A modern day Trojan War is underway in Los Angeles as the world's largest promoters, Live Nation and AEG Live in partnership with the Nederlander Organization, battle for possession of a trophy itself inspired by antiquity: the city's iconic Greek Theatre. At stake is a multimillion-dollar, ten-year contract (with two five-year options) to manage the 5,900-seat outdoor amphitheater. The theater, built in 1929 has hosted shows by a long list of legends, from Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin to Lorde and Sam Smith. According to the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks, which oversees the Griffith Park property and the bids, the Greek grossed nearly $23 million in 2013, generating $1.6 million in revenue for the city.
Nederlander, the 102-year-old, family-owned outfit that has managed the Greek since 1976 (its other holdings include L.A.'s Pantages, New York's Brooks Atkinson, and Chicago's Cadillac Palace), finds itself on the defensive as it faces the corporate might of Live Nation, the world's largest promotions company (with revenues of $6.5 billion last year).
Surprisingly, the verdict on the lease will not necessarily go to the highest bidder. The five-person Rec. and Parks commission needs three votes to move their recommended contract forward to the City Council, but one commissioner has recused herself and another seat on the commission sits vacant. The three remaining commissioners have thus far been unable to reach a unanimous decision, so far twice postponing its recommendation. The three-member board is now slated to announce its decision on Oct. 23.
Nearly a month ago, on Sept. 26, the commission revealed that an independent panel of experts it assembled had scored Live Nation's proposal -- which includes a forecast of $77.9 million for the city, $40 million in capital improvements and even a restaurant created in consultancy with Nobu -- significantly higher than Nederlander/AEG's, which should have been enough to win the contract. Nederlander, however, disputed the results. "We think there's been some mis-scoring," Nederlander CEO Alex Hodges told Billboard, claiming his team's bid is 25 percent higher than Live Nation's. Nedlander has since initiated an aggressive p.r. campaign launching an overtly political #WeAreTheGreek website.
One has to wonder about AEG's motives in bidding for the Greek, considering it already owns the similarly-sized Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live (capacity 7,100). On the other hand, Live Nation has seen its SoCal venue portfolio shrink when it lost the lease on the 6,200-capacity Gibson Amphitheater, which became a Harry Potter attraction at Universal CityWalk.
The two promoters have a history of fierce competition, so is this simply the latest face-off? Perhaps. But no matter which side emerges victorious, veteran promoter and former Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff knows what changes he'd want for the Greek. (His company Azoff MSG Entertainment “elected not to participate” in the bidding process after his past “difficult and complex” experiences in bidding for the L.A. Coliseum.) Chief among Azoff's concerns: “Better parking.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that the decision on the concession for the Greek Theatre "will not go to the highest bidder" as a definitive statement; however, it is unclear how the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks will rule on the competing proposals.