, from promoters. We had availability issues as the centre was becoming busier with exhibitions plus we had to build the seated environment then take it back down so there were cost implications around that too.”

Scheduling, Mr Duthie noted, became a real challenge. “The final driver [for the Hydro] was one week when we had to turn down bookings for Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé because we couldn’t fit them into their tour schedule.

“Glasgow has so much to offer, Scotland has so much to offer conference delegates and the SEC sits on the waterfront, it’s a 20-minute walk from the city centre,” he noted, recalling that he could “never have contemplated” having a world-class facility like the Hydro in Glasgow.

“The regeneration of Finnieston that came along was not a designed output from the project,” he pointed out. “Ultimately, the business plan was based on 700,000 visitors to the Hydro a year but we were doing over one million before the pandemic. That footfall drives people into the city, it fills the hotels and restaurants, and people spend money in the shops and on taxis.”