Live Nation takes over Clear Channel's concerts

by Geoff Edgers, Boston Globe Staff

Lawrence Lepore, executive director of the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, first heard that the sale of Clear Channel's concert division had gone through when he called the company's New England headquarters. The receptionist told him he had reached a company called Live Nation.

Lepore, whose venue booked 15 of the 19 shows it held last year through Clear Channel Entertainment, was confused. ''I thought I got the wrong number."

He didn't. San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications spun off its concert division in late December. The new company, called Live Nation, is slightly smaller, but with the same local bosses in charge.

''Everything [in Entertainment] that was Clear Channel is now Live Nation," said Don Law, the legendary Boston concert promoter who is the president of the new company's New England Division, a position he also held for Clear Channel Entertainment.

Clear Channel properties now transferred to Live Nation include the Opera House, the Tweeter Center, and Bank of America Pavilion. Live Nation's local affiliates also include Broadway in Boston, the theatrical organization that brought ''The Lion King" to town and agreed to present Boston Ballet's ''Nutcracker."

One issue Law cleared up immediately: He will stay with the new company. In fact, Law signed a five-year extension when Live Nation was created.

He added that ticket buyers shouldn't expect much of a change with Live Nation, which will focus entirely on music, theater, and motor sports events. Clear Channel Communication's primary business is billboards and its network of radio stations.

''Things will continue very much as they have been," Law said.

The spinoff did force some cutbacks at the company. Reportedly, about 300 of 3,300 Live Nation employees lost their jobs. Law was not specific about the cuts on the music promotion side of the New England regional office other than to say it would be booking fewer bands at local colleges.

Broadway in Boston president Drew Murphy said he had to lay off a handful of the 25 workers in his office just before the start of 2006. He would not detail who was cut. He did say the transition to Live Nation has meant more communication between his office and Law's.

''We became a tighter group, so where we had duplicated efforts going on, we had to eliminate there," Murphy said. But to the consumer, this ''means absolutely nothing. We just changed the name."

For local concertgoers, this is the second time in two years that the region's main concert promoter has changed or altered its name. Not long ago in the local market, Clear Channel readopted Law's Tea Party Concerts moniker, the name of the booking company he started in 1970. That name still exists on the company's local concert website, though Law's office is now known as Live Nation. Law said no final decision has been made on whether to keep the Tea Party name in some capacity.

Clear Channel Communications was founded in 1972 and went public in 1984. Over the next two decades, it purchased hundreds of radio and television stations. But Clear Channel made its biggest splash in 1997, when it bought two billboard companies, making it the largest outdoor advertiser in the country. That, and its more than 1,200 radio stations, now form the core of Clear Channel Communications. The decision to spin off the entertainment side made sense, according to analysts, because that portion of the company has generally been the most volatile and least profitable. It was only in 2000 that Clear Channel acquired SFX Entertainment, Inc., one of the world's largest concert promoters.

''It was a very low margin, relatively underperforming, noncore business," said David Bank, an analyst who covers Clear Channel for New York-based investment banking firm RBC Capital Markets. ''Their core business is a combination of both outdoor advertising and radio operator business."

Law said he expects Live Nation to be more entrepreneurial than its former incarnation. Earlier this month, the company signed an agreement with the rock band Korn to invest in the group and, in return, receive a greater share of ticket sales, merchandise, and CD sales.

''The Korn deal is the kind you're going to see in the future," Law said. ''And I think that when you look at the Robbie Williams deal [in which the singer's record company gets a share of merchandising and tour revenue] that occurred in England, when you're investing in not just the live side but the recording and merchandising, that's a model you'll probably see more of."

The recent name change and layoffs have led to some confusion in the local arts community about what the creation of Live Nation means for them.

Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, found himself wondering about the company's status during a meeting just last week. Moscaritolo and Dusty Rhodes, owner of the Conventures public relations company, were discussing how to hold events at the Bank of America Pavilion.

Only one problem. When he looked into the matter, Moscaritolo discovered the venue was run by a company called Live Nation.

''I said, 'What is this?' " Moscaritolo said. '' 'Is it a publicly traded company? Is Don Law involved with this?' No one had answers."

Law, speaking last Friday, said he saw no need to issue a statement about the name change.

''This is not a major shift," he said. ''It's pretty much business as usual."

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