PACE Entertainment Group co-founder Allen Becker, who built what was at one time the world’s largest live entertainment company, has died at 90.
Becker formed PACE – which stood for Presentations, Associations, Conventions and Exhibitions – with partner Sidney Shlenker in 1966 and began producing the Houston Boat Show and motorsports events at the then-new Houston Astrodome.
“I think it was a lark,” he told Texas Monthly in 1996. “We said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity. Why don’t we do something?”
PACE went on to produce events at other stadiums, including the grand opening of the New Orleans Superdome, where Becker met and teamed with a hotshot young promoter named Louis Messina, and together co-founded PACE Concerts.
They began promoting small club shows with then-unknown artists like Bruce Springtseen & The E Street Band and leveraged that history to get the rights to promote bigger acts in larger cities, starting from the ground up to eventually overtake established companies like the original Concerts West, then dominant in Texas.
A 1975 deal gave PACE Concerts operating rights at the Houston Summit, which was kicked off with a sold-out concert by the Who.
Messina, who celebrates his 50th anniversary in the concert industry this year, recently told Pollstar that “PACE concerts really became the promoter in Texas” when, in the same year, he promoted The Rolling Stones and his famed Texxas Jam.
PACE began building amphitheaters in earnest in the mid-1980s, starting with the Starwood outside of Nashville, Starplex Amphitheatre in Dallas and Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta. The company partnered with Sony Music Entertainment and Blockbuster on many of those buildings, giving them partial ownership rights, which came in handy when it came time to routing major tours through the “sheds.”
In 1982, Allen Becker’s son Brian joined the business and formed PACE Theatrical Group, which toured Broadway hits including “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Miss Saigon,” and other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions, and was an investor in “Sunset Boulevard.”
In fact, the success of touring Broadway productions helped keep the PACE mothership afloat during a mid-’90s down period for the concert industry – an early indicator of the importance of a diversified business model that, for many, saved the store during the first year of the COVID pandemic and touring shutdown decades later.
By the time Allen Becker sold PACE to Robert Sillerman’s SFX in 1998, it was considered the largest live entertainment company in the world. Becker would continue to serve as a consultant to SFX and successor Clear Channel Entertainment (later spun off as Live Nation), where he retired in 2003.
Among the accolades he received during his lifetime are the 2016 Doty Award, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and the establishment of the Shirley and Allen Becker Leadership Award by Jewish Family Services, given annually to the board member whose rise in leadership exhibits increased commitment to the agency.