The Death Star to buy Walmart on the Lake
Confirming rumors that had been swirling around Texas for months, The New York Times’ ace music business reporter Ben Sisario had a major scoop on Monday: C3 Presents, the Austin-based promoters with an exclusive deal to present Lollapalooza in Grant Park in perpetuity, are about to sell a majority stake of the company to Ticketmaster/Live Nation Entertainment, the giant national concert and ticketing monopoly many call the Death Star of the music world.
So what does this mean for Chicago?
Here are 10 things you should know about these companies and their dealings with Chicago city government and the local music scene. (And we should note that neither company has yet commented on the pending deal, which Sisario quotes sources as saying is worth about $250 million, and which would give Live Nation a 51-percent stake in C3, making it one of the largest festival promoters in the world.)
——1. Lollapalooza’s deal for Grant Park lasts forever.
Often misreported as a 10-year deal struck between the Park District and C3 Presents in 2012, a close read of the Lollapalooza contract (which this blog posted in its entirety after filing a Freedom of Information Act request) reveals that it is in fact a contract in perpetuity: When the agreement expires in 2021, Lollapalooza and the city are free to add another year after that year’s festival… and the next, and the next, and the next, for as long as both sides desire, and free from public scrutiny or competition. Which means a Ticketmaster/Live Nation/C3 Lollapalooza in Grant Park forever.
—2. The original Lollapalooza deal reeked of favoritism.
The first contract the Daley administration approved in 2005—and later amended in 2008—included an unprecedented and very questionable arrangement whereby the concert partnered with the Parkways Foundation, a favorite charity of Maggie Daley, and operated as a non-profit venture. Despite generating considerable income, it thereby avoided the city and county amusement taxes paid by every other entertainment event in Chicago that draws more than 750 people, costing taxpayers millions in lost revenue for the concert’s first seven years.
—3. That deal was negotiated by then-Mayor Daley’s nephew, and C3 recently repaid Daley and his kin with a big fat contract in Austin.
C3’s hired attorney and paid lobbyist, Daley nephew Mark Vanecko, negotiated that first deal with the Park District, despite the obvious conflict of interest. Late last month, Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos had a tasty scoop revealing that C3 is paying the Austin Parks Foundation specifically to hire the former mayor’s consulting firm to work on a $100 million project essentially privatizing an Austin park for major events like the Austin City Limits Festival, the predecessor of and model for Lollapalooza. It’s hard not to see that as payback.
—4. The current deal is almost as sweet as the first one.
While the new contract generates more income for the city—around $3 million a year total—it contains a number of problematic concessions. The biggest: Lollapalooza has an exclusive lock on Grant Park, prohibiting any other promoter from staging a similar event there. It also fails to stipulate penalties or set deadlines for post-concert repairs (and these have been extensive in years with bad rain). Bottom line: The city’s biggest and most prestigious public park now is handed to a private business for the third of the year with the best weather.
—5. When Live Nation becomes a co-owner of Lollapalooza, it will now have sweetheart deals for two lakefront concert venues.
Live Nation initially got a sweetheart deal from the Daley administration in 2005 for a temporary, mid-sized concert venue on Northerly Island, where the former mayor had bulldozed Meigs Field in the middle of the night. In 2013, the Emanuel administration made the arrangement permanent, allowing Live Nation to build a massive fixed venue for 30,000 people—all without public hearings and sidestepping competitive bidding.
6. Rahm’s ties to Lollapalooza and C3 are even closer than Daley’s.
While C3 does all the work, Lollapalooza actually is co-owned in a 50/50 partnership by the Texas company and Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor, which is run by Rahm’s brother, Ari Emanuel. (The concert’s founder, Perry Farrell, sold his stake to William Morris back in the alternative era, and is now basically a corporate spokes figure—the Gorton’s Fisherman of the music world.) Ari Emanuel also sits on the Board of Directors of Ticketmaster/Live Nation.
7. Rahm promised to appoint an independent negotiator to handle all city deals with C3 and Ticketmaster/Live Nation.
In addition to his nepotistic ties with C3/William Morris and Ticketmaster/Live Nation, Emanuel received campaign contributions from 15 William Morris employees and the top two corporate executives at Ticketmaster/Live Nation, totaling $156,000 during his first mayoral campaign. In response to this blog’s reporting on those contributions, then-campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said: “Given his brother’s position at WME [William Morris Endeavor] and on the board of Live Nation, Rahm would ask the City Council to appoint an outside negotiator to handle any negotiations with these companies so that there wasn’t even a question of favoritism.”
8. Rahm broke that promise.
As mayor, Emanuel failed to appoint that independent negotiator to oversee the new contract with Ticketmaster/Live Nation for Northerly Island or with C3/William Morris for Lollapalooza. The administration has claimed the mayor had no role in those deals, since they were struck by the Park District. But Emanuel hand picks the Park District’s board and top executives.
9.— Rahm is raking in the cash for his second run from C3.
The real reason for the mayor’s much-ballyhooed goodwill trip to Austin for South by Southwest 2013 was revealed by Chicago Tribune reporters John Byrne and Bill Ruthhart: Emanuel made the trip to collect “campaign donations at a fundraiser thrown for him by the promoters who hold the 10-year contract to put on the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park.” Doesn’t this blatantly contradict the executive order Rahm signed forgoing political contributions from city contractors, the Tribune asked? Once again, mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton countered that the rule does not apply because C3 has its deal with the Park District, not with City Hall, a fine distinction many would dismiss.
—10. Lollapalooza never has “played nice” with the Chicago music scene, but Ticketmaster/Live Nation’s been even worse.
In addition to dominating the summer concert scene by its sheer size and scope, Lollapalooza wields unequaled power over the Chicago music world via the radius clauses C3 places on every act that plays its stages. These prohibit artists from performing for six months before the festival and three months after anywhere within 300 miles of Grant Park, which includes Milwaukee, Madison, Iowa City, Detroit, and Indianapolis. C3 claims it waives the radius clause for any band that asks; some artists have disagreed. Either way, the policy remains intact.
C3, which does not even have an office in Chicago, claims to be a good neighbor to the music scene by making sanctioned after-shows available to local venues. Some promoters and club owners have said that doesn’t come close to compensating for the nights they now are dark, but they’re almost always hesitant to speak for attribution lest they lose the handful of shows they do get.
For its part, Ticketmaster/Live Nation has been an even more problematic neighbor. Ticketmaster’s egregious “convenience fees” and poor customer service are notorious, as are its exclusivity agreements with venues. (These mean artists must use Ticketmaster or they cannot play that facility.) Live Nation has aggressively bought up or driven independent local promoters out of business from coast to coast; Chicago is one of the few major cities that still has an independent competitor, Jam Productions, but court testimony has included statements by top Live Nation execs promising to “crush, kill, and destroy” its smaller rival. And Live Nation’s radius clauses are as troubling as C3’s.
Though Ticketmaster’s merger with Live Nation in 2010 was roundly criticized by the music industry and legislators on both the left and the right, it nevertheless won the approval of the Obama administration. (At the time, Rahm Emanuel was the president’s chief of staff.) And though the Illinois Attorney General investigated Lollapalooza and C3 for possible anti-trust violations in 2010, the probe ended with no action taken. Complaints about the bullying practices of both companies have fallen on deaf ears.
Also worth noting: The city never has contracted for a thorough, independent Economic Impact Study weighing the benefits of the lakefront concerts staged by C3 and Ticketmaster/Live Nation against the detriments to local music businesses, especially the clubs and independent venues that operate here 365 days a year.
While the ramifications of the merger remain to be seen, two things are undeniable and don’t augur well for the future: Under Ticketmaster/Live Nation, concert tickets and service fees have only gotten more and more expensive while customers have increasingly been treated worse, marketing has grown more obnoxious, and bookings have grown ever more conservative. And competition has dwindled while the giants have thrived, leaving music lovers with fewer alternatives all the time.
SOME OF THIS BLOG’S KEY REPORTS ON THE SHENANIGANS BEHIND LOLLAPALOOZA, TICKETMASTER/LIVE NATION, AND THE CITY