National Ice Centre boss says venue aiming for profit by 2029 after pandemic headwinds

The National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena
The National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The boss of the council-owned the National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham says the company is aiming to become profitable by 2029 after being hit with “significant headwinds” during the pandemic.

The centre, which is the region’s largest purpose-built indoor entertainment venue, faced going out of business at the height of the Covid pandemic if not for a £7.4m loan from Nottingham City Council.

Despite all events being suspended for around 18 months and staff at one point being cut from 166 to just 19, chief executive Martin Ingham says the operation has recently been bouncing back.

Opened in 2000, the multi-purpose main arena has a capacity of 10,000 for concerts and is also home to the Nottingham Panthers ice hockey team. A second ice rink offers public skating and other on-ice events.

The venue’s turnover grew to record levels to £32.2m in the year up to March 2023, an increase of £11.5m on pre-pandemic numbers, according to Companies House documents.

This was largely off the back of the success of National Merchandise, an in-house business venture which sells merchandise at 32 other venues around the country and achieved sales of almost £13m in the same year.

However, despite this success, the National Ice Centre’s (NIC) overall business reported a loss of £71,951.

This was largely due to inflation, maintenance costs and major increases in expenditure.

During a Nottingham City Council Companies Governance Executive Committee meeting on February 20, Mr Ingham said the aim is to make the NIC profitable by 2029.

Martin Ingham, chief executive of the National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena
Martin Ingham, chief executive of the National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena

Figures shown during the meeting reveal overall losses are expected to be £284,555 up to March 2024, £204,322 in 2025, £71,339 in 2026 and £132,187 in 2027.

A profit of £726 is then anticipated up to March 2028, before increasing again to £132,132 the year after.

“Our cash position shows improvement and our operating loss, as we go through the next five years, shows generally an upward trend as we push our way through,” he said.

“The key thing for us when we look at the stability of the business is this cash line. So you see the cash going from £2m to £3m, pretty stable at £3m dropping off in the last year.”

But Mr Ingham says “significant risks” remain.

These include inflation, which has added costs of £1m in 2022/23, £1.8m in 2023/24 and will add costs of £2.2m in 2024/25.

The total of £5m includes pay inflation in the year beginning April 2024, which is expected to cost the NIC £1.285m.

He also said the Nottingham Panthers are “having a poor season” following the death of Adam Johnson, who died after being struck in the neck by another player’s ice skate in Sheffield last year.

Significant maintenance costs include repairing a collapsed drain under the kitchen area, which means closing that part of the business for a period of time.

To counter the problems Mr Ingham says seven new board members have been appointed, including former Labour councillor Sam Webster and former Director for Sport and Culture, Hugh White.

Their aim is to make the arena more flexible, including opening it up for community opportunities in June and July 2025.

The £7.4m loan from council to keep the NIC afloat during the pandemic will begin to be paid back in £600,000 sums beginning 2026/27, and it is expected the NIC will provide the council with a net financial gain of £15.4m by 2029.

Some level of concern was voiced during the meeting by Cllr Pavlos Kotsonis (Lab) and council leader Cllr David Mellen (Lab) over the focus on National Merchandise.

Cllr Mellen said: “Are you becoming a merchandise company that has got a stadium on the side or are you still an ice centre with an albeit stabilising and helpful side business?”

Mr Ingham said National Merchandise has had its “best ever year” and is now up for tender in other places like Liverpool and Glasgow.

He said it is a “positive venture” and the NIC is not over-reliant on it. However he added it does help mitigate some pressures and allows money to be made even when larger acts opt not to perform in Nottingham.

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