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Inside the L.A. Forum's Plan to Steal Concerts From Staples Center

Issue 3 REP Forum Staples Center Split - H 2014
Jason Moore/ZUMAPRESS; Richard Cummins/Corbis; Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP
The Eagles (left) will open the new 17,500-seat Forum on Jan. 15, while Cyrus plays Staples on Feb. 22.

The Lakers' old home gets a $100 million face-lift as industry players Irving Azoff and James Dolan take aim at the city's premier concert power venue.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In 1967, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke spent $16 million building the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., to also house his new Kings hockey team. Now, 15 years after the Lakers abandoned the Forum for nearby Staples Center, the venue has been refurbished for a reported $100 million by a group headed by Madison Square Garden's James Dolan and veteran artist manager Irving Azoff. The goal: Steal hundreds of millions of dollars in business from L.A.'s premier arena.

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The Forum opens Jan. 15 with the first of six shows by Azoff client The Eagles, followed by Justin Timberlake, Imagine Dragons and Paul Simon & Sting -- all promoted by Live Nation, the company Azoff left in 2012. MSG acquired the Forum for $23.5 million that year from Faithful Central Bible Church, which had owned it since 2000.

With its ability to book runs of multiple shows and offer better amenities, including a fully stocked game room, the Forum represents a strong challenge to Staples Center, home of the Lakers, Kings and Clippers. Staples' parent company, AEG, has reeled from the recent exits of top executives Tim Leiweke and Randy Phillips (the latter replaced by promoter Jay Marciano).

"There was a need for a venue like this because many of the good dates at Staples are eaten up by the sports teams and Grammys," says Azoff, who also reps Christina Aguilera, Van Halen and Fleetwood Mac. "This represented a unique opportunity."

In 2013, Staples booked 53 shows, the most in its history, and earned $73.7 million in non-sports revenue, placing second behind only Brooklyn's Barclays Center among U.S. arenas. AEG is confident Staples can hold off the (old) new kid on the block, touting its location in downtown L.A. compared with less-gentrified Inglewood. "Would you rather have the choice of 20 restaurants directly across the street or eat at Sizzler?" jabs Lee Zeidman, senior vp and GM at Staples, who previously worked at the Forum. In fact, Live Nation picked Staples over the Forum for Miley Cyrus' Feb. 22 show because of its proximity to hotels and amenities.

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"When bringing your family to a show, that makes a big difference," says veteran artist manager Jim Guerinot (No Doubt), who also praises the Forum's ability to schedule consecutive dates without interference from basketball or hockey games and what he believes is acoustic superiority.

Even Bruce Springsteen noted Staples' lack of ambiance, famously complaining in 1999 during the venue's first concert about its far-off luxury suites, demanding fans "leave their skyboxes to see a rock show." He never has returned, preferring to play L.A.'s old-school Sports Arena or Anaheim's Honda Center. The Forum eschews luxury boxes for a theaterlike feel and can reduce capacity to 7,500 (Staples' is 17,135 plus suites). It could take the place of Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal Studios, which recently was demolished to make way for a new Harry Potter attraction. Luxury bars, plush seating, wide aisles and an expanded Forum Club (where Jack Nicholson hung out during Lakers halftimes) are geared to high-end patrons.

While the Forum and AEG insist they maintain open booking policies, "for obvious reasons, Live Nation is our preferred promoter," says Azoff, adding: "There's plenty to go around. The Forum is the place for music, and Staples is the place for sports." Sources say the price tag for artists to perform at both venues is comparable. "It's all about how much money you can make from selling out at $100 a seat," concludes Guerinot. "I would book my acts at either … happily."