As a sports photographer if you are used to having press room facilities then quite simply there are none at the Manchester Arena. From the balcony position there isn’t even a plug socket so make sure you come armed with enough power. Particularly if you are going to shoot a full undercard of boxing which in my case lasted from 5pm to midnight - it drained my laptop completely. I did not carry any external battery power source so I had the continually nagging worry that my laptop would die just when the main bout was on - thankfully it just lasted the distance.
There are two different Gallery positions, I was allocated to door 103 which is a space with two chairs next to the public stair inside the arena. On the other side there is one of those hospitality areas so you can watch people eating nice food and drinking themselves silly. There would not have been room for a third chair so the space was quite small but if there are only two of you there is plenty of space behind your seating position to store all your gear. As its a mixed public area you are vulnerable to someone interfering with your stuff whilst you are shooting so you are basically reliant on the stewards who seem to stay there throughout the night to keep a watchful eye out.
It all seems innocent enough when you arrive but later in the evening the crowd grows significantly and a lot of them get tanked up on alcohol so some of the more unpleasant types begin to get a bit too close. So keep anything valuable in front of you.
From the gallery you have a good open and uninterrupted position to shoot but its quite a distance from the action so anything less than 400mm will not work. I used both a 400mm and a 600mm the latter on a monopod, the former rested on the thick glass partition in front of my seat. The 400mm will get almost the whole of the ring in view so its easy for composition and cropping images to get in just that bit closer. The 600mm gets you in quite close i.e you get the boxers from knee level upwards - for my money the 600mm was fantastic. It has the downside that you have to work it all the time to ensure that both boxers are in the frame but thankfully most of the time they are. I just loved the ‘close to the action’ feel of the shots with the 600mm. Irrespective of your lens choice the referee and TV cameras are a constant source of irritation as they stride across your view.
The one variable that causes so much stress is wifi connectivity - there are no ethernet possibilties. I had my O2 dongle at the ready and my iPhone as back up. Neither worked, yes, they both established a proper connection but when I tried to send an image it would progress through at an unworkably slow rate and I mean really slow, probably 20 minutes per image - not that I waited that long !. Arrrgh!! So, what to do ?
Well, eventually I hunted down the only FREE wifi without a security password which turned out to be Manchester Arena’s own wifi. It required going through a short registration process but it worked a treat. It started off very fast but as the crowd in the Arena grew it deteriorated throughout the evening from very fast to fast to medium and a tad slow but it always worked.
As regards the facilities, the toilets are about 50 yards away and there can be a long queue later in the evening as the crowd grows. There are food and drink stalls nearby if you have time for that. I found that I did not have time and regretted not bringing some sandwiches and drinks to keep me topped up with nourishment. Car parking in the Arena car park is £12.50 (Oct 2017 prices) if you state that you are attending the event and its worthwhile paying when you arrive in the machines as your exit is much easier.
Finally, the gap between the earlier bouts is really small, they just rattle on with it so you have to decide to either miss shooting the odd round of boxing or miss a bout completely if it seems unimportant in order to get some downloading done. Later in the evening the gap between the bouts grows which is great as you can get a lot done in that time.