Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino: 'I Don't Want to Be In the Secondary Biz at All'

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Grant Martin
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino appears at Canadian Music Week.

"I don't want to be in the secondary business at all."

Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino offered some straight talk during Canadian Music Week (April 18-23) in Toronto, where he was a keynote interview.

Rapino -- whose company had revenues of $8.4 billion in 2016, has 71 million onsite fans in 40 countries, puts on 26,000 shows, 85 festivals, 480 million tickets sold and 500 artists under management -- broke down what he calls "the reality" during his chat. He cited Bruce Springsteen as an example of an artist who doesn't charge $$$ for front row because it's not aligned with his brand.

"This isn't Bob down the street scalping; this is a real arms race industry now," he said. "You leave that much money... you've got the pros, bots, technology and 'f**k you guys, you're going to leave $8 billion on the table? Then we're going to mobilize."

He then imagined what it would be like if other industries shared the same "market reality" as the live music business. "If you can buy a Rolex now and sell it for $2000, there'd be a whole industry for it... but Rolex wouldn't do that," he said. "So now you have this whole industry -- global. We have bots coming in from Eastern Asia, this whole globalized business now of secondary sellers. They're not the bad guys; they're just taking advantage of a market reality that's alive and well."

In his view, what needs to "eventually" happen is get prices up, "not all the way -- but we have to see these artists at least do platinum seats and VIPs -- price some of the front of the house more realistic, charge less in the back. Fill it."

He said the focus should also be on tech and mentioned the new Verified Fan process through Ticketmaster, recently used by Twenty One Pilots and Feist, where fans register online and the registration is then reviewed "based on proprietary Ticketmaster data," with unique sale codes sent via text message.

"The problem with our business is we're still trading the barcode," he said. "As long as were trading the bar code, we're still a business that can be replicated. The minute the barcode goes away, the digital ticket comes to life. You have a whole other level of control."

He said that, ultimately the sports team or the artist "should be able to set the rules of the ticket, set the prices on the ticket and capture all of the dollars from the ticket."

"I think content will win in the end. Sports teams, it's already happening. They're not going to let someone else make the money."

Rapino added he recently sat down with an artist who had a "huge tour" in 2016 and showed them a power-point presentation that indicated the tour could have made millions more.

"Next time we work with that artist, [we'll] give them tools to capture 10 or 15 [million dollars] of it," he said. "So we're on the side of providing tools, and anyway we can help a artist price it better, protect it if they want and monetize it."


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