2008 In Review

With all the global economic turmoil we saw this past year, it is a bit daunting to know that 2009 looks like it will continue to be just as volatile.

The year 2008 will be remembered for all the maneuvering of Live Nation and Ticketmaster as they prepared to become competitors. It will also be remembered as the first year of a quickening financial downturn that reshaped many long-term business plans.

The year began with Ticketmaster – at the time, an IAC company – moving strongly into the ticket resale market with its own TicketExchange program and, more importantly, the acquisition of major ticket brokers TicketsNow in the U.S. and GetMeIn across the pond. With Live Nation’s pending ticketing system launch, Ticketmaster was obviously anteing up.

There was confidence, maybe arrogance, at Ticketmaster that Live Nation was a minor threat, that maybe it would come back to the fold one day, hat in hand. That’s because Live Nation had 12 measly months to build a bullet-proof ticket sales system that would match the one Ticketmaster had spent decades building out and fine-tuning.

But Live Nation decided it did not need to reinvent the wheel. Instead the company announced a deal with Germany’s CTS Eventim to use that company’s ticketing technology as the base infrastructure for building out its own system.

This fall, Live Nation made an announcement that appeared to give it a huge advantage in its upcoming turf tussle with Ticketmaster. Powerful facility management company SMG agreed to a five-year deal to use Live Nation Ticketing exclusively at hundreds of the venues that SMG manages. This followed news of a major alliance with Latin American promoters CIE and T4F that appeared to give Live Nation a major advantage in promoting shows from south of the Rio Grande to the tip of South America. It looked to be killing blows, coming just as TM announced it was downsizing its staff.

But Ticketmaster would have none of it, noting that it held binding contracts with most SMG buildings through 2010 and even if the facility management company wanted to use LN tickets when those deals expire, the individual facility owners still have a say.

Oh, and by the way, meet our new CEO: Irving Azoff.

Ticketmaster announced in October it had bought a controlling interest in Azoff’s Front Line Management. It also changed its name to Ticketmaster Entertainment and put Azoff in charge of the company. What this means for 2009 is unclear, but Azoff is a mythic figure who can see through walls and talk to wild animals. That, and he just has a good track record. If nothing else, word has it TM staffers – at least the ones who knew who Azoff is – were ecstatic at the news, and thereby gave TM some needed energy.

TM immediately started experimenting with all-inclusive ticket prices. That’s probably a good idea, considering Live Nation’s model is expected to bury the fees in the price of the ticket (although the initial ticket launches had service fees).

Last year was also about best laid plans falling through. Because of the economy, a lot of new construction and renovation has halted. Fuel price fluctuations caused tours to retool and rebudget. Festival tickets suddenly are available on layaway. Arenas need to fill prime dates once occupied by arena football.

With this, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino is viewed as prescient for slowing Live Nation’s 360 artist deals as the economy soured. Live Nation’s stock has gone into a tailspin, as has the rest of the stock market, so Rapino should be commended for preserving Live Nation’s war chest as the capital markets dried up. Yes, Live Nation signed big dollar deals with Madonna, Jay-Z, U2, Nickelback and Shakira (with Kanye West reportedly in the works) but Live Nation would have spent a lot more money if former Live Nation Chairman Michael Cohl had his way.

Live Nation also gained some much-needed cash by selling its motorsports division to Feld Entertainment for $205 million, and in the process Feld Entertainment made the biggest expansion of its 40-year history.

A lot else happened. Fantasma’s Jon Stoll passed away in January, changing the landscape of Florida promotion. Live Nation bought his company and its venue real estate, but most of the staff, including John Valentino, opened up an AEG Live office.

AEG relaunched The Warfield in San Francisco, Nokia L.A. Live and its surrounding entertainment district, and celebrated five Garth Brooks charity concerts at Staples Center. Live Nation relaunched the Hollywood Palladium and expanded into Dubai. C3 Presents solidified its Windy City presence, getting an exclusive agreement to book Chicago’s Congress Theatre, landing a 10-year contract to promote Lollapalooza in Grant Park and organizing the Obama election victory speech.

MSG Entertainment bought the Chicago Theatre, is planning its first-ever outdoor festival in upstate New York, and its namesake, Madison Square Garden, is to receive a $500 million overhaul starting this year.

Global Spectrum is ready to compete with SMG overseas, partnering with NEC Group Birmingham to make its presence felt in Europe. Ellis Industries put its roster under Paradigm’s roof. AEG launched the Mile High Music Festival, All Points West and Rothbury Festivals. Live Nation should be proud of its inaugural Pemberton Festival in British Columbia. Another Planet put on the first nighttime rock concerts at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with the launch of the Outside Lands fest. Jam Productions keeps building its theatrical presence, producing a musical about Cat Stevens.

William Morris Agency finally recognized the importance of its music department by adding three music agents to its board of directors. Philadelphia is saying goodbye to its Spectrum arena, which is making way for an entertainment district.

Despite all the doom and gloom in the news, there are many people, both in the U.S. and abroad, that are optimistic that President-Elect Barack Obama will help get the world spinning in a more positive direction as we make our way through what is expected to be a difficult 2009.