Thousands ‘fuming’ after tickets cancelled for Co-op Live arena show in Manchester

<span>People arriving at the arena for the warmup show on Saturday. </span><span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
People arriving at the arena for the warmup show on Saturday. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Thousands of people due to attend the first event at the UK’s biggest indoor arena had their tickets cancelled at the last minute on Saturday.

Rick Astley took to the stage at the new 23,500-capacity Co-op Live arena, which opens officially on Tuesday, to perform to 11,000 arena workers, VIPs and press at a free test event.

However, it is thought as many as 4,000 tickets were cancelled, some just one hour before the show, leaving people “fuming”.

One gig-goer, Byron Edwards, posted on X: “Invitational tickets to the test event tonight cancelled just 90 minutes before doors open. What kind of shit show is this?”

Alison Stafford-Bentley said: “Thanks for cancelling tickets for tonight less than an hour before event is due to start. Absolutely fuming.”

Other teething problems included long queues for food, rows of seats not being ready and problems moving the crowds around the venue.

A Co-op Live spokesperson said: “We’re busy putting the finishing touches on Co-op Live, and we are looking forward to Co-op Live becoming the pre-eminent arena in the UK upon opening.

“As a part of the opening process, we are in the midst of an extensive protocol of testing critical procedures. To enable us to test the spaces effectively, we have made the difficult decision to reduce overall capacity for today’s test event. We apologise to affected guests and look forward to welcoming them to the Black Keys.”

Sited on the Etihad Campus next to the Manchester City football ground, the £365m venue will officially open on Tuesday with two shows by the comedian Peter Kay, for which there are still tickets available.

Related: Manchester City plan to add 7,000 seats, museum and hotel to Etihad Stadium

Take That, the Killers, Eric Clapton, Barry Manilow and Olivia Rodrigo are all due to perform in the coming weeks, with plans to hold the MTV Europe music awards there in November.

Construction began in 2021 on the new venue, which is financed by the City Football Group – owned by the billionaire Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour – and the US sports and commercial real estate giant Oak View Group.

Harry Styles, who grew up 30 miles away, has a minor stake and advised on aspects of the design, which features four stacked black boxes with a similarly black interior.

The arena was welcomed by Manchester council, its leader, Bev Craig, saying the venue would “deliver a huge boost for our local economy and result in significant commercial and wider benefits for the city”.

However, questions were raised over whether there was a need for another large-scale music venue just two miles from the 21,000-capacity Manchester AO arena.

The two venues came to blows during the planning process, when the AO arena objected numerous times to Co-op Live proposals, including to what it described as a “simply unlawful” licensing application that would allow the new arena to serve alcohol until 2am at weekends and 24/7 on 25 occasions every year.

Co-op Live’s lawyers argued it was a “ludicrous and disingenuous” objection, at the meeting at Manchester town hall in February.

Co-op Live also faced criticism from the Music Venue Trust (MVT) for its potential impact on live music in Manchester. The venue had previously “declined” to sign up to a £1-per-ticket levy that funds the MVT’s “pipeline investment fund” for grassroots venues.

The MVT recently warned of the crisis facing grassroots music and arts venues, telling the Guardian “the whole ecosystem is collapsing”.