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Chief Executive Tim Leiweke sees a place for AEG in the concert business

He believes the company, which developed the L.A. Live entertainment complex, can go up against the juggernaut that will be created by the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger.

February 03, 2010|By Alex Pham
  • AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, whose company owns the Los Angeles Kings, keeps a bobblehead doll of retired Kings player Luc Robitaille in his office.
AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, whose company owns the Los Angeles Kings,… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Tim Leiweke is used to being the man behind the scenes.

He has orchestrated concert events for the likes of Bon Jovi, the Black Eyed Peas and Celine Dion. As president and chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group, he pulled the strings to develop the $2.5-billion L.A. Live entertainment complex in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

So it comes as no surprise that Leiweke, 52, also had his hand in the Justice Department's recent deal to approve the merger of Ticketmaster, the nation's dominant ticket seller, with Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter.

His involvement in those delicate negotiations yielded big bonuses for his company -- under a proposed settlement with antitrust regulators, AEG would get access to Ticketmaster's technology to build a rival ticketing service.

Leiweke spoke with The Times recently about the deal and its effect on the $4.4-billion live concert business, among other things. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Do you really believe AEG can go up against a juggernaut like Ticketmaster-Live Nation?

Ticketmaster owns 85% of the music-ticketing business. So there are existing contracts we will all have to deal with. And Live Nation is twice as large as AEG Live, plus some. When an artist is making a decision of who they want to tour with, size matters. [Ticketmaster and Live Nation's] influence and leverage are pretty massive. We always worry that decisions will be based on fear.

For artists who decide to go with us -- Bon Jovi, Black Eyes Peas and Celine Dion -- we've done a pretty good job. Ten years ago, we were zero percent of the market. Now we have $1 billion in revenue on the live concert side. It will be hard now to dismiss us as irrelevant.

Why are concert ticket prices so high?

The only way for ticket prices to go down is if artists charge less. Building owners and promoters don't control pricing. That's controlled by the artists and their managers. Those are the groups that have to make the conscientious decision to give the consumer a break on tickets and pricing.

That said, it's not all their fault. It's also the fault of the promoters who bid up the price. We're our own worst enemies. Agents aren't going to stop us because they want to get as much money as they can for the artist. At some point, we need to deal with the mentality of winning the bid at all costs because, in the end, the consumer ends up paying the price.

Just how abysmal is the outlook for the Los Angeles economy?

The L.A. economy overall is going to struggle. There may be some turnaround being experienced on Wall Street, but we haven't seen it on Main Street. There are new challenges we face, in particular the amount of national debt and the deficits in our municipalities. That means we have to be wary of inflation, job creation and discretionary spending.

We don't see a magic wand or a quick fix. Until banks start pushing money back into the economy, we're going to struggle.

Hopefully L.A. Live is doing better than the L.A. city budget.

We are very fortunate. We are close to hitting our numbers on retail. Foot traffic is on track to hit 20 million this year. Advertising revenue is above projection. The events we have created are above projections. Even our suites and premier seats are above projection. We're doing well considering the recession.

But we have a small, little tower behind us [Leiweke gestures toward the adjacent 54-story hotel]. If you were to choose to open a hotel, it would not be right now. We're on time and close to on budget. But it may take us a year longer than we thought to get to the point where this hotel will be a good investment.

That said, this year we'll host close to 400,000 guests. We went from having eight major citywide conventions in L.A. last year to 20 this year. That's going to benefit cabs, limos, restaurants, buses. People call it the trickle-down effect, but I like to say it has a pump-up effect.

So are the [AEG-owned Los Angeles] Kings finally going to win the Stanley Cup?

Five years ago, we made a decision to build from within. It was a painful five years. People hated me. But the result is that we now have a solid nucleus with Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Not only are we going to have a kick at the cup this year, but we'll have it for the next five years as well. This is the most fun I've had in years.

alex.pham@latimes.com

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