Kids, if you’re keeping score at home it’s Leiweke-One, AEG-Zero.
Leiweke has beat AEG at its own game, winning the right to renovate KeyArena in Seattle after AEG Facilities President Bob Newman officially threw in the towel and attempted to bring Oak View Group down with him.
It was an out-of-character, kamikaze way to go out, followed by an unusual decision by AEG to go radio silent after publishing a letter filled with odd allegations and paranoid warnings. Perhaps KeyArena really is a boondoggle and Leiweke or the city of Seattle will ultimately regret the costly renovation project — but I doubt it. It will probably be an incredible arena, modeled after the Forum in Inglewood, with residencies by world-class acts like Pearl Jam.
It was that vision for KeyArena that allowed Leiweke to win. Unlike the folks at AEG who were selling a design concept, Leiweke was selling a story. He was going to renovate KeyArena into a concert hall with or without the NHL and the NBA, and he was going to do it without any public funding. He broke the project down into simple terms, capitalized on the involvement of Seattle’s favorite band and constantly reiterated his promise not to use public money.
It was masterful communication and execution by a guy many say is the sport and entertainment industry’s greatest salesman.
So why else does Leiweke seem to always win? One is that he is selective in picking his battles. I know it can seem like he’s got himself spread pretty thin — he is simultaneously relocating the Raiders to Las Vegas, building a coalition to fight terrorism, selling huge sponsorship packages on behalf his Arena Alliance and negotiating the sale of Pollstar, which he’ll combine with Venues Today. Sure it’s a lot to cover, but they are all projects of his choosing and he only tackles the ones where he sees an unfulfilled demand or opportunity.
Put simply, Leiweke knows how to give people what they want. Seattle has been waiting for over a decade to get a new arena and everyone is familiar with the incredible complexity and challenges facing anyone trying to get a deal done. People don’t want to hear about how difficult it will be to finance and construct the arena they all think they deserve. They just want someone to build the damn thing.
Leiweke won because he didn’t let his narrative get bogged down in details and he didn’t waste time trying to push a municipal bonding plan like AEG. He gave the people what they wanted without the baggage.
Can he actually deliver? I have no idea, but I think he at least deserves our faith in his promises to the city until he proves otherwise. If Leiweke is able to deliver on his vision for a world-class arena in Seattle, it could potentially change the business and lead to a new building boom of music-specific arenas.