The sale of Anschutz Entertainment Group is "taking longer" than expected, according to AEG CEO, Tim Leiweke, but not due to lack of interest.
Word first came that the sports and entertainment goliath was on the block last September, and the initial "book" went out to investors last November.
"We're gonna get there," Leiweke tells Billboard.biz. "Unfortunately, it's taking longer because more people were interested than we ever imagined, so there has been a lot of time and energy spent with a lot of different people looking at the company."
A diverse group of bidders have been reported as potential suitors for AEG (among them Billboard parent company Guggenheim Partners) with Blackstone Group directing the sale process for AEG that could top out as high as $8 billion, according to some estimates. While Leiweke declined to mention who the serious bidders were, he did indicate that the field has narrowed. "We're getting down to the final straws here," he says, adding, "the kind of people and companies interested are very good, and they share our vision for the future of the company. Now it's just trying to get [owner] Mr. [Phillip] Anschutz and [potential buyers] together on the right deal."
Leiweke did not seem concerned about his long-term future at the helm of whatever shape AEG takes under new ownership. "I...understand I serve at the will and mercy of the new owners; some may want me as part of the management team, some may not, [and] I'm okay either way," he says. "The good news is we tied up all of our key management long term. Everyone is very committed here. I'm very committed to them, they're committed to me, we all have an enthusiasm for this business."
Among those "tied up" are Randy Phillips, president/CEO of AEG Live, AEG's live entertainment arm and the world's second largest promoter. AEG Live is in the early stages of a banner year, with tours by such strong box officer performers as Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney and others either on tap or already under way; and AEG's festival business with such events as Jazzfest, Coachella and StageCoach, which rank among the leaders in the most robust sector of the live music business.
"On our live side, we're going to have the best year we've ever had," says Leiweke. The concert/music festival business is usually a business that you can pretty well read your fortunes on very early. We're just very lucky that all of our relationships are out there working this year, and working hard, and doing well. For us, it's not hard to keep all of our guys motivated and focused, because we have so much going on, and all of it's good."
Leiweke cites AEG's Las Vegas business as an example, specifically Shania Twain's run at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, a deal steered by John Meglen, co-president of Concerts West, a division of AEG Live, as changing the face of entertainment in Vegas along with Celine Dion's lucrative residency at the Colosseum. "John Meglen has knocked it out of the park with Shania Twain, that's another huge hit for us," says Leiweke. "So for us it's less about worrying 'are we all gonna be here?' and more about the day-to-day intense pressure we put upon ourselves to continue to grow the company. That has been a high priority."
Most credit Leiweke as the man behind the vision for AEG's business model of combining real estate in world class theaters, arenas and stadiums with revenue-producing content in professional sports teams and live events, with added fringe businesses like ticketing, merchandising and sponsorships. Given Leiweke's role in building AEG into the sports and entertainment behemoth it is, his future under new ownership would seem solid.
"The good thing is I don't spend one minute worrying about that," he says when the topic is broached. "We're really proud of what we accomplished with AEG over the last almost 20 years now, beginning with Staples Center [in Los Angeles]. I have so much going on, and there is so much enthusiasm within the company, that we don't spend one minute worrying about being here in six months. It will all work out one way or another, and if it's not meant to be, I'm fairly certain I will be able to keep myself busy."
Leiweke also expressed optimism toward axs, AEG's ticketing platform launched in 2011. "This year is critical [for axs], because by the end of the year we will have all of our owned and operated facilities on axs, and my guess is most people are going to want to make sure we maintain a semblance of order and a vision to complete all of these goals," Leiweke says. "We just stay focused: we've got a big year coming with axs, our biggest year ever with AEG Live, we've got our biggest year ever with our facilities division that's growing like a weed, and we're about to have some really good announcements about some facilities we're picking up. And, by the way, our hockey team is going to defend the Stanley Cup and our soccer team is going to defend for the third year in a row the MLS Cup. We are not lacking motivation, nor are we lacking a task list."