Adam Friedman: Finding The Holy Grail

The last time we spoke with former Nederlander CEO and onetime House of Blues EVP Adam Friedman, he was packing up his family in Los Angeles and headed for Boston, where they have roots. 

He was looking for a different kind of business opportunity – preferably one that combined his years of experience with new technology. That was back in 2012 – what seems like a lifetime ago, given the number of startups, apps, platforms and “solutions” to come and, in many cases, go since then.

During what he calls his “sabbatical,” Friedman took advantage of his first meaningful stretch in more than 20 years that he wasn’t under contract to somebody else. And he also started immersing himself in the digital space. Four years later, Friedman is back in Los Angeles with a new company – Friedman Entertainment Advisors – where he is able to take the convergence between live entertainment and technology and, as a consultant, apply his own business experience and relationships to help others in the industry realize their goals from the ground up as well as points in between.

Friedman can be reached at (323) 384-7868 or by email at [email protected].

After a few years playing in the digital and startup space, what brought you back to the live world?

At the beginning of 2015, I started getting phone calls again to consult and advise on the live side. It really was just kind of an alignment; not really in my control but one of those things where all of a sudden the market started percolating and people we all know would call and say, “I have this project; can you take a look at it?” And it got so busy in 2015 that I was pushing away from digital in terms of time I had to spend on it, except for a couple of core businesses that are on my website. Advising on the tech side started to get pulled back because, frankly, I didn’t have the time. I started focusing on the live; big projects, very interesting things, with people I know and love. When I left the live space, it was coming off the recession. It was a different climate. It was not what it is now.

It’s much more robust. And I thought, am I going to commit to this in a more full-time way? Is it sustainable? Do I think the climate is right? Do I think the economic environment is right? Do I see the industry as healthier than I did when I left? And the answer to those questions was yes.

I started to think about how I wanted to do that. The phone kept ringing. I went right into 2016 with other projects on the live side. I decided it’s obviously a sign that it’s time for me to reappear in a more fulltime way and I created my company, Friedman Entertainment Advisors.

So the industry’s reaction to the recession has resulted in an attractive environment to return to?

Certainly. Based upon some of the projects that I’ve worked on, there is a voracious appetite for people to spend money in this space. It is unbelievable, actually. People are willing to spend inordinate amounts of capital for programming, they are willing to spend a lot of money for operating rights, and they are willing to spend a ton of dough building venues. That is not what the climate was at the beginning of 2011. So I look at this now and say this is just a natural progression for me to come back and do what I really love in an environment that accommodates how I want to play in the space. Three, four years ago, the climate wasn’t right and probably was my destiny because what I knew about the digital space was probably rather narrow. It was how you sell tickets online and how you do some social media marketing.

My understanding of the digital space now, obviously, is much broader and much deeper and I have a set of relationships in that space that can be leveraged. But leveraged, also, for the benefit of my live entertainment clients. Making connections. But most of my day is being spent helping live entertainment firms that exist, or new market entries, operate more efficiently, make more money doing what they’re doing, and trying to help them grow their businesses either through increased programming or more distribution. In this case, more distribution being more venue outlets.

I help them secure rights or keep rights that they have. I also go out and create unique ventures between parties that should actually be together, where one plus one equals three. It makes them more powerful. It’s really that range of operating efficiency and maximization into operating arrangements, which is a place I love to live, bringing people together. Then it’s all the real estate stuff. There’s an amazing amount of real estate going on right now, whether it’s private or a public process. Then finally it’s that more strategic role where, at this point in my career, I feel pretty good about the fact that that strategic understanding is valued. It’s thrilling.

Photo: Barry Brecheisen
Adam Friedman (center) enjoys some networking time with Arena Network's Ed Rubinstein and Patti-Anne Tarlton, now of Ticketmaster Canada, at Pollstar Live! 2012. 

What would be an example of an ideal client and project, and what would your company do for them?

You have folks who are relatively new market entries, or who are going to a new market. It could be an existing firm in the live entertainment space who has tons of history and has done well. It could also be a new market entry. The question is, is there enough potential business to build a venue? What it requires, first and foremost, is market analysis. Not market analysis from a bunch of marketing experts who simply go in and do typical demographic, population-based work, but someone who understands what it’s like to route talent. Someone who’s been in the position of having to understand if you bring the talent, what are the sales going to look like? Can you afford the capital? Can you afford to build it? Are you going to get a return on your investment?

So aspirationally what I love is when somebody says, “We have a brand new project, and the first thing we want to understand is if this is a market that can afford a venue of this type?” So the first thing, before we even get into designing or anything else, this is what we’re thinking. Through that process of explaining and describing that market from a live entertainment standpoint, it puts into motion questions about what kind of venue, what does that design look like, is that market saturated in seats and so on, and start to put some meat on the bones of what that venue could potentially look like. Then, you have to do all the financial analytics behind it, to support it. So it starts with the idea concept.

The concept starts to morph depending on what the market looks like from a touring and live entertainment position. Then it morphs into the venue – what can it really do? Is it going to be an outdoor venue? How many seats? How much on the lawn? That starts to take shape for the client, and helps to figure out funding. Whether or not this is going to be capitalized with equity, is it going to be capitalized with traditional lending? Or some type of new investment money coming in? Once that starts to percolate, we can sit down with architects, engineers, whatever – design it, start to build it out, and then move into marketing it and programming it.

Once the venue is online, is your company able to continue to assist with programming, sponsorships, and the like?

What I’ve had happen is, all of those steps are requisite to determining what kind of building to build and whether it’s going to fit the marketplace. You take those steps, say A-W, and what I really enjoy is when a client says “OK, you’ve explained it. Now, can you help us with content? Can you help us with sponsors? Can you help us with our vendor arrangements? And that to me is the Holy Grail. That’s the aspirational project for me.

I get to come in early and help shape it from the viewpoint of how this company or firm is going to enter that marketplace, what kind of venue is it going to be, what does the design look like, what is the capacity, what do the financials look like, how do we fund it and, once it is funded, working through the development of the project and the parallel track figuring out and providing access to the key folks on the programming side. And now all of a sudden creating a distribution vehicle in the real estate and helping them with content and then helping them with all of the various sponsor and vendor relationships that they need to go and be successful and put on their first show, and put on a season’s worth or a year’s worth of content. That’s the A-Z.

What enables you to bring all those disparate pieces together as a consultant?

There are projects that are very finite. A client has a clear project description, but we need a plan. We need to understand how to effectively complete. Or, we are entering into a new ticketing agreement; can you help? There are vendor relationships, sponsors, talent relationships. Programming concepts or strategies. Those are not only welcome and appreciated, I love that stuff. I need to be doing all that to stay current and continue to flow.

But when you ask me what the Holy Grail is, it’s when I get to go from A-Z. From the ground up. I have that experience but I also, on any given project, if I am not the best advocate or the best expert to advice, I reach out. I have access to people who are expert in every single segment of the business. If it turns out that it’s a naming rights deal, then I’m going to pick up the phone and shout out at someone and say, “Hey, why don’t you come out and do this with me. I have access to a Rolodex of national and regional and local sponsors.” What I will be able to do, and where my value comes in on that besides the access, is I’ve also done a lot of sponsorship deals in my career and I also understand how to evaluate them, price then, and negotiate and structure them. So we work as a team. For an independent, that’s absolutely necessary.

How is it to be back in the game, no doubt with some friends but some onetime foes, too?

Some of us learn real early, some of us learn it along the way, but none of us is an island. At the end of the day the best thing is, no matter how adversarial things get, you have to remain professional, it has to remain courteous and to me, right now, the thing I’m most excited about is the great response that I’m getting. People emailing or calling saying they looked at my website or heard I was back and saying it’s really great. “Why don’t we have lunch; I have some things I want to talk to you about.” That’s the most rewarding thing. I was involved in some pretty major battles. Those battles were at a time that predated Live Nation and AEG. There were still battles and they were big ones. When I was with House of Blues and it was for sale every year of my leadership of that company.

How did we survive and compete being told “We heard you’re going to be sold anyway.” I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but what’s the most amazing and I enjoy the most is so many people I was sitting across the table from, whether or not it was the sale of a company, whether public or privately with a lot of money at risk, or it was sitting across the table on a venue deal or legislative process, a lot of those people – most of those people – are still great relationships today.

That’s also what lights me up because I’m entering back into this knowing that I have a really strong base and foundation of people to look to and it’s very comforting and rewarding. It’s cool.