Sources say that Live Nation is in the final stages of closing a deal to purchase a majority stake in Founders Entertainment, producers of Governors Ball, the successful (and, until this year, only) New York music festival.
Governors Ball, held annually each June on Randalls Island, enjoyed its biggest year yet in 2015, drawing about 150,000 in aggregate. The majority stake in Founders is a critically important play for Live Nation, both in the Northeastern U.S., and in the overall festival scene in America. The sixth Governors Ball is set for June 3-5, with Kanye West, The Killers and The Strokes headlining. Founders partner Jordan Wolowitz could not be reached for comment.
In what most would view as an unlikely turn of events, Randall’s Island is now the front line in a fierce battle between Live Nation and AEG Live over the New York festival market, with the latter announcing earlier this year that it would launch its own festival on Randall’s Island with Panorama, scheduled July 22-24. In launching Governors Ball, Founders was the first promoter to crack the code of producing a major rock festival in New York, with the festival hosting top-tier acts and posting consistent growth in box office.
Founders has been independent in producing Governors Ball, but the firm does have a history with Live Nation, with the two partnering last year in Farmborough, the city’s first country music festival. Though it drew about 40,000, word came earlier this year that Farmborough would not return in 2016.
A festival arms race of sorts has been playing out out between Live Nation and rival AEG Live, as both aggressively seek to build their respective festival portfolios in what has been the most successful sector of the live music business for the past decade. With stakes or outright ownership in about 30 festivals in North America, including the biggest in the world in Coachella, AEG Live, primarily through its Goldenvoice division and a partnership with New Orleans Jazz & Heritage producer Festival Productions Inc. (FPI), had been well ahead of the game. Its festival portfolio includes Electric Forest, Firefly, Hangout, JazzFest, and a bevy of country festivals. But Live Nation, already a force on the U.K./European festival scene, has been extremely aggressive in North America of late, adding majority stakes in Electric Daisy Carnival, C3 Presents (Lollapalooza, ACL Fest, among others), and Bonnaroo, and launching six country music festivals (though two have pulled the plug).
Now, with AEG’s Panorama and Live Nation with GovBall, the two live entertainment giants will share a festival site in Randall’s Island. Beyond that, the move is significant in that one of the few remaining independent producers of a major festival, Founders Entertainment, is now headed toward an alignment with the world’s largest promoter. The success of Founders and GovBall made them hot properties considered ripe for acquisition (though one wonders what impact the launch of Panorama had on GovBall’s value as the only festival game in town).
Still, Founders has shown it can thrive as an independent, with Wolowitz telling Billboard earlier this year’s that 2016 Governors Ball onsales were the strongest yet. When asked then if, given the current festival gold rush, joining up with a corporate promoter might be forthcoming, Wolowitz told Billboard, “We’ve shown that, right now, we don’t need to [partner] — yet. Who knows what the future may bring.”