Emporium & PromoWest Acquisitions Have Promoters Asking 'Who's Next?'
Four promoters to watch as the buying spree shows no sign of slowing
A flurry of new acquisitions by the country's two largest concert promoters has many in the music industry wondering which regional concert promoters will be acquired next by either Live Nation or AEG.
On Monday, Live Nation announced the acquisition of Emporium Presents, the concert promotion company started by Dan Steinberg and Jason Zink in 2015 following long careers in the music industry. The June announcement that Live Nation had acquired promoter Red Mountain Entertainment, which handles concerts, festivals and venues in the Southeast market, and the May acquisition of hip-hop festival promoter Score More Shows all followed the January blockbuster purchase of Frank Productions and its subsidiaries by Live Nation.
AEG has also seen a flurry of movement on the mergers and acquisition side, announcing the purchase of Ohio promoter PromoWest Productions last month, as well as the purchase of Philadelphia’s iconic Electric Factory and Delaware's Firefly music festival in July.
With most of the country's large national promotion companies purchased by Live Nation, AEG and LiveStyle in the first half of the decade -- and indie stalwarts like Another Planet Entertainment in San Francisco, Jam Productions in Chicago and I.M.P. in Washington, D.C., unlikely to go corporate anytime soon -- the M&A focus for both promoters has shifted toward regional promoters and specialty programmers that can help companies like Live Nation boost their top-line revenue and show continued upward growth.
For AEG, which is not a publicly traded company, acquisitions are less about year-end financials and more about creating a cohesive touring network, but both companies are using acquisitions as part of a growth-oriented strategy to embed themselves in music markets around the country and hire entrepreneurial staff.
So who's next? And, more importantly, who's left when it comes to acquisitions? Below, Billboard identifies four possible acquisition targets for possible purchase as the concert industry enters Q4 of 2018.
The Los Angeles concert promoter leads our list since its large annual volume of concerts in markets in California and Texas make it an obvious acquisition target for any promoter looking to rapidly increase its show count, although it's unclear that the Nederlander family would ever part ways with the firm led by music industry legend Alex Hodges.
Nederlander is down two venues in the last half-decade -- the city of LA famously ended Nederlander's contract for the Greek Theater in 2015 and the company lost the Santa Barbara Bowl in 2016 -- but the company's total show count for 2018 is up and it continues to bring events like a sold-out Sebastian Maniscalco performance to the Greek.
Nederlander Concerts' shows in LA aren't what would be attractive to AEG or Live Nation; it's the company's expansion into markets like California's Sacramento and San Jose, as well as Austin, Texas. It also brings several venues to the table, thanks to its booking agreements with Vina Robles in Paso Robles, Calif., and the City National Grove in Anaheim.
Would the owners ever sell? The New York-based Nederlander family has made zero indications they plan to sell any part of the company, but because of its attractive acquisition potential, the family could be enticed if the price is right.
Canadian promoter Jim Cressman has quietly built a concert promotion powerhouse across the Maple Leaf nation and would be an obvious choice for Live Nation to expand its presence in the country and hire an experienced executive capable of leading a strong Canadian team through aggressive expansion.
Cressman's company -- which also includes a management arm with clients like country singer Brett Kissel and a record label -- would also be an attractive target for AEG if it wanted to get serious about competing with Live Nation on the home turf of CEO Michael Rapino, or as a means to expand AEG's presence in Alaska and the Northern U.S., where Cressman has had success bringing concerts to tertiary markets.
A tough dealmaker with an eye on the long game, Cressman knows his value and would drive a hard bargain, but long-term, it's hard not too envision the winner of 17 Canadian Country Music Awards serving in a senior leadership position at one of the big global promoters.
Marathon Music Works
In 2016, Chris Cobb and his partner Josh Billue rejected an offer by Live Nation to buy their Nashville venues Marathon Music Works and the Exit/Inn, walking away from a deal that would have moved two iconic venues into the Live Nation camp and secured the men's financial future. Worried that selling to the big guy would have hurt their reputation and meant their complicity in homogenizing Nashville music, the men exited the deal and continued to focus on independent expansion, opening the 1,300-capacity Signal in Chattanooga earlier this year.
Since walking away two years ago, Nashville continued to rapidly grow, with AEG bringing on Mike DuCharme to serve as vp Nashville regional office with plans for a $1 billion Nashville Yards project, which will include a 23-story Hyatt Regency and a 4,000-capacity venue. Live Nation, which operates the Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel, along with the Ascend Amphitheatre, is also beefing up in the market, and it's only a matter of time before both AEG and Live Nation try to break into the city's music club space. Instead of competing with the big guys, now might be the right time for Marathon to sell. Don't look at it as selling out; think of it as buying in.
Who doesn't want to hire jam music legend Peter Shapiro? The pioneer behind the Brooklyn Bowl venues and Lockn' Fest produced the historic Grateful Dead reunion Fare Thee Well concerts of 2015 and the spring Bobby and Phil duo tour for Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Shapiro is the total package: He's a visionary with credibility deeply woven into the music scene, he's got a proven history of putting on massive shows that capture the public's imagination, and he's got some impressive real estate that includes New York's Capitol Theatre.
With a background in development and media (he owns Relix magazine), Shapiro is an attractive candidate for any music company, but it's unclear if the New Yorker is ready to go corporate. Right now, Shapiro seems pretty happy being his own boss, although he does feel the pressure of being an indie in a major market like New York. Whatever he decides, Shapiro will do it on his owns terms in a way that elevates America's jam-music tradition.