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P&J Live boss and former Dons director Rob Wicks urges city to get behind venue

The managing director of P&J Live talks about job highlights so far, what his experience with Aberdeen FC taught him and today's challenges.

Rob Wicks, managing director at P&J Live, standing in the arena in Aberdeen.
Rob Wicks, managing director at P&J Live, standing in the arena. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Standing between looming pillar-like posters of the decorated greats at P&J Live such as Elton John and Michael Bublé, Rob Wicks jokes he is certainly in good company.

You could say stepping into the role of managing director at P&J Live seven months ago marked a new dawn for him.

The former commercial director at Aberdeen FC, with 25 years of experience in sports marketing and the events industry, has swapped football for live acts, conferences and banquets.

An exchange that some may have thought was quite the switch.

But for Rob, he said it was the most logical next step. And he’s feeling good.

Managing director Rob Wicks at P&J Live between Elton John and Lewis Capaldi posters.
Rob Wicks managing director at P&J Live. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Although his decision to leave the Dons behind was a hard one at the time, Rob said he is enjoying the variety the new role brings.

“It feels like seven months have flown by,” he said.

“The last role was very focused on football and the end product.

“Whereas here, one day you’re welcoming 500 fish pathologists to the building and the next day there’s a rock concert and two days later there’s a massive banquet for a big energy business for a thousand people.

“I enjoy the sheer diversity because it throws up quite a myriad of different challenges.”

Using experience with Aberdeen FC

Rob is certainly not short of experience in managing sizeable events, venues and marketing.

Hailing from South Africa, he has spent a lot of his working life in the world of motorcycle and powerboat racing in and around Europe – sometimes operating in multiple countries.

After joining Aberdeen Football Club in March 2018, Rob was instrumental in rolling out the AberDNA initiative, growing the club’s commercial revenues and introducing the Red Shed at Pittodrie.

Rob Wicks as Aberdeen FC commercial director sitting in Pittodrie
Rob Wicks as Aberdeen FC commercial director. Image: Kath Flannery

Looking back fondly, Rob said: “I think the time with the football club was enormously beneficial.

“Not only did I really enjoy it and like to think I made an impact, but it gave me an insight into Aberdeen as a city and some of the psyche that exists up in the north-east as to what interests and motivates and drives people.”

While sports are a steadfast passion, Rob added the career change also gave him the chance to indulge in another one.

He added: “I love my music and I have certainly been to a whole host of conferences and events and other activities to appreciate what goes on here.”

The P&J Live opened in August 2019. Image: Kenny Elrick/ DC Thomson.

P&J Live is a unique and sizeable venue

Since starting in his position as managing director, Rob said he had probably done around 20 tours of the P&J Live venue.

But despite seeing just about “every nook and cranny”, the size of the Aberdeen venue still astounds him.

He said: “Every now and again I’ll go down somewhere, and I’ll think ‘I haven’t been there before’ and I’m blown away at the scale of the venue.

ASM – the operator of the venue on behalf of the council – as a business, manages 325 other venues around the world and not many are on this scale and are both arena and all the conference and exhibition facilities combined. We’re quite unique.”

With the arena space and thousands of square metres of exhibition conference facilities, Rob said in some ways, it is almost two businesses in one.

The venue’s flexibility – such as converting the entire Sub T carpark into an exhibition area for Offshore Europe – ensures there is no shortage of variety of events.

Rob Wicks smiling outside P&J Live in Aberdeen.
Rob Wicks said it is the venue’s flexibility that enables it to cater to a wide range of events. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

‘There’s not a lot we can’t do’

For entertainment, in addition to the arena, they also have Hall C where The View will be playing this month. 

Rob said the smaller space, which can host up to 2,000 people, could be an opportunity to offer a platform for up-and-coming artists.

“It could give them an opportunity and a platform to really grow and develop,” he added.

“I was fortunate enough to present an award at the Scottish Music Awards down in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago and there’s some phenomenal up-and-coming talent.

“Hopefully, we can play our part and make it an opportunity to showcase their music in the north-east.”

Doubles Match - Jamie Murray / Andy Murray v Dan Evans / Neal Skupski at Battle of the Brits at P&J Live 2022.
Battle of the Brits was hosted in 2022 at the P&J Live. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

But it is not just music. P&J Live has hosted many big sporting events such as Battle of the Brits, Premier League Darts and Arena Cross, with Rob planning on using his own expertise to secure a few more.

Big-name comedians such as Bill Bailey and Michael McIntyre are booked in for next year with Jimmy Carr lined up for 2025.

Other major acts confirmed for 2024 are Girls Aloud, Niall Horan, Pete Tong Ibiza Classics, as well as Les Miserables and War of the Worlds.

Many also use the venue for various conferences and banquets with The P&J hosting their own 275 Charity Gala in February next year. 

Rob added: “I think just given the flexibility of the venue there’s so much that can be done here. There’s not a lot we can’t do.”

Highlights: Fantastic team, Elton John and Offshore Europe

When asked about his personal highlights so far, Rob was very quick to praise his team and their efficiency.

Particularly with megastar Elton John and his 32 artic lorries.

“We’ve got a very strong central group headquartered out of Manchester with some phenomenal expertise,” Rob said.

“That’s given me a lot of confidence to know we’ve got access to that sort of know-how, technology and expertise.

Elton John smiling with his arm leaning on the piano.
Elton John played his 318 and 319 shows as part of his world tour at P&J Live. Image: Marshall Arts.

“And the team here are fantastic and hugely committed.

“The first highlight was stepping into the job in June and 10 days later seeing the way the team performed when Elton John arrived with 32 artic lorries.

“It was just the response our team had from his management team and entourage and the way they were looked after here.

“Also seeing Offshore Europe and the build-up. It’s such an enormous event, it takes up every square inch of this building – and the team really delivered.”

…But P&J Live needs support from the people of Aberdeen

Despite its size, Rob said one of the main challenges the team are facing is putting the P&J Live firmly on the map.

When it opened in August 2019, the venue only had around seven months to start establishing itself before lockdown cut its “honeymoon period” – of getting promoters, conference organisers and the public into the building – short.

The venue played an important role in the fight against Covid with many Aberdonians visiting to get their vaccinations.

But for some people in the city, this is the only time they have been inside.

Rob Wicks managing director at P&J Live Aberdeen in front of a board displaying all the big acts who have visited the venue so far.
Rob Wicks said there is a whole variety of events for people to enjoy at the venue. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

While understanding many are being affected by the cost-of-living crisis, Rob encouraged the people of Aberdeen to get behind the venue.

He added: “I think we need people to try and be a little bit more upbeat.

“We know the city is not without its challenges…but we’ve got a huge amount I think to be grateful for.

“I’d just love people to be a bit more positive and if people out there aren’t committed to buying tickets, getting involved, coming to the venue and enjoying the broad range of things we’ve got on, it sends the wrong message to promoters and it will turn them off.

“A huge amount of money has been invested in this venue and we should be doing everything as a community to make it a success.

“I guess the message is come and see what’s here because it’s really worth the visit.”