Onyx Arena

As Jeddah gets a brand-new indoor multipurpose venue capable of hosting everything from a corporate gala dinner to a 12,000-capacity standing concert, TPiMEA drops in for a sneak peek.

What do you do when you want to host a concert, but you can’t quite find the perfect space with the right facilities for it? For most companies, the solution would be to compromise somewhere – perhaps with a lower capacity or smaller production values. However, for MDLBEAST, an organisation that has always danced to the beat of its own drum – the word ‘compromise’ is not part of the vocabulary. “We looked around some beautiful venues but nothing in Jeddah was equipped for the calibre of show we wanted, so we thought why not create our own arena that has everything we need?” recalled Director of Events and Project Director, George Haddad, explaining the origins of the brand-new Onyx Arena.  

Located inside King Abdullah Sport City, just a stone’s throw away from the stadium of the same name and a 20-minute drive from Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, Onyx Arena is a state-of-the-art multipurpose venue capable of hosting a wide range of events, from conferences and exhibitions to corporate launches, sporting events, concerts, and everything in between. “It’s multipurpose in every sense of the word,” Haddad shared. “The facility has been designed to be as malleable as possible, so it can comfortably be used for pretty much any kind of event you could possibly think of.”

TPiMEA got an exclusive peek inside the venue prior to its opening, with Michael ‘Curly’ Jobson, Executive Director of Events at MDLBEAST, leading a private guided tour. “Welcome to the Onyx Arena!” Curly said proudly, as the doors swung open, and we got our first look inside the cavernous space.

With and an inside space of 7,000 sq m (including a column-free floor space of 100m long by 65m wide) and a ceiling height of 25m up to the apex, there’s no shortage of room inside Onyx Arena. However, as handy as the space is, one characteristic of the venue that really sets it apart is its impressive rigging capacity, with ceiling rigging points rated for a total load of up to 160 tonnes, meaning large-scale production values are more than achievable.

Power is also taken care of, with 6,500KVA readily available for productions to plug and play, negating the need to bring in any external generators. In fact, as Curly explained, every facet of Onyx Arena has been thought through from the perspective of an incoming production, making it as easy as possible for PMs so they can focus on the show. “There is a lot of experience within the team, and we know what clients require from a venue,” he commented. “There are no other venues in Jeddah that have this level of readily available assets on site all incorporated neatly into the building’s design. There should be very little additional build required on site for any incoming production.”

As we step outside the main auditorium, it’s clear that this ethos of providing a complete solution runs throughout the building, with fully equipped production offices, hotel room-style VIP artist green rooms, catering and even warehousing storage areas for clients’ equipment in the back of house area, along with washrooms, medical centre, food and beverage and merch kiosks conveniently located for audience members.

While the Onyx Arena will welcome all manner of events from various promoters and productions, the fact that the venue is part of the MDLBEAST family brings with it some serious benefits – not least access to the company’s coveted in-house expertise and extensive supply chain.

The location of the Onyx Arena was selected with external operations in mind, as Haddad explained. “You can have the best venue in the world, but if it’s in an area that’s too busy or doesn’t have any parking, it’s pointless,” he said, noting the arena’s dedicated access route and 12,000 self-contained parking spaces distributed evenly within the wider King Abdullah Sport City perimeter. “The audience journey starts from the moment they buy their ticket and carries right through to the journey home, and lots of care and attention has been put into every step to ensure it’s as smooth and enjoyable as possible.”

With a fully controllable HVAC air-conditioning system, the new venue expands Jeddah’s capability to host events throughout the typically quiet summer months. “That’s something that has been lacking up to now, but we are fully capable of operating throughout the year,” Haddad commented. “It means that Q2 and Q3 will now be much more utilised periods and there’s a potential to host mid-sized concerts and events much more regularly throughout the year.”

Of course, as with all the various MDLBEAST ventures, Onyx Arena is very much part of a bigger plan, contributing to the development of the live events industry in Saudi Arabia. “A lot of the shows that have taken place in Saudi Arabia so far are these huge megaprojects such as Soundstorm and the Formula One After-Race Concerts, which are fantastic but can only happen a few times a year,” Haddad explained. “What a venue like Onyx Arena offers is the ability to host smaller shows much more frequently. It normalises going to a gig rather than it being something that only happens once or twice a year.”

Describing the venue as “part of a larger ecosystem”, Haddad explained how smaller, more regular events hold the key to long-term development of the industry. “It starts at club level, with 300- or 400-capacity shows giving the opportunity for more emerging artists to get experience performing on stage to a crowd. As these artists gain a bigger following, the Onyx Arena is the perfect next step before they’re ready to play in these massive outdoor shows,” he stated.

“It’s an ambition for us to not just focus on the big events, but also put just as much effort into the smaller shows; that’s where the grassroots talent develops,” he concluded. “We’re at the forefront of helping to build the foundation of the music industry here, and it’s an honour and a pleasure to be a part of it.”

Ramadan Alharatani, CEO of MDLBEAST, had the final word: “We are proud to launch Onyx Arena,” he stated. “A multipurpose venue offering unmatched experiences for all types of event organisers from concerts to exhibitions and conferences, Onyx Arena creates lasting memories. With top-notch facilities and seamless event management, we enable year-round activations that contribute to the development of the entertainment industry.”

Photos: Onyx Arena