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Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff's Oak View Group Make a Play for L.A.'s Greek Theatre

greek theatre
Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

The Flaming Lips perform at The Greek Theatre on Oct. 29, 2013 in Los Angeles. 

OVG will challenge SMG for control of the iconic Hollywood amphitheater.

There's a new chapter in the drama surrounding the 88-year-old Greek Theatre in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. 

Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff's Oak View Group will make a play for the building's management contract, which is currently up for bid after a three-year experiment as an "open venue" managed by SMG, which is also expected to fight to keep the facility in their column. Bids for the Greek are due at the end of the month.

"This is an opportunity that Oak View Group is pursuing aggressively," Sims Hinds tells Billboard, setting the stage for a second drama at the facility just three years after a high-profile fight over the facility between Nederlander Concerts, AEG Presents, and Live Nation.

After 40 years under management by Nederlander Concerts, the building's contract came up for renewal in 2014 and the City's Recreation and Parks Department, which owns the 5,800-seat venue, asked promoters to bid on an exclusive contract for the facility.

In a surprise decision the Rec and Parks Board of Directors voted to award the Greek to Live Nation, resulting in a grass-roots protest movement called "We Are The Greek" by Nederlander Concerts and AEG Presents to keep the facility under their purview, which they argued was more community-oriented.

After the LA City Council got cold feet and balked at handing the building over to Live Nation, Rec and Parks General Manager Mike Shull proposed a compromise plan -- run the facility as an open venue, similar to Red Rocks in Denver, and have an outside management company operate the facility while the city's three big promoters presenting shows.

SMG was awarded a three-year contract to manage the Greek as an open building and Becky Colwell, an industry veteran who spent 12 years running the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina, was brought on by SMG as the Greek Theatre's general manager.

By most accounts, SMG's management of the Greek has been a success, hosting 81 events including 71 concerts for 2017. The Greek sold $18.3 million in tickets and grossed a total of $36.6 million through food and beverage sales, premium offerings and parking in 2017, up about $1.9 million over 2016. It also generated about $1.5 million per season for capital improvements with a $5 per ticket surcharge which was used to improve security and the fan experience at the facility.

“We’re looking for a certain amount of resources from a potential operator,” says Shull, adding LA’s Rec and Parks Department is still determining how to make long term capital fixes to the building including a retrofit for the venue's two seating terraces. Rec and Parks new management contract will include a five-year contract with a five-year extension, running from 2019 to 2028, and could include management of the building's concessions operations.

“There’s many different criteria that go into the decision of who we select including a unique business plan, sponsorships and revenue,” Shull says, adding that the city will pay the selected management company a yet-to-be determined fee to manage the building.

While the Greek has been able to avoid the wild political drama of 2014 since SMG took over, a competing bid by Oak View Group would certainly add a level of intrigue to the ongoing venue saga. In 2017, SMG was put on the market for sale and Leiweke expressed interest in buying the firm, which commanded a $750 million price tag, but was reportedly blocked by SMG management from bidding on the firm.

“We were told that we couldn’t bid,” Leiweke told Don Muret with Sports Business Journal (who now works for Leiweke as a writer and editor for OVG-owned VenuesNow). “I don’t know if it’s because of our purchase of Pinnacle or years of competing with [SMG during Leiweke’s tenure as AEG’s president and CEO]. Who knows? ”

OVG bought Pinnacle in October -- the company manages a number of venues like the Florida’s Seminole Theatre in Homestead, the Kovalchick Complex at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the Birch Run Expo Center in Michigan. 

Pinnacle could be critical to Leiweke meeting the requirements to apply for the Greek management contract -- city officials say applicants "must currently manage at least ten concert venues with a minimum seating capacity of 4,000 per venue" and have been "in business for a minimum of fifteen years."

OVG has only been in business since 2015 but Leiweke and others at the company have decades of experience in facilities -- Leiweke was CEO of AEG for years and oversaw the design and development of LA Live. As for the venue requirement, Pinnacle currently has eight venues under management, and if you count the facilities that partner Madison Square Garden operates including Radio City Music Hall and The Forum in Los Angeles, OVG might be able to argue it's hit the 10-venue number.

"We qualify," Hinds tells Billboard. "We would not be pursing the opportunity if we did not. All details will be in our proposal."