It was built for the 1934 British Empire Games at Wembley, by Arthur Elvin, and originally housed a swimming pool, as reflected by its former name, Empire Pool. The pool itself was last used for the 1948 Summer Olympics. The building is used for music, comedy, family entertainment and sport.
The venue was renovated, along with Wembley Stadium, as part of the early-21st-century regeneration of the Wembley Park area. The arena refurbishment cost £35m and the new arena opened to the public on 2 April 2006, with a concert by the English electronic-music band Depeche Mode.
With 12,500 seats, it is London's second-largest indoor arena after The O2.
In September 2013, it was announced that AEG Facilities had signed a 15-year contract to operate the arena.
The building was renamed The SSE Arena on 1 June 2014 after SSE plc bought the naming rights to the venue for 10 years.
When the venue was known as the Empire Pool, it hosted the annual New Musical Express Poll Winners' concert 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); David Bowie, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Monkees, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, Joe Brown & the Bruvvers, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, (who played there on their 1977 "In the Flesh" tour). The Grateful Dead, 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 Cliff Richard was joined on stage by Roy Orbison, to present him with his own award. These ceremonies were filmed and recorded and later broadcast on television.
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. Bruce Hornsby accompanied the band for this concert.
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.
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. In September 2014 Universal Music released Live at Wembley Arena, featuring most of the 10 November concert 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. 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.
Whitney Houston is the female artists with the most shows with 29, Cliff Richard is the male artist with the most number of shows with 61, whereas Status Quo hold the record for a rock band with 45 performances. Irish band Westlife are the pop band with most shows with 28, and comedian Lee Evans 23 performances.
American singer Prince played 35 concerts at the venue between 1986–1998.
Pearl Jam hold the attendance record for one show, with 12,470 fans at their 2007 gig.
Bob Dylan has performed at the arena 12 times over his career, selling more that 150,000 tickets.
Alter Bridge performed on 29 November 2011 and released a DVD later.
John Mayer performed an additional date of his 2013 world tour at Wembley Arena on 26 October 2013.
On 5 December 2014, British band Bring Me the Horizon played their last show before taking a break to write their next album. The show was recorded and will be made in to a DVD.
System of a Down played a concert on 10 April 2015 as part of their Wake Up The Souls Tour.
On 19 September 2015, Nightwish became the first Finnish act to headline the Arena .
On 2 April 2016, Babymetal became the first Japanese act to headline the Arena and set the record for the Arena's highest ever merchandise sales.
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
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, mixed martial arts and cage fighting 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.
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. The 888.com 2011 Premier League Darts Finals also took place at Wembley.
The venue has hosted many professional wrestling events from Joint Promotions, WWE, NXT (TakeOver: London), WCW, World Wrestling All-Stars and TNA Impact Wrestling including Impact TV tapings on 28 January 2012.
The arena played host to a BAMMA event on 21 May 2011 (BAMMA 6) and 15 September 2012 (BAMMA 10).
The venue hosted Olympic badminton and Olympic rhythmic gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
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.
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.
Between 15–18 October 2015, the 2015 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals took place in the Arena.
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.
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.
The SSE Arena, Wembley is served by Wembley Park Station on the London Underground via Olympic Way, and Wembley Central via the White Horse Bridge. It also has a rail link provided by the Wembley Stadium railway station to London Marylebone and Birmingham Operated By Chiltern Railways The 92 bus route stops directly outside the arena.
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 multistory 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.