LN Still Puzzling Over German Question

Johannes Wessels’ departure as managing director of Live Nation Germany has left international chief exec Alan Ridgeway to work out how the world’s biggest concert promoter can keep a secure foothold in mainland Europe’s biggest market.

It’s a problem that’s bothered Live Nation and its predecessors for more than a decade. It began when SFX Entertainment bought promoters in the UK, Scandinavia, Belgium and The Netherlands – but failed to cut a deal in Germany.

Clear Channel and then Live Nation made further acquisitions that brought in Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic, but its presence in Germany is still no more than the bridge head that its newly merged partner Ticketmaster can establish.

Former Ticket Online director Klaus Zemke is building Ticketmaster in Germany, but if Ridgeway wants to compete with what he calls “the historic dominance of CTS in the German concert and ticketing market,” then he needs to ensure his ticket-selling partner has a constant stream of content.

There’s a growing feeling in the country’s live music business that DEAG chief Peter Schwenkow will be plugging the gap for LN, which has been given more credence by neither side taking up various opportunities to deny it.

Others in Germany say Schwenkow will be happy to let the rumour run because it may boost DEAG’s stock value, but there’s a counter argument that says being linked with Live Nation right now might have the opposite effect.

LN international COO Paul Latham tells Pollstar there will soon be an announcement regarding what will be done about replacing Wessels. He’d been with the company only six months, before which he headed his own company called Music Pool.

It may well be that Schwenkow is only part of the solution, with the announcement on hold until the rest of the package is assembled.

Schwenkow looks well positioned to take a major role in any new setup. He’s promoted The Rolling Stones in Germany, one of LN Global Touring’s biggest acts, and in 2005 teamed with Ticketmaster as a content provider when it entered the German market by buying Hamburg-based Kartenhaus.

If Schwenkow handled the top-end stadium and big arena tours, Ridgeway might still feel the need to bring in others to work the tours of smaller venues and develop emerging acts.

In March, when Jackie Lombard – who also specialised at the top end of the market – left Live Nation France, Ridgeway had already brought in other promoters to ensure tours below stadium level would also get serviced. The newcomers included Angelo Goppe from Nous Productions and Armel Campagna and Damien Chombard-Boudet from Gerard Drouot.

It’s an important chunk of the market for LN in Germany and France, especially if it loses any top acts for those territories because they or their managers or agents have a particular loyalty to Lieberberg and Lombard.

LN may also prefer the media fuss surrounding Wessels’ departure to die down before saying anything about Germany. Apart from the obvious speculation over whether he jumped ship or was pushed overboard, many German journalists are apparently expecting an immediate announcement regarding his replacement.

Visitors to the hospitality bash Ticketmaster threw in Hamburg Sept. 24, part of the city’s Reeperbahn Festival and Campus, would have likely found the St. Pauli Bar was already full of reporters hoping it might be the platform for some sort of official statement.

Although Latham said an announcement was in the pipeline, it would have been surprising if he meant it would be just a couple of hours later and come from a bar somewhere in the world’s most famous red-light district.

The irony of having Schwenkow as part of the solution is that he was part of the problem in the first place. While SFX and its successor companies were rolling out along the western and Nordic edge of Europe, Schwenkow and CTS Eventim chief Klaus-Peter Schulenberg were consolidating Germany with their own acquisition sprees.

By the time SFX and later Clear Channel were in position to make a move, at least the majority shareholding of nearly 10 of the country’s top promoters had been acquired by either DEAG or Eventim.

Those that remained were the ones who’d demonstrated a fierce determination to remain independent or for some reason had failed to reach an agreement.

Schwenkow didn’t hang on to some of his acquisitions and partnerships, splitting with Ossy Hoppe, Marcel Avram, Carlos Fleischmann and also Wessels. Schulenberg – who has by far the country’s biggest ticket company – still has a major share of some top contemporary music promoters including Dirk Becker, Folkert Koopmans, Marek Lieberberg, Peter Rieger and Dieter Semmelmann.

Schwenkow, who has lately tended to focus on developing DEAG as a 360-degree company in the classical and variety entertainment markets, still has a major share of Andre Bechir’s Good News in Switzerland.

Good News has always been the sparkling jewel in DEAG’s promoting crown, but isn’t likely to be a factor in Live Nation’s thinking on Germany unless it’s actually contemplating buying Schwenkow’s company.

In the decade or so that it’s been in Europe, what’s now Live Nation Entertainment’s efforts to get a foothold in the country include SFX’s botched deal to acquire EPM Media AG in 2001, where Wessels worked at the time.

EPM chief Hans Peter Riegel claimed Robert Sillerman’s global corporation paid a 10 percent deposit on a $4.3 million deal and then pulled out due to changes in the U.S. company’s top level management.

When Michael Rapino was Clear Channel’s head of music for Europe, he made various attempts to acquire all or at least some of Marek Lieberberg Konzertagentur. At one point he even looked at the possibility of buying Eventim.

Live Nation did get as much as 20 percent of Lieberberg but earlier this year sold it to major shareholder Eventim, when it fell out with Schulenberg over the Ticketmaster merger and the subsequent collapse of the global ticketing deal it had with his company.

When Rapino was in London he accelerated his company’s European expansion to the point it almost covered the whole continent, but on his return to the U.S. he admitted his main regret over his time in Europe was that he left with the biggest and most central part of the jigsaw still missing.