LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) Rumors have been swirling since the Pollstar Live conference in early February that the concert industry trade magazine associated with it may be up for sale, and CelebrityAccess has been told recently from multiple sources it’s a reality.
Pollstar has long been known as a rival to CelebrityAccess for its box office and contact information, plus editorial and touring itinerary information. It was founded and run by Gary Bongiovanni, with the significant efforts of Gary Smith, for about four decades
It was sold to Oak View Group approximately in mid-2017. Bongiovanni agreed to stay on to June 30, 2018.
“The Garys,” as they were known in the industry, said as they exited their careers that they wanted to make sure their staff and legacy would be honored and developed. OVG, run by Tim Leiweke with the investment of Irving Azoff, was the chosen suitor.
OVG, which focuses on facility management, produced a successful, if, apparently, behind the scenes expensive, music industry conference in Pollstar Live! in 2018. It continued to produce the print magazine, which was intended to be filled with advertising from a rival facility manager, the massive SMG, which OVG intended to purchase, but ultimately could not.
With that as a possible setback, plus reticence from rivals like AEG to consider Pollstar an objective publication, it appears the experiment may be over.
With two years and two conferences, whether they were successful or not, according to various reports, it appears that it is time for a change. The original staff, based out of Fresno, Calif., was reduced from 50 to about 20, despite the intentions of the Garys. What was left, which sources very close to the situation have said was very much against the wishes of the Garys, was mainly I.T. and editorial staff, with the rest, including online and print sales, replaced with equivalents in OVG”s Los Angeles office while other positions, namely in the Route Book department, were automated.
Sources have said that the staff that is left has been asked to do increasingly heavy tasks with less manpower. There have also apparently been numerous complaints that it is difficult to contact anyone in the system. Meanwhile, the original building has been sold and the IT staffers are looking for efficient office space in the Fresno area. Subscription sales, however, appear to be unaffected.
Several sources confirmed that the divergent entities of Billboard and Penske Media Corporation – home to Billboard rival Variety and former Billboard reporter Shirley Halperin, a favorite of Pollstar’s new editorial management – have met with OVG for the possible purchase. One source said it is not so much as being “shopped around,” i.e., OVG approaching suitors, but that the publishing entities were approaching OVG and the discourse was a long time ago.
Both Penske and Billboard (versus parent company Valence Media) appear to be enticed by Pollstar’s database of box office revenue and contact information, plus the conference, but are apparently reticent to add more print pages to a struggling media or adding an extra website to its portfolio. And that could be difficult considering how much the website is inextricably tied to the software that manages the database.
If this is the case, then Venues Now, formerly Venues Today, which was part of a media rollup by OVG and is basically a print mag with a website, would be off the table from any considered purchase presently considered. A source said it was unclear if the magazine was part of the offer.
Leiweke and Azoff, by all accounts, have actively maintained a hands-off policy with Pollstar, making sure they did not influence the editorial content nor its box office reporting. In fact, many times major announcements have appeared in Billboard prior to appearing in the trade magazine they now own, with one source telling this reporter it was a conscious effort to make clear that neither party was favoring its print mag.
Yet, the perception from competitors like AEG has been that the trade magazine is aligned with Live Nation. SMG has been vocally neutral in the situation but AEG Facilities recently merged with the facility management company and that could quickly make for a divided landscape.
The recent Pollstar Live conference included a big get in Dave Grohl talking with Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, plus former mates Louis Messina and Arthur Fogel swapping tales. Yet, some have reported that the conference was disorganized, although others said they were thrilled with recent conferences. Ultimately, one source said it was the usual fare.
Meanwhile, the print magazine is run by Ray Waddell, Andy Gensler, and Bob Allen – all Billboard veterans. The magazine and online content, which has brought on several freelancers and has moved in the Billboard direction of fan-facing content versus industry-facing content, has appeared to match recent publishing from Billboard, including lists and their lucrative advertising potential, which would make for a smooth merger. However, it is obviously too early to determine what a sale means for management positions.
If the reports are true that Pollstar is up for grabs, it may be because of the perception of partiality or it could be the simple, impartial assessments of bean counters, who recognize the razor-thin profit margin of print.
As for the rumors of Billboard purchasing Pollstar, one person extremely close to the situation said, “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Bongiovanni exited the company almost immediately after the purchase. Smith is still on payroll but has apparently renegotiated a contract that put him in charge of the Fresno version of the company from many years to merely this year.
Full disclosure: This reporter is the former news editor of Pollstar for 15 years. The publisher of CelebrityAccess, Marc Gentilella, said, “I’ve always had respect for the two Garys.”
It should also be noted that sources have teasingly said that this is not breaking news but rather something that could have been posted a year ago.