Behind the scenes at Concert for Ukraine

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Concert for Ukraine served as a reminder of how music can unite us even in the most uncertain and troublesome of times. Here, we take a closer look at how the concert came about, the challenges involved to get Resorts World Arena turned around in record time, and the incredible results achieved…

Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Paloma Faith, Gregory Porter, Emeli Sandé, Nile Rodgers and Chic were among those performing at Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena on March 29. Wind back the clock to the beginning of that month when the idea behind Concert for Ukraine surfaced. The idea was simple; to bring together names from the world of music for a unique event spreading a message of hope and support, and most importantly, to raise funds for the ongoing DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

Whilst there was a clear vision to bring to life, organisers were hopeful of staging the televised concert somewhere in the second half of March, so there was an immediate sense of urgency to get the message out there and bring the right partners on board. Securing a venue and a team accustomed to delivering major live TV events at such short notice was, therefore, a priority.

With great road, rail and air links, Resorts World Arena was a natural choice for the concert. Situated on the NEC Campus just outside Birmingham city centre, its central location and proximity to facilities and production companies met the event’s needs. A large, televised event needed to be turned around in such a short period of time.

That’s what initiated a call – the first of many – between Livewire Pictures and the NEC Group. It was on Friday, March 4 – just 25 days before the concert took place – when Guy Freeman, managing director of Livewire Pictures, made initial contact and presented the idea to Ben Sharman, venue sales manager of ticketing and arenas at NEC Group. Resorts World Arena was chosen and confirmed just 19 days before the big date. An impressive feat given the usual time it takes to prepare for a show. It was from this very moment when the wheels were firmly set in motion.

A site visit followed on March 17, bringing together the many different production teams required to plan, create, and host the event. Everything from security, production, TV, catering, cleaning, rigging, lighting, special effects, front of house, artists dressing rooms and furniture, medical and IT were discussed. Key suppliers and contractors included: OCS Group UK, Neon Arena Services, Medical Solutions, CBRE, Amadeus, National Merchandise and Off to Work. Plus, All Access Staging, Neg Earth, Plus 4 Audio, Power Logistics, SES Group, Skan PA Hire, Radiotek, Inspire Furniture Hire, and Creative Technology all provided kit and services to the televised fundraiser.

Concert for Ukraine Getty Images

It was agreed early on – and unsurprisingly so – that all suppliers involved in the set-up of the event would provide their services free of charge, with 100 per cent of profits made from ticket sales and other channels, such as food and beverage, going straight to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

One of the challenges from an event management perspective was to oversee and manage all the different logistics between these individual teams to ensure everyone was working in harmony. The NEC Group’s event management team created a bespoke layout to accommodate dressing rooms for 14 artists, a major TV production and enough seats to bring live to life for those in the venue and the millions watching on ITV. The result was a specially configured Resorts World Arena with a capacity audience of more than 8,000, around half of its maximum capacity. A final layout was then agreed with the organisers on March 21.

The very next day, tickets for Concert for Ukraine went on-sale to the public. The tickets, which were sold exclusively by the NEC Group’s official box office The Ticket Factory, flew out the door, and sold out in no time, such was the concert’s national appeal and media interest.

As the excitement grew there was a real sense of “we’re all in this together”, with a raft of companies, agencies and freelancers enquiring just days before the event to offer their services. Individual people came onboard as volunteers and other external suppliers agreed to provide whatever services and goods available at zero cost. Not to mention ITV, who provided the airtime with £3 million worth of advertising revenue and broadcast sponsorship going to the appeal.

The build day arrived on March 27 just hours after BBC Planet Earth II was staged at Resorts World Arena. In just the blink of an eye, the arena came to life and before you knew it, artists were conducting dress rehearsals and the media and public
were primed for what was set to be a historic night for UK’s live events and entertainment industries.

More than 8,000 people attended Concert for Ukraine with a peak of 3.6 million people at home tuning into the live broadcast. It was the most watched programme of the day for 16-34-year-olds. Most importantly, the event delivered on the idea of bringing together some of the world’s biggest artists to raise funds. Through sponsorship, ticket sales, ad revenue and public donations, Concert for Ukraine raised a staggering £13.4 million.

There was a real sense of pride in the air the day after. All the people involved had been able to make a small difference to the lives of people affected by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, which was a powerful and emotional feeling. The NEC Group is in the business of putting events on day after day. But Concert for Ukraine will have a special place in its heart. When people look back on their careers, the event will stand out.

Images © Getty images