Live Nation Entertainment chairman Irving Azoff says today's announcement of the company's purchase of the remaining shares of Front Line Management from Azoff and Madison Square Garden "made incredible financial sense," in an exclusive interview with Billboard.biz.
Early today, the world's largest promoter, venue operator, ticketing company and management company announced that it had acquired "substantially all" of the remaining equity stake in Front Line that it did not previously own for $116.2 million in cash and stock. Additionally, Front Line founder Azoff has been named chairman of the board for Live Nation, replacing John Malone, who stepped down from the board. Malone was named interim chairman in October when former chairman Barry Diller stepped down.
On Friday, Live Nation acquired the equity interests in Front Line formerly held by Azoff and MSG. The cash portion of the transaction totaled $56.5 million and was funded with cash on hand. The remaining $59.7 million was paid using newly issued shares of Live Nation common stock.
Of the total shares issued, Azoff received 1.8 million shares of common stock and Madison Square Garden received 3.9 million shares of common stock. MSG had acquired a minority equity interest in Front Line Management in June of 2008.
The move allows Live Nation to "further consolidate" its various businesses, Azoff says, and will alleviate concerns as to where Azoff's priorities are within Live Nation's operations.
"It really takes away any sort of 'dual interests,' not that we had any," he says. "It's just the normal [Wall] Street concerns for that. So now if there were any doubts whatsoever as to whether I was favoring Front Line over the other areas, it cleans all that up. And because I owned a piece of Front Line, I didn't feel comfortable being chairman of the board of the whole company, so this now makes that possible, because I have the same interests in every venture that we do."
Other board changes include Greg Maffei, Chief Executive Officer of Liberty Media Corporation, joining the LN Board as chairman of the company's newly-formed Executive Committee. Azoff says he and Live Nation were "incredibly excited" to welcome Maffei to the board.
"We thought it was important that everybody understand Liberty's commitment to the company," Azoff says. "They are by far our largest shareholder, and John Malone and Greg Maffei are great partners, [with] the vote of confidence they've given us."
Asked about the role of the "executive committee," Azoff explains, "We have a big board, 14 people, so basically the four of us will execute decisions on the board on certain matters"; the four he refers to are himself, Rapino, Maffei and Clear Channel Communications Vice Chairman and Live Nation Board of Directors member Randall Mays. He adds that the executive committee's decisions were more strategic and long-term, as opposed to day-to-day operations.
Azoff scoffed at any speculation about strife on the Live Nation board, particularly between himself and Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.
"My partnership with Michael is unlike any I've ever had in the business," he says. "He and I have just clicked on all levels. We compliment each other with what we do, and he is executing this plan with incredible ease, but also he's an animal -- he's out there getting it."
Despite selling his stake in Front Line, Azoff remains a manager, overseeing the careers of such artists as the Eagles, Christina Aguilera, Neil Diamond, Journey and Van Halen. He says that Front Line Management Group, whose 90 affiliated managers steer some 250 acts, will continue to grow.
"Front Line is about managers, and we're in conversations looking to add more meaningful managers," Azoff says. "The Front Line message never changes. For the managers at Front Line, the first responsibility has and always will be to the act, including the acts I look after myself. A lot of people attack us: 'Well, he'll always tell [an act] to take less money from Live Nation.' The reality is, it's just the opposite. The Front Line managers are in a better position to get more money for our clients from Live Nation. A Live Nation promoter being beat up by a Front Line manager will probably be inclined to pay more than [they would] a non-Front Line manager."
Billboard.biz will have lots more from our conversation with Irving Azoff - and look for even more in our in-depth Q&A appearing in Billboard magazine on Friday!