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Little guy fears getting squeezed out in Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger

Indie L.A. promoter Mitchell Frank says the deal will result in his sharing revenue -- and perhaps proprietary data -- with the new behemoth.

February 03, 2010|By Todd Martens
  • Los Angeles promoter Mitchell Frank of Spaceland Productions says the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster will put him at a huge competitive disadvantage.
Los Angeles promoter Mitchell Frank of Spaceland Productions says the… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

With concert giants Live Nation Inc. and AEG based in Los Angeles, there's little room for an independent promoter to maneuver. Yet Mitchell Frank and his Spaceland Productions have managed to thrive.

Putting on shows under the Spaceland brand since 1995, Frank hosts concerts at just three Silver Lake and Echo Park venues: Spaceland, the Echo and the Echoplex. That would seem to put Frank below the radar of major operators.

But in the wake of the Department of Justice giving the green light, albeit with conditions, to a merger between promoter and venue owner Live Nation and ticketing agency and management firm Ticketmaster Entertainment, Frank suddenly finds himself in the unenviable position of making money for the competition.

Spaceland Productions, Frank said, has 15 months remaining on an exclusive contract with TicketWeb, the ticket seller owned by Ticketmaster. "To make money for that behemoth, it turns my stomach," Frank said. "I'm an indie promoter, and that's what I do. So it's kind of tough to give money to the mother ship."

Frank hasn't been as vocal in his opposition to the merger as some of his peers in the independent promotion community, such as Jerry Mickelson of Chicago's Jam Productions or Seth Hurwitz of I.M.P., which owns the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and operates the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md.

Frank nonetheless said that when he was interviewed by the Justice Department about the merger, he expressed concerns that the partnership would result in his working for -- and potentially having to divulge proprietary information to -- his competitor.

The newly formed Live Nation Entertainment is a one-stop shop for artists and promoters. It can book concerts, sell tickets and merchandise and, with management company Front Line, has direct access to such acts as the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Neil Diamond, Van Halen, Fleetwood Mac and Christina Aguilera.

"That's where the concern is," said Jordan Kurland, whose Zeitgeist Management represents Death Cab for Cutie and She & Him. "When you look at the intersection of Ticketmaster, Live Nation and Front Line -- information is power, and they will have a lot of it."

Aware of those pitfalls, the Justice Department is calling for a "firewall" to prevent the sharing of information between units.

Frank intends to open his box-office operation to sell advance tickets, as well as make tickets available at local venues.

But like I.M.P.'s Hurwitz and Jam's Mickelson, he's skeptical that independent promoters will be able to compete, and has fears about Live Nation entering the club market in Los Angeles.

"First of all, who owns the data?" Frank asked. "It's my show, so how will they use that data for their own uses? TicketWeb through Ticketmaster could do studies using my data. Therefore, Live Nation would know what shows my crowd is going to, what the demographic is, what neighborhood, what the ZIP Codes are . . . . That becomes the killer."

A Justice Department official said that "preserving competition overall in the ticketing space" was the goal of the conditions placed on upon Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

Under the agreement, Ticketmaster will give Anschutz Entertainment Group access to its technology so that AEG, which owns and manages nearly 100 venues, including Staples Center, can create its own ticketing service.

Ticketmaster would also be required to divest a subsidiary that provides software for venue operators to sell their own tickets. Comcast Corp.'s sporting events division, Comcast Spectacor, has signed a letter of intent to acquire the Irvine-based subsidiary, Paciolan.

While Live Nation failed at competing with Ticketmaster in starting its own ticketing service, the Justice Department noted that AEG will have an advantage that Live Nation did not.

Regardless, it won't be an option to Spaceland's Frank once his deal with TicketWeb expires. AEG, through its relationship with Goldenvoice, is an even greater rival in Los Angeles. Goldenvoice's three-day Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival books many Spaceland and Echoplex-level acts.

"My two biggest competitors have the biggest competitive edge because of this deal," Frank said. "I'm just frustrated right now."

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