How Live Nation & Nederlander/AEG's Battle for the Greek Became a Political Time Bomb
Wednesday's Los Angeles City Council meeting to vote on the recommendation for Live Nation to run the Greek Theatre perfectly illustrated the adage that democracy is messy.
Even before the legislators voted on the thorny and extremely politicized issue at hand, the council considered more mundane issues like a request by the Office of Finance seeking approval to record liens for unpaid taxes. This elicited public testimony from a range of "colorful" if unbalanced characters who proceeded to line up before the mic and incoherently chastise and curse the council. One individual carrying a bag with a glowing neon light screamed, "You smell like shit!" before walking away.
Far messier, though, was the more contentious matter at hand: the battle over the Greek Theatre concession between Live Nation and the joint venture of Nederlander and AEG Live. As this process has dragged on over the last year, the issue has become increasingly distorted and something of a ticking political time bomb that has left politicians and the city with a Solomon-like decision and no place to run for cover.
That the council voted 11-3 to "not concur" with the recommendation favoring Live Nation for the Greek contract by the Recreation & Parks Department -- which spent a quarter of a million dollars on an RFP process -- undermines the reliability of the city's contract process and opens it up to a lawsuit.
In his testimony before the council, Live Nation COO Joe Berchtold noted that this lengthy and demanding process has taken two years and cost his company millions of dollars. This he said surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers and lobbyists for both companies lining the chamber walls. The world's number one promoter, to its credit, has played by the city's rules, competed fairly and won the RFP process as determined by an independent consultant in the Strategic Advisory Group whose evaluation has been under fire post facto. That Live Nation may very well come up empty-handed would seem unfair at minimum
At the same time, Nederlander/AEG has also played fair and, much to their credit, run a textbook PR strategy that should be carefully studied by flaks in perpetuity. The company's successful campaign included its #WeAreTheGreek social media play, obtaining 30,000 signatures on a petition supporting its plan, and convincing a dozen neighborhood councils that their proposal was better and that the independent consultant didn't know what he was doing. Their efforts played heavily into Wednesday's council decision.
While each side declared its proposal superior, to actually read through the hundreds of pages worth of RFPs and objectively determine which proposal is better -- complete with minimum revenue guarantees, capital improvement contingencies and historic preservation plans -- left many of the councilmen scratching their heads and unsure which proposal guaranteed more lucre for the city.
After the council meeting, when asked if she had ever experienced anything close to as grueling as this process, the Greek's current GM Rena Wasserman said that "birthing twins was close." While no one would wish that type of pain inflicted on anyone, the city has ensured that this heavily politicized process will continue to be difficult for bidders, constituents and the council itself, and they only have to look in the mirror to see who to thank.