It's official: Michael Cohl has resigned as chairman of the board of Live Nation, and also vacates his post as CEO of Live Nation Artists, effective immediately. Negotiations for Cohl's resignation were finalized today (June 20); he will serve as a consultant to the company.
News that Cohl's exit from Live Nation was imminent was first tipped on Billboard.biz last week , and has been the source of rampant speculation in the industry. In an exclusive conference call with Billboard, Cohl and Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino outlined Cohl's exit and downplayed media reports of rancor between the two.
"One of the strengths of Michael Cohl is he's a big thinker, strategic, great with relationships, artists and big deals," Rapino says. "That's what we want him to do, we don't actually want him to get caught up in the day-to-day of running of our division and all the bureaucracy around the operational part. We want him to go out and do what he does best for us and that's what we're back to doing."
Former Live Nation chairman of the board Randall Mays will eventually reassume that position; Live Nation chairman of global music/CEO of global touring Arthur Fogel will run LNA. Cohl's consultant deal runs through 2012, and he has a non-compete clause that runs through 2016.
Asked what precipitated the move, Cohl says, "Just the moon and the stars," admitting that perhaps he took on too many duties in the dual position of running LNA and chairing Live Nation. "I've been giving people grief and making things difficult, and it was really all about I wasn't doing what I'm really good at," he says. "From my perspective it's much more about that than any of this nitty-gritty detail that anybody wants to talk about that's not relevant."
As CEO of Live Nation Artists, Cohl headed the division of the company that orchestrated the much-publicized deals with such artists as Madonna, Jay-Z, and U2. These Madonna and Jay-Z deals alone have been valued at $120 million and $150 million, respectively. Speculation has been that how Live Nation will pursue these 360 deals going forward was the root of the tension in the Live Nation board room. As CEO of Live Nation Artists, Cohl reported to Rapino.
Rapino stops short of saying there were any philosophical differences between he and Cohl regarding LNA. "We believe being in long-term, deeper relationships with artists is a great strategy, we will be 100% pursuing it," Rapino says. "There has never been a debate with Michael Cohl as to whether we should be in the Madonna business or be in long-term relationships, or be in more rights with artists."
That said, it does seem clear that Rapino and LNA will not be overly aggressive in nailing down new 360 deals. Rapino says the plan was always to sign four artists the first year. "We are close to the signing of another superstar, we're in discussions with a couple of others," he says. "Maybe we get to four in 2008 as was the plan, or maybe we get to five or six. We're happy to be in the business and we will continue to be in the 360 business."
The mood on the call was jovial, contradicting reports that the two were at major odds. "We didn't comment for a reason," on that talk, Rapino says. "We come from Canada, we always talk about how we might have some fights in the dressing room but when we go out on the ice, we're united. Michael and I have had fights since the day I met him ... and he's always challenged me to make bigger and better decisions. We don't always agree, but that was never relevant to whether we would be having dinner together for the rest of our lives and having great respect and working together."
Cohl served as chairman of the company since February, and prior to that was vice chairman since 2006. He remains one of the company's largest shareholders, though not the largest. "I've got a big whack of stock, let's put it that way," Cohl says. "I think the stock has incredible upside, I'm not selling my stock."
Cohl, known for pioneering a global touring model that taps into numerous revenue streams, has promoted every Rolling Stones tour since 1989, including A Bigger Bang in 2005-2007, the top grossing tour of all time at $558 million. Both Cohl and Rapino indicate that Cohl will produce more tours with Live Nation, possibly one next year.
In terms of this summer's touring business, Rapino says, "The world is assuming my business is going to have a tough summer because of gas prices, etc., and I can say to you we have one of the strongest summer lineups we've had in a longtime. We have most of our shows on sale and some already executed, we have not experienced one ounce of soft sales or on-site ancillary sales effecting our business. We're very optimistic that we're still completely on plan and will have a very good summer."