Papers Praise Anschutz

Two pieces in the October 17 edition of The Daily Telegraph were fulsome in their praise of U.S. entrepreneur Philip Anschutz, although it wasn’t clear if the paper was more impressed with his taking over of the Millennium Dome or for some evangelical zeal it seems to think he has.

By the second paragraph of a story headed “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome,” Anschutz was being referred to as “a right-wing Christian evangelist,” while an editorial leader got no further before talking of him as an “American Christian evangelist.”

Forbes magazine usually refers to him as “the richest American you’ve never heard of.”

The newsworthy points are that both articles show a shift in the way the U.K. media (including The Telegraph) has treated Anschutz, who has previously been more noted for a polite indifference.

The paper also quotes a couple of the U.S. music industry’s leading lights being highly critical of London venues, without (apparently) giving them chance to respond.

The U.K. papers always accepted that Anschutz Entertainment Group got a good deal on the venue (now called the O2 Dome), but have showed no bitterness toward the company, preferring to concentrate on criticising the government for persisting in the logic-defying line that the whole project was a national success and the terms of its disposal are for the benefit of the country’s tax-payers.

The Dome cost £758 million to build (£600 million of it is lottery money), and has cost taxpayers more than £30 million in maintenance since it was closed. Of the 12 million visitors expected in 2000, around 6.5 million showed up.

AEG and its development partners at Meridian Delta picked up the near-200-acre site for a promise of a share in future profits.

The Telegraph looks to be the first paper to change tact and heap such gushing editorial prose for Anschutz. The phrases included: “The Dome was neither spiritually inspiring nor remotely popular. How heartening, then, that it is to be taken over by an American Christian evangelist and transformed into a mega (only that word will do) entertainment complex.

“We fervently hope that Philip Anschutz succeeds where Peter Mandelson failed, and makes some money out of it.”

The criticism of Mandelson, who will always spin himself into a government job, is also in the intro to the news story that describes the Dome as “Tony Blair’s great white elephant,” but it goes on to say “it’s being reinvented after five years in mothballs by Philip Anschutz, a right-wing Christian evangelist.”

Describing Anschutz’s company and its aims for the building’s future, the paper said, “With a track record of converting empty spaces into ultra-comfortable state-of-the-art arenas for rock concerts and sporting events, his Anschutz Entertainment Group is expected to cause a major stir in London, where some of the best music is played in the most awful of surroundings.”

The justification for panning London’s existing arenas (presumably Earls Court and Wembley) came in a quote from Eagles manager Irving Azoff: “Venues in London remain in the Dark Ages compared to what we’re used to in the United States. If I booked one of my headline acts into buildings like that in America, they’d fire me. We’re not used to such low standards.”

To rub the point home, Randy Phillips, Rod Stewart‘s former manager and AEG Live president/CEO, was reported as referring to Earls Court as “a barn where it’s impossible to make the sound good.”

Azoff was also quoted as saying, “It’s a toss-up between the Olympic Stadium in Moscow and Earls Court as to which is the worst venue.”

“I did a DVD from Wembley Arena recently with Christina Aguilera – and we had a sound problem,” Azoff complained, ensuring that London’s other landmark arena also took a share of the flak.

Phillips was reported to be confident of 100 rock and pop shows a year at the Dome, which is being renamed The O2 as part of a £6 million (US$10.54 million) annual sponsorship from the mobile phone network.

He’s already been rumoured to be trying for The Kinks, who have guardedly spoken about a reunion, and offering Pink Floyd a £1.1 million (US$2 million) per night guarantee for 100 worldwide shows.

— John Gammon