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First Direct Arena


First Direct Arena

First Direct Arena
Former names Leeds Arena
Location Claypit Lane
Owner Leeds City Council
Operator SMG
Capacity 13,500[1]
Broke ground February 2011
Built 2011-2013
Construction cost £60 million
Architect Populous
Project manager Davis Langdon, An AECOM Company
Main contractors BAM Construct UK Ltd

The First Direct Arena (formerly known as the Leeds Arena) is a 13,500 capacity[1] entertainment focused arena in Leeds, West Yorkshire. It is the first in the United Kingdom to have a fan-shaped orientation.[1]

The arena officially opened its doors on 4 September 2013 with Sir Elton John,[2] playing to an audience of 12,000. Bruce Springsteen had, however, held the first concert on 24 July 2013, with an audience of 13,000. The arena's opening season in 2013 later included acts including Kaiser Chiefs and Rod Stewart.[3]

The building has been nominated for the 2014 Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building of the previous 12 months.[4]


  • History 1
    • Public demand for an arena in Leeds 1.1
    • Developer and operator competition 1.2
    • Plans 1.3
    • Construction 1.4
    • Naming rights 1.5
    • Opposition from South Yorkshire 1.6
  • Events 2
    • Music 2.1
    • Comedy 2.2
    • Performance 2.3
    • Sport 2.4
  • Transport 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Public demand for an arena in Leeds

A model of the First Direct Arena in the Leeds City Museum, the arena is modelled in darker wood.
The Brunswick Building being demolished to clear the site for the arena.
Under construction in February 2012
Under construction in July 2012
Under construction in December 2012
Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam at the First Direct Arena, 8 July 2014

Leeds had been the largest city in the United Kingdom without a major venue to hold music or indoor sporting events. As of February 2010, Bristol and Leeds were the only major cities without an arena style venue. Previously, the Queen's Hall was used for popular music concerts but this was demolished in 1989. Since 1989, there have been a number of failed attempts at building a major venue in Leeds.

An arena has been long requested by residents in Leeds. The consultation on the Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020 showed a strong demand from the public for a new arena, and the project became one of the city's 12 priorities.[5] The Leeds Initiative formed a Cultural facilities task group to consider options. It appointed PMP consultants whose report outlined the viability of a Leeds Arena,and other potential projects such as a concert hall. The task group recommended that the Council proceed with the development of a 12,500 seat arena.

Whilst this study was taking place, campaigners including the Yorkshire Evening Post lobbied for a new arena to be built in the city. This resulted in a widescale 'Leeds needs an arena' campaign that had endorsements from local artists including the Kaiser Chiefs as well as local businesses and residents. The campaign was well publicised in local media, and included popular Myspace and Facebook groups.

Developer and operator competition

Following this, competitions began to find an operator and developer for an arena. In March 2008, SMG were chosen as the future operators of the First Direct Arena, following world wide interest from potential operators in the scheme.[6] SMG also operate arenas in Newcastle, Belfast and Manchester and operate over 200 venues worldwide.[7] The addition of Leeds strengthens their position in the UK Arena market. SMG's European managing director has stated that Leeds will be its "flagship venue" in Europe and that they expect First Direct Arena "to be in the top 10 in the world within two to three years of opening".[8]

Two main bidders were involved in the competition to develop the arena. These were the Council owned land at Elland Road as one location which would have been developed by GMI and land owned by Montpellier Estates in Sweet Street, Holbeck with Montpellier Estates being developer of the latter site.[9] However in November 2008, Leeds City Council announced they had terminated the developer competition and chosen Claypit Lane as the site for the new arena and would proceed as the developer. This resulted in a legal challenge from Montpellier Estates.[10] Montpellier's claim for more than £43.5 million was rejected by Justice Supperstone in a Judgement handed down on 6 February 2013.


The arena's location, on Claypit Lane is situated at the Northern Quarter of Leeds city centre, behind the Merrion Centre. The land the arena is being built on is the Claypit Lane Council car park and land formerly owned by Leeds Metropolitan University. Demolition of the former Leeds Metropolitan building was completed in 2009.

Independent economic impact assessments conducted by Yorkshire Forward show that the new arena will bring over £25 million to the local economy every year and bring 300 full-time jobs. The money provided by Leeds City Council will come from part of the proceeds from their sale of Leeds Bradford International Airport in October 2007, Yorkshire Forward grant support and revenues from rent and commercial activities. The total scheme costs are estimated to be in the region of £80 million including land costs.

The arena will be constructed in a super theatre fan shaped format as opposed to the more conventional bowl or horse-shoe seating arrangement commonly used by most arenas in the United Kingdom.[8] The arena promises 'perfect sightlines' from each seat and the longest distance from the stage will be 68 metres as opposed to 95–110 metres at a traditionally designed Arena. According to the City Council, flat floor seating and 15 rows of retractable seating can be removed to create a huge floor area holding thousands of standing spectators. The interior design is flexible and the First Direct Arena will be able to accommodate a range of events including:

  • Music concerts in various configurations
  • Comedy events
  • Family shows, such as "Walking with Dinosaurs"
  • Ice dance shows and family dance shows
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Boxing/ Wrestling/ UFC
  • Shows ranging from 1,500 capacity to 13,500 capacity

The external design was announced in August 2010. The external design has a honeycomb design. This design uses – a voronoi diagram – to create cellular shapes that are visible on key approaches to the arena.

On an evening, the front of the building will have the ability to change colour or pattern dependant on the show or mood of the arena at the time.


Construction work on the First Direct Arena commenced in February 2011.[11] Construction was completed by May 2013, with a public open day scheduled for 25 May.[12]

Naming rights

On 2 May 2013, telephone and internet bank First Direct were announced as the sponsor of the arena, with the name officially becoming the First Direct Arena.[13][14] The naming rights will expire in 2018.[15]

Opposition from South Yorkshire

Yorkshire Forward's support and intended £18 million funding has gained much publicity and has been subject to fierce political fighting. Some critics outlined that public funding is common on most recent Arena developments as seen in the Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool developments. Each arena gained public funding and this was not protested by other established arenas. However, there was some opposition to the Leeds Arena from the owners of Sheffield Arena and Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, who believe that the arena would adversely affect Sheffield Arena especially as the Leeds Arena would acquire funding from Yorkshire Forward. However, Yorkshire Forward stated that they fully support the development of an arena in Leeds and that an independent economic impact assessment also showed that a Leeds Arena would be of benefit to the entire region. Subsequently, Yorkshire Forward reaffirmed support to provide funding to the scheme. However, following a decision by BIS, central government initially did not authorise Yorkshire Forward to provide funding to the scheme. Soon after, it was announced that £9.9 million funding was authorised by central government. This was met with fierce criticism from Sheffield MPs, but received positive responses in the Leeds City Region.[16]


The first event in the arena was a concert by Bruce Springsteen on 24 July 2013 although the arena officially opened in September 2013.[17] A wide variety of events have already taken place or been scheduled, including:


Date Artist Tour Notes
24 July 2013 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Wrecking Ball World Tour First ever concert at the venue
4 September 2013 Elton John 40th Anniversary of the Rocket Man Official opening of the arena
7 September 2013 Leonard Cohen Old Ideas World Tour
13 September 2013 Kaiser Chiefs First local act to perform at the venue
24 September 2013 Rod Stewart Live the Life Tour
13 November 2013 Depeche Mode Delta Machine Tour
15 November 2013 Stereophonics
16 November 2013 Vampire Weekend
24 November 2013 Andrea Bocelli First classical act to play the venue
27 November 2013 Nickelback Here and Now Tour
9 December 2013 Boyzone BZ20: 20th Anniversary Tour
17 December 2013 Status Quo & 10CC Bula Quo! UK Tour
18 December 2013 Wet Wet Wet Greatest Hits Tour 2013
20 December 2013 JLS The Greatest Hits Tour 2013
28 February 2014 Australian Pink Floyd Set The Controls...
28 March 2014 Manic Street Preachers Pre-Futurology Tour
10 May 2014 Miley Cyrus The Bangerz World Tour
23 May 2014 Prince
16 - 17 June 2014 Robbie Williams The Swing Tour Live
20 June 2014 Dolly Parton Blue Smoke World Tour
22 June 2014 Eric Clapton
23 June 2014 Eagles History of the Eagles Tour
8 July 2014 Pearl Jam Lightning Bolt Tour
30 August 2014 Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
27 September 2014 James Taylor
11 October 2014 Ed Sheeran UK Tour
18 October 2014 Caro Emerald
19 October 2014 Jake Bugg
31 October 2014 Il Divo 'A Musical Affair' Tour
14 November 2014 Jack White
21 November 2014 Kasabian
24 November 2014 James Blunt
25 November 2014 Bryan Adams
2 December 2014 The Who
5 December 2014 Alfie Boe
Michael Bublé To Be Loved Tour
10 December 2014 Status Quo With special guests Chas & Dave
11 December 2014 Madness
20 January 2015 Queen + Adam Lambert UK Tour
14 February 2015 Kaiser Chiefs
24 February 2015 The Script With Labrinth
8 December 2015 Simply Red Big Love Tour


Miranda Hart, Russell Howard, Micky Flanagan, Lee Evans, John Bishop.


Cirque du Soleil, Jesus Christ Superstar, Dancing on Ice, Disney on Ice, The X Factor, Diversity.


The arena has hosted WWE Live, on Sunday 15 December 2013, May 2014 and December 2014, it played host to the 2013 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, on Thursday 20 March 2014, it hosted week 7 of the 2014 Premier League Darts and has hosted two evenings of boxing matches in 2014 including Leeds own Josh Warrington in a British and commonwealth featherweight title match. On 3 July 2014 it is the host for the Tour de France Grande Depart Team Presentation. It is also set to host week 1 of the 2015 Premier League Darts due to the success of hosting week 7 of the 2014 Premier League Darts.

Interior of the arena, taken a few days before its official opening


The arena is located in Leeds city centre, on Claypit Lane. There are over 7500 car parking spaces within a 15 minute walk of the arena,[3] and Leeds railway station and Leeds City bus station are each a 15 minute walk away. There are bus stands nearby on Woodhouse Lane. The proposed New Generation Transport trolleybus will run close to the arena.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "First Direct Arena". Leeds City Council. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Elton John opens the First Direct Arena in grand style
  3. ^ a b "first direct arena". Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  4. ^ The Carbuncle Cup award for the worst new building, accessdate: 24 August 2014
  5. ^ Vision for Leeds 2004-2020 - Leeds Initiative p. 32
  6. ^ Robinson, Paul (15 May 2008). "Council picks arena operator". Yorkshire Evening Post. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "SMG Europe". SMG Europe. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "'"SMG boss promises Leeds arena will be 'world class. Yorkshire Evening Post. 15 May 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  9. ^ "Two tycoons in race to build Leeds arena". Yorkshire Evening Post. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "'"Leader defiant over Leeds arena 'challenge. Yorkshire Evening Post. 8 February 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Leeds Arena construction work starts". BBC News. 18 February 2011. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  12. ^ "first direct arena - Public Open Day - 25th May 2013". Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  13. ^ "First Direct Arena". First Direct Arena. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "First Direct Arena". Facebook. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "First Direct unveiled as Leeds Arena sponsor". Yorkshire Evening Post. 2 May 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  16. ^ "Sheffield fury as Leeds Arena goes ahead with £10m funding package". Yorkshire Post. 11 December 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  17. ^ "Springsteen tour trucks given parking tickets in Leeds".  
  • "City Centre Location Chosen For New Leeds Arena". 
  • "Backing for Leeds Arena plan". Yorkshire Evening Post. 7 November 2008. 
  • "Populous Chosen As New Main Architects". 

External links

  • Official website for the First Direct Arena
  • Elton John opens the First Direct Arena
  • Official First Direct Arena Project website
  • Local Paper Website
  • First Direct Arena thread on
  • Google Map showing approximate location and area for development of the First Direct Arena
  • First Direct Arena Seating Plans
  • [1]
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