Between the time Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino testified in front of Senate and House of Reps committees, an article appeared in the Beltway tip sheet Roll Call that raised eyebrows.
It enraged some opponents of the merger, who cited cozy relationships between board members of both companies and lobbying efforts being made on their behalf on Capitol Hill.
Before a second hearing, this time in front of a House committee, could convene, Roll Call added some high-octane fuel to the fire with an article headlined “A Big-Ticket Association” revealing some Democratic Party big guns brought in by Live Nation and Ticketmaster to diffuse the anger.
And dropping a match on the whole thing was an unnamed Live Nation source who told the paper the hearings were “little more than a formality” and that the Springsteen ticketing flap is more of a “distraction than a legal hurdle.”
“The Bruce Springsteen-Ticketmaster flap was a bit of a surprise, but is not really related to the deal,” the source told Roll Call. “There’s nothing that a merger with Live Nation will do that changes that scenario. It’s just what happens when you have bad P.R. at the wrong time.”
While Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino reportedly attempted to put out the fire by disavowing the anonymous Live Nation source’s statement, the P.R. remark couldn’t have been more prophetic.
“I guess what I stated yesterday is coming true,” Jam Productions co-founder Jerry Mickelson, a witness against the merger at the Feb. 24 Senate hearing, told Pollstar, then reiterated a portion of his statement to the Senate subcommittee.
“This is a very compelling reason to vigorously enforce antitrust legislation but make no mistake about it, this can be very difficult because of the enormous political power these companies have attained.
“Just look at their Board of Directors to understand the resources they have available to support and lobby on behalf of their effort to proceed with this proposed anti-competitive merger.”
As previously reported by Pollstar, the boards include some powerful FOBs – Friends of Barack. On Live Nation’s board, director Ari Emanuel is the brother of President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. And on the Ticketmaster side, director Julius Genachowski was a Harvard classmate of Obama’s and a co-leader of the president’s transition team policy working group on technology, innovation and government.
Add to that some apparent new hires from the K Street lobbyist district.
Roll Call reported former Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.) confirmed that Ticketmaster has retained his lobbyist firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to help smooth out rough spots caused by the Springsteen fiasco.
And a Secretary of the Senate filing reportedly shows that Live Nation hired Public Opinion Strategies on Feb. 5 to lobby on antitrust issues with the merger. Roll Call also reports that Lee Godown, longtime chief of staff to California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and Daniel Kohns – Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-Calif.) former communications director – both registered on behalf of the lobbyist firm and Live Nation.
(UPDATE: Since this story was published, Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that “Glen Bolger, a partner in Public Opinion Strategies, has written to say that his firm ‘has NOT been retained for this project. We are not lobbyists. Odds are high that Roll Call meant to say Public Strategies, which is a lobbying firm.’ Indeed, Kohns is listed as working for Public Strategies on that company’s Web site, though Sanchez is not.”).
And if that weren’t enough evidence that TM and LN intend to pull out all the stops to get political approval of the merger, the paper also reports that multiple sources said Live Nation is enlisting powerhouse Democratic lobbyist Joel Jankowsky of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Jankowsky is the one-time aide to former House Speaker Carl Albert.
There is also another ringer brought in for the merger: Brunswick Group lobbyist Hilary Rosen, who has been hired to push the deal. That’s the same Rosen who is a political commentator for CNN and once was the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.
Odd how these circles go ‘round – as head of the RIAA she was on the opposite side of a controversy with one of Azoff’s most noted management clients, Don Henley, when he was combating the Works for Hire recording practice.