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Azoff Helped To Shape Entertainment Landscape

LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Irving Azoff is a name who will feature prominently on just about anyone's who's-who list of powerful industry figures.

In a recent New York Times profile on the deal-maker, the first Azoff has done since he became the chairman of the newly-formed Live Nation Entertainment, Azoffian anecdotes flew fast and furious. One such tale recounted how Azoff sent a gift-wrapped boa constrictor to a manager who's wife Azoff had found to be treacherous. Azoff enclosed a note with the snake which read, "Now you have two of them!"

Azoff also commented on his reputation of having a somewhat mercurial approach to honesty.

"Various jobs that I've had require me to stand behind the curtain and — what's the word? — create an illusion. This is a business that requires different tactics at different times." Azoff told the Times.

Azoff has also apparently found ways to express his 'no holds barred style' with a photo of him, grinning, with his middle finger extended displayed in a variety of places, including in pictures around his house, his personal stationary and the sweatshirt he wore while squiring the Times reporter around his estate.

Early on, Azoff became known for the tough deals he'd strike for his artists, and unlike many of his colleagues, he made no secret about the deals he was structuring for his clients and often invited them to sit in on the negotiations. He would also look critically at the take from a show, frequently developing his own sources of information and if he felt that his tally didn't match what the promoter was admitting to, Azoff would make an issue about it.

Azoff would argue that without the artist, there would be no beer sold and the parking lot would remain empty, so the artist should be entitled to a share. Azoff would tell the promoter that they could keep all of the proceeds from venue, but that he and his client wanted a 90% slice of the ticket sales – this arrangement came to known as the 'Irving Deal.'

Then the landscape of the live entertainment industry started to change. What had once been a patchwork of local and regional promoters started to be rolled up into a single national entity by Robert Sillerman's SFX during the late 1990s.

While Robert Sillerman and later Clear Channel worked to consolidate the promoter business, Azoff was making a similar effort in the management world. Raising more than $100 million, Azoff's Front Line started to roll up management companies and eventually Ticketmaster in order to challenge the growing power of the promoter.

The growing conflict between these two factions was only staved off by the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster entertainment, which completed in January after nearly a year of consultations with various regulatory bodies. Now Mr. Azoff finds himself, at least partially, on the other side of the table.

Since the merger, the two companies appear to be on the right track. Since merging, Live Nation's valuation has more than doubled to 2.8 billion from early projections that placed the value of the post-merger company at $816 million and the company is actively looking for new ways to generate revenue.

One of the areas of focus for the company was to improve on Ticketmaster's e-commerce offerings to enhance other revenue streams such as merch and fan club memberships while fostering a sense of community around artists.

"We’ve squeezed every drop that there is to squeeze," Mr. Azoff told The Times. "We’ve probably squeezed too much. But we’re not going backward, so with this merger we’re going to form new businesses through e-commerce so we don’t have to go to artists and say ‘We want to take back some ground.'"

For many music fans, there is a tangible feeling of being squeezed. Concert ticket prices have more than doubled in the past decade, well ahead of the curve when measured against inflation. Live Nation CEO told the New York Times Michael Rapino believes this is due to a price correction for tickets that had previously been significantly undervalued.

"The ticket was under-priced 40 years ago," Rapino said.

Live Nation's rivals have a different take on this: they claim that that the sharp increases in ticket price coincided with the roll-up of regional promoters. According to this version of the story, a deep-pocketed national promoter, willing to pay a premium to ensure an artist booking, has driven up prices along with artist expectations across the board.

"I talk to college kids all the time and they tell me that going to a show at an arena or an amphitheater is just beyond what they can afford. And it's because Live Nation has been paying the acts these outrageous sums, which is just alienating the fan base." Metropolitan Talent's John Scher told The Times.

Rapino rejects this argument, noting that when scalpers can successfully charge several times the face value of a ticket, the ticket is undervalued at retail. However, this position might be a little hard to reconcile with Mr. Rapino's testimony about the merger in front of a Senate subcommittee in which he stated 40% of concert tickets go unsold. Of course, most of the proceeds from tickets go to the artist's team while a majority of Live Nation's profits are derived from sources like merch, concessions, parking and sponsorship deals.

Live Nation (pre merger) has also taken some steps to try to address the problems that devolve from high ticket prices and last year, introduced a number of promotional efforts at their amphitheatres such as 'no service fee' days, and lower cost tickets for entire concert series. How effective these strategies will be in the long term in reducing LNE's ticket inventory remains to be seen or even if they will a return this year as an offering from the post-merger company. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers