Busy Week For Desmond

It was a topsy-turvy week for Irish promoter Denis Desmond.

The four English festivals he co-owns sold out, his joint bid with Live Nation to buy half of the Academy Music Group was referred to the Competition Commission and the Irish Sunday Business Post reported that Hot Press founder and editor Niall Stokes is taking him to court over a business deal that dates back seven years.

The twinned Chemlsford and Stafford V Festivals, which Desmond shares via partnerships with the U.K.’s Metropolis Music and SJM Concerts respectively, sold out their combined 158,000 capacities over the August 19-20 weekend.

With an average crowd of 79,000 per day, and with Glastonbury having its regular “fallow” year, the Vs look to be Europe’s top-selling festivals of 2006.

Only the 70,000-plus crowds at Belgium’s Rock Werchter, Denmark’s Roskilde, Germany’s twinned Rock Am Ring and Rock im Park and possibly Hungary’s Sziget are close to rubbing shoulders with V.

The 83,000-per-day crowd SJM Concerts attracted to the Stafford V Festival probably makes it Europe’s biggest-pulling individual outdoor festival.

The U.K.’s Reading and Leeds Carling Weekend, which Desmond has co-owned with Live Nation since they bought out The Mean Fiddler Music Group, is another event pushing for a place in the top six.

A week after the Vs, the Carling twins did another 150,000 tickets between them.

Squeezed between these sellouts came the news that the Office of Fair Trading recommends the Competition Commission keep a close eye on his current bid in cahoots with Live Nation – Hamsard 2786 Ltd – to control half of Academy Music Group.

If the deal goes through, he would have a bigger stake in either the ownership or the running of almost a dozen of London’s best-known venues. He already has slices of mainland U.K. festivals including Scotland’s T In The Park, Isle of Wight and the V and Carling Weekend festivals.

Whatever the Competition Commission decides, and it could take three months, will have no effect on the size of Desmond’s portfolio – only the size of his stake in Brixton Academy, Shepherds Bush Empire and Islington Academy.

He already has partial ownership of those through his interests in AMG, which amounts to one-fourth of the 50 percent he shares equally with company chief John Northcote, Metropolis Music and SJM Concerts.

The other half of the group, which also has provincial venues in Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle, is owned by a couple of London private equity houses and is the subject of the Live Nation-MCD (or Hamsard) bid.

If the AMG deal does go through, it will be the second time in less than a couple of years that Desmond has teamed with Rapino to get a major share of a company he previously held a smaller stake in.

Many who oppose the deal have been muted, possibly because they need to stay on good terms with MCD and Live Nation for future endeavors.

Desmond and Rapino are also staying quiet, maybe on the equally understandable grounds that the issue is too sensitive for public comment.

The Competition Commission isn’t likely to be swayed by any sort of professional objections to the takeover. It is likely to concentrate more on whether the deal is damaging to consumers.

Promoters will suggest such control in London would enable Hamsard to hike rents across the board, with the increased costs inevitably being passed on to the punter. That’s the issue the CC will further investigate.

Agents and artists are likely to argue that any increase in cost will lead to less remaining in the bucket for sharing a percentage break.

In Dublin, Desmond’s legal issue with Stokes is over the Irish Music Hall of Fame on Abbey Street, which the magazine’s founding editor opened in April 1999.

It was part of a larger euro 7 million project that would contain a museum of Irish music, a 550-seat concert venue, a restaurant, a bar and a Hall of Fame shop. All were located at premises known as HQ.

Attendances were poor and, during the two years of its existence, Stokes brought in additional investors including Desmond, Riverdance multi-millionaires John McColgan and Moya Doherty, publican and hotelier Cyril O’Brien and former Microsoft executive Tony Burke.

Some of the funding came from a Business Expansion Scheme that raised £1 million to help finance the development.

Stokes is claiming the other investors agreed to indemnities against two-thirds of any losses that may have accrued from the BES scheme and they’re not honoring them.

He said the scheme lost significant money and now he’s taking action against Desmond, McColgan, Doherty, O’Brien and Burke.

It could make the Commercial Division of Dublin’s High Court by the end of the year. Irish papers have reported that Stokes wants £1.5 million.

Among the acts making sure Desmond ended his week on a happy note at the Carling Weekend were Pearl Jam, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, and Fall Out Boy.

– John Gammon