The latest acquisition by Azoff MSG Entertainment (AMSGE), the joint venture between Azoff Music Management and the Madison Square Garden Company, sheds further light on CEO Irving Azoff’s master plan as the multifaceted firm continues to beef up its marketing holdings, this time through a 50% stake in celebrity and music procurement firm Burns Entertainment.
Chicago-based Burns represents blue-chip companies in matching celebrities and licensing music for advertising campaigns and promotions. Burns' clients include such companies as Unilever, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Beam Global, Audi, Sprint and hundreds of others. Among its recent pairings are Mila Kunis with Jim Beam; Romeo Santos and Macklemore with Dr. Pepper; and Cee-Lo Green and Azoff management client Chelsea Handler with 7-Up.
The venture between Azoff MSG and Burns, to be called Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing LLC, “adds another complement to the AMSG family,” says Allison Statter, who heads up Azoff MSG’s commercial division, which includes endorsements, strategic licensing, and sponsorships. Statter also consults with Azoff on companies that AMSGE “has acquired or is in negotiations to acquire,” she says.
Burns partner Bob Williams tells Billboard that working with Azoff and the access he provides, “will create more opportunities with Fortune 100 brands that spend $10 million or more [annually] in media and hire celebrities to build brand awareness and drive sales and profits.”
The deal between Azoff and Burns came about as Azoff began his post-Live Nation Entertainment chairman career and Azoff’s desire to “get back to his entrepreneurial roots and put together a network of companies that can help brands reach their marketing goals,” Williams says. “In addition to the companies he’s already acquired, one of the pieces he felt needed to be covered was celebrity talent acquisition, and that’s why he approached us.”
Given AMSGE’s deep relationships with artists, along with publishing, venue, and live entertainment components, the target for Burns going forward could rather seamlessly include increased access for synch licenses, tours, and naming rights for venues. Williams says all are “directions we’re going to pursue.”
It’s not unusual these days for large management companies to have marketing/branding/sponsorship components, but generally these divisions are developed organically, not via acquisition. Azoff bringing in an established, decades-old firm like Burns is certainly a unique approach and could provide Azoff, whose clients include the Eagles, Christina Aguilera, Van Halen, and Handler, an edge when competing for future clients. “I definitely think the acquisition with Burns puts us in a league of our own,” says Statter.
While he has stated that he doesn’t intend to get into the sports representation business, Azoff’s clout in that realm is substantial, and MSG owns not only sports/entertainment venues, but also blue-chip franchises like the New York Knicks and Rangers. The concept of adding a sports/music/entertainment branding firm that comes at it from the brand side seems to be a sign of the times, as Williams points out. “You have musicians crossing over into sports, with people like Jay-Z owning sports teams and becoming a sports agent, and sports stars like Kobe Bryant crossing over and investing in a drink brand,” Williams says. “Not that long ago, the lines were very clear, and now they’re blurred, and that’s going to give us even more opportunities to pair up celebrities from music, sports and entertainment.”
The acquisition of a stake in Burns follows a run of acquisitive activity by AMSGE in the marketing space. On March 10, AMSGE acquired a 50% stake in experiential marketing agency Pop2Life (P2L), the firm that created the giant replica of the Eagles' "Hotel California" album atop the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., to promote the band's re-opening of the Forum. Other recent P2L projects include the HGTV #lovemusic Lodge at CMA Fest; Luke Bryan’s "Crash My Party" album launch/AMC’s “Hell On Wheels” Season 3 co-promotion in Nashville; Michael Bublé’s album launch promotion at Atlantis, Paradise Island; and multiple iHeartRadio events.
Last fall, AMSGE acquired 50% of Digital Brand Architects (DBA), a social media marketing and online talent management firm. Billed as “the only agency of its kind with a dedicated management division,” DBA represents over 60 top bloggers and online influencers.
“Irving’s strategy here is to create a group of companies that all complement each other, that can all work together, that at the same time are all beneficial to our clients on the management side,” says Statter. “The biggest thing about all these companies that Irving has rolled up is he feels strongly about their business model, and feels our company can be instrumental in growing their businesses.”
As to how the various components can work together, Statter says, by way of example, “Where the synergy comes in is when Burns has a brand client looking to do something current and new that will stand out beyond typical endorsement deal, they can look to DBA for some creative ways to do that, whether in the digital space with bloggers we represent, or creating opportunities for content online. Vice versa, if DBA has a brand that needs an endorsee, they can look to Burns to fulfill that. There are so many different patterns that can exist between all these companies.”
Statter says more acquisitions will come, though not limited to the marketing sector. “Those kinds of businesses, that are ahead of the curve ,are businesses we’re interested in being part of,” she says. “It’s beneficial to these companies to be part of Irving’s family. Think of the people Irving sits in meetings with day and in day out. Irving has so much access that he’s able to bring opportunities to these companies.”