Showcasing Abu Dhabi as a global sporting and entertainment hub
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Interview: How Flash Entertainment is showcasing Abu Dhabi as a global sporting and entertainment hub

Interview: How Flash Entertainment is showcasing Abu Dhabi as a global sporting and entertainment hub

John Lickrish, CEO of flash entertainment, tells us how the company continues to play a big role in Abu Dhabi’s recent foray into the fast-paced world of esports

Showcasing Abu Dhabi as a prime global sporting and entertainment hub

What are some of the innovative entertainment and sporting experiences you’ve brought to the region?
We take great pride in our contribution to the growth and recovery of the UAE’s entertainment and sporting industry. Collaboration is key to any successful event, and we have worked closely with a range of stakeholders such as the Executive Affairs Authority (EAA); Department of Culture & Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi); Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Miral, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Managemen, Etihad Airways, Mubadala and global partners such as Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and more to produce a range of phenomenal events over the past 14 years.

John Lickrish, CEO of Flash Entertainment
John Lickrish, CEO of Flash Entertainment

Some of our highlights include the Abu Dhabi Showdown Week and the Fight Island series, five FIFA Club World Cups, including 2021; Mubadala World Tennis Championship, and the ever-popular Yasalam After-Race Concert series, which accompanies the annual Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yasalam was truly the industry pioneer in this space, as the first city-wide entertainment festival associated with a Formula One event, bringing AAA (Adult album alternative) artists, regional talent and more, to the emirate for the final race of the F1 season every year.

Hosting three UFC Fight Island events in the space of seven months, including the first event with attending fans since the beginning of the pandemic, demonstrated Abu Dhabi’s readiness to welcome visitors and underlined its capability to host major international events within the highest global standards of health and safety. With Abu Dhabi Showdown Week and the Fight Island series, we have supported DCT Abu Dhabi in bringing some of the biggest names in UFC to Abu Dhabi in a safe and secure environment.

During the first Covid lockdown, we hosted the region’s first virtual concert with artists from across the UAE performing, including Freek, FAFA and Mo Flow, which has paved the way for some exciting new content we are working on. We also partnered with AD Gaming to launch a virtual esports series, featuring four popular events. Another innovation we are proud of is the launch of our ‘Regional Artist Spotlight’ platform, which was devised to provide support for musical talent in the GCC after the entertainment industry was hit during the pandemic. Regional Artist Spotlight is an ongoing initiative, promoting content from artists who don’t have access to the scale of promotion that international artists would receive. Our focus is to help this regional talent gain exposure to a broader audience.

The launch of the Regional Artist Spotlight platform was quickly followed by another innovation at the opening of Ain Dubai in October 2021, where we had our first RAS Sessions, with our regional artists performing on the main stage through the weekend’s celebrations. Another big milestone for the RAS platform was having the artists on stage at the 2021 Yasalam After Race Concert Series. They opened for the AAA artists, warming up the crowds, on three of the four nights. We are aiming to do the same again during this year’s edition in November.

How has the company contributed to raising Abu Dhabi’sprofile as the region’s sporting and entertainment capital?
Abu Dhabi has a diverse mix of cultural, sporting and entertainment attractions catering to all preferences, and we have contributed to the emirate’s success by delivering more than 400 major events across live music, sport, cultural events as well as events of national importance. Collaboration is key and we’ve had great success in working with government entities and stakeholders to help cement Abu Dhabi’s status as the region’s sporting and entertainment capital. We are constantly exploring new opportunities with our stakeholders and partners and looking at combined programmes to increase the length of stay of visitors coming to Abu Dhabi for specific events. At present, a visitor can plan for activities that span several days, across multiple genres and interests, including concerts, museums, arts and culture, lifestyle and sport.

What do customers want today when it comes to entertainment, and how have their expectations changed since the Covid-19 pandemic?
Since the pandemic we have learned a lot and there is more we can all now do in the digital space to enhance experience for fans and stakeholders. However, nothing can replicate the thrill of live in-person experiences when it comes to entertainment events. Fans still crave the feeling of attending live events even more so after not being able to experience them for some time; diversifying our offerings and being able to provide a unique and premium experience is paramount to the success of our events. Ultimately, the most important thing for the entertainment industry is to engage people while continuing to showcase Abu Dhabi and the broader region’s capabilities, and all it has to offer.

Any challenges you are facing or faced because of the pandemic?
There is no denying the challenges caused by the pandemic. The global events industry was hit hard, and we were not immune to it. Covid-19 changed the events and entertainment landscape, but it is all about how to react and adapt. Thanks to our agile business model, we were at the forefront of the region’s response, adapting quickly to continue hosting events during the Covid-era and taking the lead post-pandemic. We maximised the opportunity to evolve our virtual entertainment offering and digitisation of content to meet the acceleration in digital platform consumption through the pandemic. And, our teams worked tirelessly to ensure health and safety protocols were in place throughout our venues, including Etihad Park and Etihad Arena. Throughout the lockdown we worked closely with Abu Dhabi authorities to ensure that once restrictions started easing, we were able to bring back the return of live, in-person events in a safe environment.

Tell us about the company’s diversification strategy. How is gaming and esports part of it?The development of new technologies has presented different ways for event organisers to reach their audiences. Gaming has witnessed a huge increase in recent years within the region. We saw the opportunity to capitalise on the growing trend and support the vision to create a gaming hub in the UAE capital. We worked with our partners AD Gaming to launch a series of four esports events to grow the regional gaming ecosystem. The series gave regional esports talent a platform to develop their skills against some of the best players in the world.

As strategic partners of Abu Dhabi Gaming, we delivered events around four hugely popular games: Dota 2, PUBG, Fortnite and FIFA. The Dota 2 MENA Cup event won Gold in the ‘E-Sports Event of the Year’ category, at the recent SPIA Awards. This was a proud moment for us, as it was our first award in the gaming sphere and demonstrated that we could deliver innovative events and our strategy to keep diversifying our offering. Our diversification drive also saw us re-enter Dubai in 2021 and early 2022 with our work on Expo 2020 Dubai where we worked with organisers and stakeholders on a range of live events throughout the Expo season, which resulted in us winning the award for ‘Best Event Production Live Entertainment Programming at the Middle East’, along with our partners HQWS and The Fridge. 

Tell us more about your collaboration with AD Gaming, and how it aims to propel the UAE into the forefront of esports in the region?
As mentioned, our strategic partnership with AD Gaming is a collaboration to transform gaming in the region with the ultimate aim of fostering and growing a regional gaming ecosystem, right here in Abu Dhabi. The partnership aligns with our goal to continue introducing innovative solutions and delivering unmissable experiences for residents and visitors alike. It is an exciting development for the region’s entertainment industry, and it is another example of how Flash Entertainment is striving to enhance the region’s entertainment landscape and provide a platform for regional talent The partnership leverages AD Gaming’s knowledge and our vast experience in delivering exceptional events. It lays solid foundations for Abu Dhabi’s esports and gaming community to test and develop their skills against global esports stars.

What is your outlook for the region’s gaming and esports sector in the coming months?
The global gaming industry is growing at a rapid pace, it is on course to surpass $200bn by 2023, and Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of driving that growth. Industry reports suggest there are already 100 million gamers in the Middle East, and 73 per cent of the UAE population are gamers. Governments across the region are hugely supportive of developing the gaming sector, and our partnership with AD Gaming is the next step in creating a thriving gaming ecosystem for the region.

Nearly half the population in the MENA region is under 25; they have grown up as digital natives and gaming is a huge part of their lives, so there is great opportunity for organisations such as ours to capitalise and create exceptional events and platforms, in collaboration with our strategic partners, for young regional talent to shine.

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