Kathy Willard, CFO, Live Nation Entertainment

Kathy Willard
– Kathy Willard

The Deciders

Executives who are out there making key decisions that impact markets, artists, shows, tours and companies.

Kathy Willard
CFO, Live Nation Entertainment

As Live Nation’s chief financial officer, Kathy Willard oversees the books for the biggest and only concert-first company on Wall Street, which posted total revenue of $1.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019. It’s a testament to the power of live music that the concert business – once known for being unsophisticated, low profit and hopelessly fragmented by local markets – now drives a vertically integrated global corporation worth $13.7 billion. 

“It’s been fun to watch how the original dream has worked really well,” says Willard, noting that not everyone was happy to become part of the same family in the early days. “Starting in the U.S., we put all those promoters together knowing that scale mattered and that, certainly for advertising and sponsorship, you needed more of a base to really drive that part of the business.”  

Live Nation’s “three legs” of focus are concerts, sponsorships and ticketing. “As we go forward, some of it is more of the same in terms of where we think the biggest opportunities are,” Willard says. “We talked about improving the overall fan experience at venues, and driving ancillary per-fan growth, and actually increased that to $35 per head at the amphitheatres with more to go there.” She also noted digital ticketing platform Ticketmaster Presence as a “game changer” in fan connection, with the NFL on board and more than 500 venues expected to employ Presence by year’s end. 

With the expectation (and shareholder responsibility) of constant growth, Willard, who saw the company go public before the global recession hit, says to always expect more acquisitions, and not only in the obvious places.

“We’re also looking at if there is another piece of the business that could make sense and is still part of concerts,” Willard says. “Think about all the services that go around it, from concessions to services the artists use, anything that goes into building the show or putting on the show or what you do with fans while they’re at the show. Those are all parts of how we think of the concert ecosystem. That’s the way to think about it.”

Hot Takes

Can the Great Slump happen again? 

Obviously we hope it won’t, and history would say it’s not very often, so we feel pretty good about how the business goes. There’s nothing that really quite replaces that experience, the feeling you have when it’s an artist you love and you’re at the event and surrounded by people that also love that artist. I think people will continue to try to figure out how to make that part of their  world because it’s important to them.

What you saw in 2010 is just that artists adjusted a bit. Some decided not to go out, some decided to adjust ticket prices and try to be sensitive to what the market was doing.

Travel and big trips were impacted more, because that was huge, but you still figured out how to make it (to the show). Today more than ever you see a lot of studies about how millennials care about the experience. The other reality is most people go to two to three concerts per year. You’re not relying on one person to go to 50 shows a year.

I think artists understand that it’s important to price shows correctly for the market, and it’s some-thing we’re very focused on, market-based pricing.