The nation’s most versatile venue isn’t afraid of the toughest turnarounds – story by John Cain Arena Venue Manager, Kerry Gassner
When it comes to versatility, John Cain Arena stands out as a true marvel. The multi-purpose venue is a chameleon of the entertainment world, seamlessly transforming to host a surprising variety of events.
From concerts and spectaculars to national and international sporting events, the venue can do it all making it arguably the busiest and most adaptable venue in the country.
To truly appreciate John Cain Arena’s functionality, you only need to look at its most recent line up of events – nine in just 15 days:
- 1 October – NBL, South East Melbourne Phoenix v Perth Wildcats
- 4 October – Ghost (concert)
- 6 October – Weezer (concert)
- 7 October – Pendulum (concert)
- 8 October – NBL, Melbourne United v Tasmanian JackJumpers
- 12 October – Constellation Cup Netball, Australia v New Zealand
- 13 October – Ocean Alley (concert)
- 14 October – NBL, South East Melbourne Phoenix v Tasmanian JackJumpers
- 15 October – NBL, Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets
Tireless turnarounds and transformations
It’s not uncommon to see semi-trailers lining our loading bay. Once the last guest leaves an event, our team gets to work. They dismantle and load the trucks, before unloading the next round of trucks and assembling the next event.
For this run, it all began on 1 October when the South East Melbourne Phoenix faced off against the Perth Wildcats in the National Basketball League (NBL). It takes a staggering 1,763 components to set the venue for basketball – everything from the floor, rings, courtside chairs, corporate spaces, and all the technical necessities – all done in just a few short hours.
But the real test of John Cain Arena’s versatility came on 4 October when Ghost, a rock band, came to town. Once the final basketball buzzer sounded, the transformation began. It took a total of 140 labour hours to convert the arena from basketball to concert mode.
The once hardwood floor was transformed with a 60ft x 56ft stage with an extended thrust (runway). It took 105 pieces of staging and frames to build – a temporary marvel, constructed in just 12 hours and removed in three. From the time the last notes of the concert were played at 11pm, all trailers were loaded and gone by 3am, a remarkable feat of efficiency.
Just two days later, Weezer took the stage. Five semi-trailers of production equipment arrived at 7am on the day of the show. The crew dismantled the Ghost stage and reconstructed a 60ft x 40ft stage, using 75 pieces of staging and frames. Once again, the crew worked tirelessly, and by 2am post-show, everything was packed and gone.
The following day, it was Pendulum’s turn to rock the arena. Another five semi-trailers rolled in, and this time, south seating was crane-lifted and suspended to the roof, opening the venue’s floor to a capacity of 4,000. Once the show was over our team removed everything and had the trailers gone by 1.30am.
Come 8 October, the arena shifted gears once more for an NBL game, this time Melbourne United versus Tasmanian JackJumpers. It was a race against time as the venue had to be converted back to basketball mode, meaning the venue was operational for 44 continuous hours to deliver.
The pace didn’t slow down. On 12 October, Constellation Cup netball was on the ticket, marking Australia’s first match on home soil since their win at the World Cup. Two semi-trailers of production equipment were brought in to make the event a success.
The very next day, Ocean Alley took the stage. It took nine hours to clear the netball floor and build a 60ft x 40ft stage. Adding to the workload was the 3,500 people queueing prior to the gates opening, requiring half a kilometre of crowd barriers to ensure an organised level of queuing and patron safety.
The venue hosted more NBL games on 14 and 15 October, with the South East Melbourne Phoenix facing the Tasmanian JackJumpers and Melbourne United against the Brisbane Bullets.
The behind-the-scenes magic
So how does John Cain Arena pull off this impressive feat? It all comes down to meticulous planning, great teamwork, passion, and unwavering resilience.
The planning process for events like National Basketball League games starts well before the season commences. Concerts, on the other hand, require detailed coordination approximately six weeks in advance. The venue’s team is constantly forward-planning, ensuring each event goes off without a hitch.
We have a team of about 30 passionate people per shift to pull off these around the clock transformations. During execution, the back-of-house team manages logistics, while the front-of-house team handles security, event management, concessions, and ticketing. Every show, every client, and every demographic is unique, so everything is customised accordingly.
As such, we attract a very diverse workforce but almost everyone is in it because it’s a challenge that gives them a front row seat to some of the best shows and events in the world. Hard work but a labour of love.
Beyond the ordinary
John Cain Arena’s versatility doesn’t stop at concerts and national sporting events. This dynamic venue can host everything from intimate speaking engagements featuring luminaries like former US President Barack Obama to global events like the Australian Open (AO).
Unknown to many, the arena also has an international standard velodrome under the seats, while a tennis court lives under the floor year-round. In fact, it’s the people’s court during the AO – reserved exclusively for ground pass ticket holders.
We have the ability to crane seats to the roof, completely dismantle sections of the venue and switch between 16 configurations. With a capacity of up to 4,000 people on its floor, it’s no wonder it is a top choice for event organisers.
To us, John Cain Arena is more than just a venue; it’s a marvel of engineering, adaptability, and creativity. It’s where sports, music, and entertainment come to life, and where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Gallery – BTS and in action