The sale of Pollstar to Oak View Group has closed with Tim Leiweke adding the 36-year-old trade magazine and website to its growing list of assets that includes Venues Today and an investment in SportTechie.com.
The announcement was made today by Leiweke and Irving Azoff at the VenuesNow conference in Beverly Hills, capping off six months of speculation and rumors that OVG had been pursuing Pollstar magazine, its two websites and its annual conference. Pollstar’s President and Editor-in-Chief Gary Bongiovanni and CEO Gary Smith will stay on board and continue to manage the company’s day-to-day operations.
In a press release announcing the sale, OVG hailed Pollstar‘s “insights and analysis” and called its concert data “the gold standard for the live entertainment industry.” In recent years, Pollstar has shifted much of its focus to repackaging Associated Press stories without reporters on the ground in major hubs like Los Angeles, Nashville or New York. The magazine operates out of a Fresno, California headquarters with a small satellite office in London. While many employees were notified a sale was happening, there has been little internal discussion between management and staff about what the future holds. A companywide meeting was called earlier this week and many showed up expecting to learn about their long-term futures, only to receive a talking down about a prank earlier that week— apparently, an anonymous employee left a Zantac pill on another employee’s desk with a note telling them to stop belching loudly. The culprit was told (via company-wide announcement) they had one day to come forward and confess their crimes and accept a probationary punishment.
“The message was ‘we’re going corporate and this shit won’t be tolerated any longer,'” one source tells Amplify
Despite its peculiarities, Pollstar is also a well-known brand in the concert world and its concert data and directories carry significant cachet in the live entertainment industry. So what exactly are Leiweke and the Oak View Group up to and how will the rest of the concert industry react? Below are five fast facts to consider when analyzing this deal.
AEG Will Probably Pull Out of Pollstar
AEG owner Phil Anschutz has not exactly made peace with his former CEO following his high-profile exit in 2013. Since his return to Los Angeles in 2015 and the creation of OVG, Leiweke and his broad coalition that includes Azoff, Madison Square Garden’s Jim Dolan and Live Nation have arisen as AEG’s chief rival and competitor, winning away control of KeyArena after years under AEG management.
Top officials at AEG have confirmed to Amplify that they will almost certainly react to OVG’s purchase of Pollstar. One proposal currently being floated — pull out of Pollstar completely. A high-ranking source tells Amplify the company spent nearly a $1 million last year on subscriptions, advertisements/sponsorships and conference registrations (including airfare and hotel). Besides redirecting the money, AEG is also considering a plan to unilaterally stop reporting concert gross information to Pollstar.
Leiweke has probably already considered this scenario and it’s unclear if an AEG boycott would really impact Pollstar’s bottom line, but it’s likely that AEG will react in the days ahead to the OVG purchase.
Pollstar Now Has an Objectivity Problem
Will Pollstar continue to operate as an independent news outlet, or like Venues Today, will the publication become another in-flight magazine for Oak View Group and its various holdings like the Arena Alliance? (Full disclosure, I’ve worked at both Pollstar and Venues Today).
Here’s what is probably going to happen — Pollstar will continue to plod along the same editorial strategy, repackaging wire stories and penning features on booking agents, concert promoters and other entertainment industry types. Don’t expect any pieces critical of any OVG executives, Madison Square Garden, Live Nation or members of the Arena Alliance. And don’t expect any glowing features on AEG either.
After being sold to OVG, Venues Today picked a safe lane for editorial and it’s likely Pollstar will steer itself in a similar fashion.
Pollstar will likely become an advertising vehicle for the Arena Alliance
In theory, Leiweke has 26 customers queued up as advertisers and sponsors, along with the various companies he works with and entertainment brands he has partnered with over the years. Look at his VenuesNow conference — his sponsors include Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Pepsi, ICON and Goldman Sachs. Leiweke and his sponsorship guru Dan Meis at Narrative Partners won’t have any problem selling sponsorships and advertising, especially for a print magazine and website they now control.
Pollstar helps OVG Consolidate Its Assets
When you own two magazines that operate independently, consolidation is an inevitability. What will likely happen is that Venues Today will close its Huntington Beach office and some of its employees will be moved to OVG’s LA office. Others will find new opportunities and founder Linda Deckard will likely retire before the end of the year. Gary Bongiovanni will likely also retire in the near future, while Gary Smith will stick around for a few years.
Venues Today and Pollstar have some obvious redundancies that will be picked up by Pollstar, especially database work. Most of Pollstar will stay in Fresno, although some marketing and sales functions will be moved to Los Angeles. Tim will put Ray Waddell in charge while he works on big picture projects like luring a hockey team to Seattle and fixing the Knicks.
Leiweke and OVG Place a High Value on Pollstar’s Assets