Irving Azoff, chairman of Live Nation Entertainment and no. 1 on Billboard's Power 100 list earlier this year, will leave the company effective immediately, Billboard.biz has confirmed.
In conjunction with the change, Liberty Media Corporation has purchased 1.7 million shares of Live Nation stock from Azoff, increasing its stake to 26.4%, according to a press release.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Azoff is expected to join the board of cable-television company Starz, which is owned by Live Nation's biggest shareholder, Liberty Media; this news was not confirmed at press time. Liberty is likwly to spin off Starz early next year, the paper says.
Azoff had about 18 months left on his contract and few insiders expected him to re-up for another five years in 2014. On December 28, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino's contract, which was also to expire in 2014, was renewed through 2019.
"After successfully overseeing the integration of Live Nation and Ticketmaster over the past two years, my job here is done. We put together the leading company across concert promotion, ticketing, sponsorship and artist management and delivered the great results promised by the merger," Azoff said in a statement released today. "I especially enjoyed my time with my partner Michael Rapino, and he has demonstrated the ability to lead this company from now on. I'm looking forward to returning to the entrepreneurial world and continuing to work with all my friends and colleagues at Live Nation."
"Irving has been a valuable partner and friend for the past few years," Rapino said in the statement. "We will certainly miss him and we thank him for his many contributions in building Live Nation to the global company it is today, entertaining 50 million fans and selling 200 million tickets in more than 40 countries around the world. I look forward to continuing to work with Irving on his artists' tours for years to come."
The timing of the announcement likely has much to do with the looming tax changes in the new year. Azoff will receive certain payments now that he would have received in 2013 and 2014, so assuming tax rate and capital gains rate changes, the benefits to announcing in 2012 would be highly significant.
Even though Azoff seemed fully committed to both the live business and Live Nation during his keynote Q&A with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde at our Touring Conference last month, apparently running a large company was counter to Azoff's entrepreneurial spirit. So while he loved the game of rolling up Front Line, running the company and answering to a board -- even as chairman -- likely wasn't fun for the freewheeling Azoff, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Azoff will, however, remain a manager, taking a "few of his artists," according to one source, including the Eagles, although Christina Aguilera, Van Halen and Steely Dan are also closely affiliated with him. He will also bring with him some of his staff. But a non-compete will prohibit him from attempting another management rollup a la Front Line.
Front Line, though, continues to exist as part of Live Nation, with 75 managers and about 275 artists, all under Rapino's purview. Artists affiliated with Front Line companies, in addition to the Eagles, include Christina Aguilera, Van Halen, Journey, Kenny Chesney, Fleetwood Mac and scores of other big names, developing acts and established superstars -- an incredibly powerful list in the aggregate. And the managers themselves are powerful and independent, so the question as to whom other than Azoff might lead Front Line is an intriguing one. But Azoff always left the acquired management companies both autonomy and a significant percentage of their respective companies.
"Irving is a tremendous entrepreneur and we absolutely respect his desire to get back into the enrepreneurial space and look forward to continuing to work with him," says Joe Berchtold, COO of Live Nation, tells Billboard.biz. For the concert side of the business, it's "business as usual," Berchtold says.
Though he headed the world's largest concert promoter in Live Nation and ticketing company in Ticketmaster -- and has been a strong advocate that live music rules in the current music marketplace -- to consider Azoff as anything other than an artist manager is shocking, especially for his longtime clients the Eagles.
In consolidating management companies to create the unparalleled leverage of Front Line Management Group (before Ticketmaster and Live Nation were ever in the equation), Azoff was at the forefront of the shift in the balance of power from labels to managers.
Billboard.biz will have more on this news shortly.