Wembley Arena

Wembley Arena /ˈwɛmbli/ (originally the Empire Pool and, since 1 July 2014, currently known as The SSE Arena, Wembley for sponsorship reasons) is an indoor arena adjacent to Wembley Stadium in Wembley, London. Used for music, comedy, family entertainment and sport, the 12,500-seat facility is London's second-largest indoor arena after The O2 Arena, and the ninth-largest (as of August 2019) in the United Kingdom.

Wembley Arena
Arena frontage
Full nameThe SSE Arena, Wembley
Former namesEmpire Pool (1934–1978)
Wembley Arena (1978–2014)
LocationArena Square
Engineers Way
Wembley Park
HA9 0AA[1]
Coordinates51°33′29.10″N 0°16′58.70″W
Public transit Wembley Park
Wembley Stadium
Wembley Central
OperatorAnschutz Entertainment Group
Broke groundNovember 1933
Opened25 July 1934 (1934-07-25)
Reopened2 April 2006
ArchitectArthur Elvin
Sir Owen Williams (engineer)


The Empire Pool (also known as Empire Pool and Sports Arena[2]) was built for the 1934 British Empire Games at Wembley, by Arthur Elvin, and originally housed a swimming pool, as reflected by its name. The pool itself was last used for the 1948 Summer Olympics. The building is used for music, comedy, family entertainment and sport.

It was designed by the engineer Sir Owen Williams, without the employment of an architect. Williams built a unique structure, with cantilevers meeting in the middle, thus avoiding the need for internal pillars. He also used high quality concrete, meaning that it has aged far better than many more recent concrete buildings.[3]

Work on the Empire Pool began in November 1933, and it was opened on 25 July 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. At the time it had the largest span of any similar structure in the world.[4][3][5] As with the Stadium, construction was supervised by R.J. Fowler, Wembley's chief building inspector.[6]

Elvin introduced ice hockey to the new Empire Pool in October 1934.[7] In 1976, the Empire Pool was awarded Grade II Listed status, recognising it as a building of special architectural interest, technological innovation and virtuosity.[8] On 1 February 1978, the Empire Pool was renamed Wembley Arena.[9]

When the venue was known as the Empire Pool, it hosted the annual NME Poll Winners Concerts during the mid-1960s. Audiences of 10,000 viewed acts like The Beatles (who performed there three times), T. Rex (whose Ringo Starr-directed documentary film Born to Boogie is centered on a 1972 concert at the Empire Pool); Genesis, David Bowie, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Monkees, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, Joe Brown & the Bruvvers, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, INXS, Pink Floyd, (who played there on their 1977 "In the Flesh" tour). The Eagles on their Hotel California 1978 tour, The Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, who played there on their "Brothers In Arms" tour in 1985 and "On Every Street" tour in 1991, Status Quo, The Who, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, were among many others. The individual performances were then finished by a famous personality joining the respective performer on stage and presenting them with their award. The Beatles were presented with one of their awards by actor Roger Moore and Joe Brown was joined on stage by Roy Orbison, to present him with his own award. These ceremonies were filmed, recorded and later broadcast on television.


The venue was renovated, along with Wembley Stadium, as part of the early-21st-century regeneration of the Wembley Park area. The arena was closed for fourteen months, starting February 2005, for a refurbishment costing £35 million (£51 today), with events moved to a neighbouring temporary 10,000-seat venue, the Wembley Arena Pavilion.[10][11] The new arena opened to the public on 2 April 2006, with a concert by the English electronic-music band Depeche Mode. The temporary pavilion was moved to Attard, Malta, opening as the permanent Malta Fairs & Convention Centre in December 2006.[12]

In September 2013, it was announced that AEG Facilities had signed a 15-year contract to operate the arena.[13]

The building was renamed The SSE Arena on 1 June 2014 after energy company SSE plc bought the naming rights to the venue for 10 years.[14]

Returning acts

The Grateful Dead have released recordings of complete shows from 7–8 April 1972 as part of Europe '72: The Complete Recordings. The Grateful Dead also performed at Wembley Arena on 31 October 1990 as part of their fall 1990 European concert tour.[15] Bruce Hornsby accompanied the band for this concert.[16]

A notable attendance record was set in the early 1970s by David Cassidy, in his first tour of Great Britain in 1973, when he sold out six performances in one weekend.[17] The experience and the associated mass hysteria was documented in a TV special called "David Cassidy: Weekend At Wembley".[18]

ABBA played six sold-out concerts, from 5 to 10 November 1979. The shows were filmed by Swedish television for a documentary which was released in 2004 on DVD as ABBA in Concert.[19] In September 2014 Universal Music released Live at Wembley Arena, featuring most of the concert of 10 November on CD, vinyl LP and digital format. After the tour, the members of the band talked about the warmth of the Wembley audience. "It was like coming home after a couple of nights," said guitarist Björn Ulvaeus.[20] A finale from these concerts, "The Way Old Friends Do", is the closing track on ABBA's seventh studio album, Super Trouper. Vocalist Agnetha Fältskog said it was the vibe from the audience that made the track work so much better as a live performance than as a studio track.[20]

Tina Turner is the female artist with the most shows, with 25 and with 5 at Wembley Stadium (three in 1996 and two in 2000) [21] Cliff Richard is the male artist with the most number of shows with 61,[22] whereas Status Quo hold the record for a rock band with 45 performances.[23] Irish band Westlife are the pop band with most shows with 28,[24] and comedian Lee Evans 23 performances.

Prince played 35 concerts at the venue between 1986–1998.[25]

During their 1998 Spiceworld Tour the Spice Girls played a total of 8 sold out concerts at the venue in April 1998.[26]

The arena hosted the final of The X Factor in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. After a shake up, in 2017, it was instead hosted at The ExCel Centre. But in November 2018, it was confirmed Wembley Arena would return to host The X Factor Final 2018.


Britney Spears performed there on 10, 11 and 12 October 2000 as part of her Oops!... I Did It Again Tour. She returned on 2004 for four shows during her The Onyx Hotel Tour.[27]

Kylie Minogue performed there on 24, 25, 26 and 27 May 2002 as part of her KylieFever2002. She returned in 2006 and 2007 for seven shows during her Showgirl: The Homecoming Tour.[28]

Christina Aguilera performed there on 2, 3 and 5 November 2003 as part of her Stripped Tour. The shows were filmed and later released as Stripped Live in the U.K.. She returned in 2006 for two shows as part of her Back to Basics Tour. She will return to the arena in November 2019 for The X Tour.

Beyoncé performed there on 10 and 11 November 2003 as part of her Dangerously in Love Tour. Live at Wembley was filmed during these two concerts.

Pearl Jam hold the attendance record for one show, with 12,470 fans at their 2007 gig.[29]

Bob Dylan has performed at the arena 13 times over his career to date, selling more than 160,000 tickets.[30]

Madonna has performed at the arena 8 times during her Confessions Tour, selling more than 80,000 tickets. The Confessions Tour (album) was filmed during these concerts. Madonna has performed at the arena 12 times over her career to date, selling more than 120,000 tickets.


On 3 August 2013, Nepathya became the first Nepalese band to perform at the Arena.[31]

On 6 September 2015, ABS-CBN's ASAP became the First Filipino act to SSE Wembley Arena to Celebrating 20 Years of the Filipino Variety Show.[32]

On 19 September 2015, Nightwish became the first Finnish act to headline the Arena.[33]

On 2 April 2016, Babymetal became the first Japanese act to headline the Arena [34] and set the record for the Arena's highest ever merchandise sales.[35]

On 12 November 2017, the 2017 MTV Europe Music Awards ceremony was held at the arena. The event was hosted by Rita Ora and featured performances from Eminem, Demi Lovato, U2, The Killers, Kesha and more.[36]

The Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody premiered at the Arena on October 23, 2018, in recognition to how Freddie Mercury and Queen performed the iconic Live Aid performance in 1985 at nearby Wembley Stadium.[37]

On 17 November 2018, renowned London based DJ Andy C performed a DJ set lasting five hours, the first all night event to take place in the venue's history. The event had sold out in three days six months prior.[38]

On 10 March 2019, Joker Xue, a Chinese singer-songwriter, became the first artist from mainland China to headline the Arena as part of his Skyscraper World Tour.

Sporting events

From 1934 until 1990 the Empire Pool / Wembley Arena was the venue for the Wembley Professional Tennis Championships which was a part of the professional Grand Slam from 1927 until 1967.

Indoor sporting events such as boxing, five-a-side football and ice hockey have long been popular at the venue, notably the World Championship bout between then champion Alan Minter and challenger Marvin Hagler, which the latter won.

From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, the Skol 6-Day cycle race was held here. An indoor velodrome of 166 metres was assembled from sections each September. This was Britain's first indoor velodrome. Top professional riders from the European 6-Day circuit came to London, including Eddy Merckx, Peter Post, Patrick Sercu and many others. British riders such as World pursuit champion Hugh Porter and British Champion Tony Gowland rode with distinction.

From 1979 to 1983, indoor speedway was held during the winter as a one off event, with the riders racing on concrete on a 181-yard track[39]

The Wembley Lions and Wembley Monarchs were two ice hockey teams that used the venue regularly during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, while the London Lions used the venue for a season in the 1970s. Wembley also hosted the British Hockey League play-off finals weekend at the end of each season up until the league's disbandment in 1996. The arena also played host to NHL teams the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers for a pair of challenge matches in 1993.

More recently netball, darts, basketball, and mixed martial arts have made regular appearances on the calendar.

During the 1948 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the Olympic boxing, Olympic diving, Olympic swimming, and Olympic water polo events.[40]

The Horse of the Year Show was held there from 1959–2002.

It hosted the final of the Whyte and Mackay Premier League Darts 2009. Whyte and Mackay Premier League Darts also hosted the playoff finals in 2010 at Wembley Arena, when Phil Taylor hit two nine-dart-finishes in the final and became the first player to achieve two nine-darters in one match. The 888.com 2011 Premier League Darts Finals also took place at Wembley.

The arena played host to BAMMA events on 21 May 2011 (BAMMA 6), 15 September 2012 (BAMMA 10). And 15 September 2017 (BAMMA 31)

The venue hosted Olympic badminton and Olympic rhythmic gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympics.[41]

On Saturday 16 February 2013, it played host to UFC on Fuel TV: Barão vs. McDonald, the first ever UFC event to be held at the venue.[42]

On 21 and 22 June 2014, the European League Of Legends Championship Series, which is a competitive eSports league in the computer game League of Legends, played its Week 5 matches in this arena.[43]

Between 15–18 October 2015, the 2015 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals took place in the Arena.[44]

From 20 to 23 September 2018, the playoffs for the FACEIT Major: London 2018 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championship took place in the arena. 24 teams battled it out at the Twickenham Stadium and the top eight teams played in the Wembley Arena for a $1,000,000 prize pool. The event was sponsored by Valve.[45]

Two NBA exhibition matches were played at the arena; on 30 and 31 October 1993, the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic were the two teams that played.

On September 30, 2018 Progress Wrestling hosted their Chapter 76: Hello Wembley event at the arena.

Square of Fame

With the reopening of Wembley Arena in 2006, a "Square of Fame" area has been created in front of the arena. Similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, notable Wembley Arena performers are invited to have bronze plaques imprinted with their names and handprints. The first star to have a plaque was Madonna, on 1 August 2006.[46] On 9 November 2006, Cliff Richard added his handprints to the Square. Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, of Status Quo, unveiled a plaque, with one of each of their handprints, on 16 December 2006. On 9 January 2007, Kylie Minogue included her handprints, on the final day of the London leg of her Showgirl Homecoming Tour.

Seven time World Snooker Champion Stephen Hendry added his handprints on 21 January 2007. International country superstar Dolly Parton unveiled her plaque, on the final night of her UK tour, on 25 March 2007. Canadian musician Bryan Adams unveiled his plaque, on 10 May 2007, just before his 25th appearance at the venue. Just three days later, singer Lionel Richie was presented with his plaque on 13 May 2007, after another sold out performance at the arena. Irish boyband Westlife unveiled their plaque on 28 March 2008, after 27 sell-out shows, in the space of 10 years. They have sold 250,000 tickets. All four members, Shane Filan, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and Mark Feehily were presented with a cast of their hands, which can also be seen in the Square of Fame. Alice Cooper added his handprints in 2012 as the only solo artist to have headlined at the venue in the past five consecutive decades. [47]


Wembley Arena is served by Wembley Park station on the London Underground via Olympic Way, and Wembley Central station via the White Horse Bridge.

Train services are operated by Chiltern Railways from Wembley Stadium station to London Marylebone and Birmingham. London Buses route 92 stops directly outside the arena. Wembley Central station is located nearby on High Road and is served by London Overground, London Underground, Southern and West Midlands Trains services.

The onsite parking facility is shared with Wembley Stadium, essentially being the open air surface parking surrounding the eastern flank of Wembley Stadium and the multistorey car park. These are called Green Car Park and Red Car Park respectively. There is disabled parking available onsite, at the Green Car Park, at a reduced rate but on a first come first served basis.

See also


  1. "SSE Arena Address".
  2. Wembley, The SSE Arena,. "The SSE Arena Experience - The SSE Arena, Wembley". www.ssearena.co.uk.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. "The Empire Pool, Wembley – Hurst Peirce + Malcolm". hurstpm.net. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  4. Hewlett, Geoffrey (1979). A History of Wembley. Brent Library Service. pp. 220–22.
  5. Knight & Sabey, Donald R. & Alan (1984). The Lion Roars at Wembley. Donald R. Knight. p. 147.
  6. Hewlett, Geoffrey (1979). A History of Wembley. Brent Library Service. p. 138.
  7. Knight & Sabey, Donald R. & Alan (1984). The Lion Roars at Wembley. Donald R. Knight. pp. 148–9.
  8. "Wembley Arena - Designing Buildings Wiki". www.designingbuildings.co.uk. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  9. Wembley Arena 1934–2004 The First Seventy Years. Wembley Arena. 2004. p. 23.
  10. Baldock, Lee (1 March 2005). "Wembley Arena Pavilion opens". lsionline. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  11. "Wembley music venue doors to open". BBC. 20 February 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  12. Henry, Chris (9 January 2007). "Arena Structure's supply new venue in Malta". lsionline. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  13. "AEG Facilities to run Wembley Arena". Wembley Arena. 2 September 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  14. Sweney, Mark (10 April 2014). "Wembley Arena to be renamed". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  15. Dodd, D.; Spaulding, D. (2000). The Grateful Dead Reader. Readers on American musicians. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-19-972863-3. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  16. Sclafani, T. (2013). The Grateful Dead FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Greatest Jam Band in History. Backbeat Books. p. 282. ISBN 978-1-61713-582-8. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  17. "Downfall of the daydream idol David Cassidy". Express.co.uk. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  18. "David Cassidy - Weekend At Wembley". 23 March 1973. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  19. Carl Magnus Palm, "Bright Lights Dark Shadows" (2002)
  20. Documentary "Words and Music", Polar Music International AB (1980)
  21. "Search for setlists: Tina Turner wembley arena | setlist.fm". www.setlist.fm. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  22. "Search for setlists: cliff richard wembley arena | setlist.fm". www.setlist.fm. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
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  24. "Search for setlists: westlife wembley arena | setlist.fm". www.setlist.fm. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  25. "Prince Tour History & One Off Performances".
  26. "Spice Girls Facts".
  27. Reporter, Billboard (3 March 2004). "Spears extends her 'Onyx Hotel' tour". Today.com. NBC Universal / Microsoft. Retrieved 27 December 2009.
  28. "Kylie Minogue: Wembley Arena, London; Wednesday, January 3 - NME". NME.
  29. "Pearl Jam set new Wembley record". Music Week. 19 June 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  30. "Still On The Road Index Page". Bjorner.com. 15 May 2012.
  31. Amos, Owen (2 August 2013). "Nepalese folk-rock band Nepathya to headline Wembley Arena". BBC News. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  32. "ASAP l, Live In London England, United Kingdom".
  33. "Nightwish, Wembley Arena, gig review".
  34. "6 things we learned at Babymetal's Wembley arena show". 4 April 2016.
  35. "Babymetal break 2 UK records". 5 April 2016.
  36. "MTV EMAs 2017 Recap: Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran & Camila Cabello Triumph as Eminem Makes Live Comeback". Billboard. 12 November 2017.
  37. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to World Premiere at London's Wembley Arena
  38. "Drum And Bass Icon Andy C On Making History This Weekend At Wembley". 14 November 2018.
  39. "W Tracks".
  40. 1948 Summer Olympic official report. pp. 43, 49.
  41. "profile". London2012.com. Archived from the original on 7 September 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  42. "Renan Barao v Michael McDonald announced for UFC title fight at Wembley Arena | UFC News". ESPN.co.uk. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
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  44. "2015 World Championship venues". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
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