Do Commissioners Know What A Gig Is?

An amusing story that’s come out the Competition Commission’s investigation into Denis Desmond and Live Nation’s prospective purchase of a reported 53 percent of Academy Music Group is that some of its members may not have even known what a gig is.

Part of the CC’s research involved daytime visits to venues including Brixton Academy and Apollo Hammersmith, but according to deputy chairman Diana Guy, it also involved watching a DVD of what went on in the evenings “in case we hadn’t been to a gig before.”

This less than confidence-boosting revelation came in a December 2nd story in the Sunday Times, reporting that the Commission is likely to want Desmond and Live Nation to shed at least a couple of rooms where these so-called gigs take place before they’ll consider letting the deal go through.

The paper also quoted the CC deputy chairman saying the monopoly watchdog felt the deal would mean it’s “likely that ticket prices would go up” and that “the quality of venues could decline” because of the lack of competition. Live Nation U.K. president Paul Latham said the remarks were a slur on his company’s professional standards.

Latham is disappointed the Commission didn’t take into account the huge volume of evidence and argument that his company submitted, an understandable reaction from someone who’d been starting his working day at 6 a.m. to help compile it.

Rather than accept that he went through all that for nothing, Latham remains determined to continue lobbying the commission to persuade it that venue rents form only a small proportion of ticket prices, and that the company promotes about one-fifth of the gigs at its venues.

So far, the watchdog hasn’t commented on Latham’s apparent willingness to accept Commission-mandated rules restricting its rents, but that may be because it feels they’d be too awkward to enforce.

What’s troubling the CC the most is that the deal would allow one company to have five major London venues with capacities between 1,000 and 5,000.

Desmond and Live Nation chief Michael Rapino formed Hamsard 2786 Ltd. – which now trades as LN-Gaiety Holdings Ltd. – to buy Vince Power’s The Mean Fiddler Music Group Plc, which has London venues including The Forum and The Astoria.

The Commission has made it clear that it’s not going to be influenced by any offer to sell The Astoria because it’s under risk of demolition if plans to make a new London rail link come to fruition.

Live Nation already has Hammersmith Apollo, London theatres including Apollo Victoria, The Dominion Theatre and the Lyceum Theatre, and runs Hyde Park and Wembley Arena.

The Academy Music Group, in which Desmond already holds about a 12 percent share, has Brixton Academy and Shepherds Bush Empire.

Disposing of the theatre venues wouldn’t hold much sway with the CC because they are not used as regular live music venues, although there’s no sign that Britain’s top watchdog is concerned about the acquisition of Academy’s provincial venues in Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Oxford.

CC inquiry secretary Tom Muir was due to continue listening to more opinions from the interested parties until December 21st. The CC’s final ruling will come on or before February 2nd.

— John Gammon