Promoters Still Making Dough

About a decade ago, Irv Zuckerman and Rodney Eckerman were two of the biggest names in the music business. They’re on the verge of being kingpins again, but it’s not like you’d think. 
Former co-CEOs of Clear Channel Entertainment – Irv Zuckerman and Rodney Eckerman – are flanked by their sons Jeff Zuckerman and Nicholas Eckerman at the businessmen’s new project.

Zuckerman and Eckerman were executives at SFX Music Group, which became Clear Channel Entertainment and today is known as Live Nation. When Robert Sillerman rolled together independent promotion companies to create SFX, he bought Contemporary Productions and Pace Concerts and, in the process, brought Zuckerman and Eckerman into the corporation.

Zuckerman ran Contemporary alongside Steve Shankman. The company was the concert promotion business of the Midwest, primarily in the St. Louis market. Eckerman came from Pace Concerts, which was snapped up by SFX in 1998.

The two men were responsible for opening Clear Channel’s music headquarters in Los Angeles, which morphed into Live Nation’s headquarters. While that was happening, Zuckerman and Eckerman retired from the rat race. Who could blame them?  The money Sillerman spent to buy Contemporary and Pace was staggering. Zuckerman, Paul Emery and Steve Litman spent about three years touring Blue Man Group but, after that, Zuckerman parked it on the porch with a pitcher of lemonade.

But Zuckerman and Eckerman have cut back on their golf schedules and have rolled up their sleeves to get back into business together. This time though, it’s not music.

It’s pizza.

Zuckerman and Eckerman are the business muscle behind a quickly expanding chain of stores called PizzaRev. The business is two years old and already has eight stores up and running, with three under construction in southern California. The initial business plus franchises should equal 28 restaurants by the end of the year.

“We are always seeking qualified multi-unit restaurant operators across the country to join our franchise network.” Zuckerman said. 

Credit Eckerman’s son, Nicholas, for bringing the pair back into the game.

Nicholas, who had been in the restaurant business his whole career, had a vision: a pizza chain, similar to Chipotle. The key words were “fast casual.”

“Think about it: It’s customized. It’s what you want,” Zuckerman told Pollstar. “You get it fast. It’s reasonably inexpensive. It’s only $7.99 a pizza no matter how many toppings. They’re 11 inches. You want pepperoni and bacon but she wants veggies. You don’t have to share.”

Eckerman and Zuckerman were golfing when one told the other about his son’s idea. The pizzas would be assembled individually, with “Roman style” thin crusts that could be cooked in less than three minutes. It was, well, revolutionary. Every patron gets what he wants. Zuckerman didn’t wait: they sat down after the round and drew up a business plan.

“Rather than open one store, our business plan would be to try to find real estate in three different areas: one near a university, one in a residential area and one in a business community, and open them in a similar period so we wouldn’t get a false real estate negative.  They all came out very nicely, so we said, ‘this is a real business. Let’s go.’”

PizzaRev was a fast success. If the reader believes it an exaggeration, look no further than partner Buffalo Wild Wings. The company, which has 1,000 restaurants nationwide, spent all of 2012 looking for an emerging brand for an investment. After looking at 200 types of restaurants, the company backed PizzaRev. The minority investment got the “deal of the year” award from Franchise Times magazine – which Zuckerman said was the “Pollstar of the restaurant business.”

“Buffalo Wild Wings came to our two restaurants and said, ‘This looks like it’s been in business for a long time. You worked for a public company and you understand the drill.’ People can be restaurateurs but it’s hard to convert that to work in a big way and report with a public company that has 1,000 restaurants. We understood that.”

Eckerman isn’t the only one with a son in PizzaRev. Jeff Zuckerman is handling the marketing of the business. But it’s not like the co-CEOs of Clear Channel Entertainment are ready to retire again.

“The truth is I’m never looking for anything; it just sort of finds you,” Zuckerman said. “That’s how Blue Man happened, that’s almost how Clear Channel happened. And that’s how pizza happened.”