Tim Leiweke, Irving Azoff to Launch Oak View Group Venture

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Irving Azoff

MSG, Philips Arena, Forum and Prudential Center are among the early clients.

Megamanager Irving Azoff and Tim Leiweke, former CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), have launched the Oak View Group (OVG), an L.A. based development and investment company designed as an “invitation only” platform geared toward boosting revenues at member arenas and stadiums through content acquisition, more efficient operations, and increased sponsorship opportunities.

Leiweke, OVG’s founder, will serve as the company’s CEO, and Azoff, who is partnered with Madison Square Garden Entertainment (AMSGE) in Azoff Madison Square Garden Entertainment and manages such acts as the Eagles and Christina Aguilera, brings his relationships and AMSGE ventures to bear as a board member, and AMSGE as financial backer.

OVG is “more of an investment and corporate holding company,” Leiweke tells Billboard. “You’ll see a variety of different investments, a variety of different companies and startups, and a variety of partnerships that we’ll ultimately do from that platform,” he says. “We’re not the retail company, we’re the creator of the retail companies.”

Azoff draws a parallel between the launch of OVG and AMSGE, the latter launched with MSG executive chairman Jim Dolan as an idea that has since grown to include the Global Music Rights performing rights organization, acquired several companies in the digital, representation, and experiential marketing spaces; and played a critical role in the rebirth of the Forum as an elite concert arena. Azoff predicts similar growth at OVG due to Leiweke’s unique skill set and, “because Tim is the workaholic of all time,” Azoff tells Billboard. “I have no idea what businesses we’re going to end up in, this is the presale, and this presale is bigger than most people could accomplish in 10 years.”

The driving focus of OVG is what they call the “Arena/Stadium Alliance,” an invitation-only group of major-market arenas and stadiums that are not affiliated with a venue management company. In announcing the deal, founders say the Alliance will provide its members with “unprecedented scale and resources to realize considerable added value through sponsorship optimization, untapped revenue streams, insights and access to premier sports and live entertainment content.”

On board already through what Azoff terms a “pre-sale” leading up to launch are major arenas in Prudential Center, Newark, N.J., Philips Arena in Atlanta, Madison Square Garden (MSG) in New York, the Forum in Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena. Also represented in the venture are David Beckham’s Major League Soccer (MLS) bid in Miami, and TownSquare Media.

In addition to the Alliance, OVG also includes Narrative, a sponsorship company led by former Target marketing VP Daniel Griffis; and is developing consulting and venture fund/equity divisions. Live music will clearly be a major area of focus for OVG and the Alliance, with the idea of making live entertainment a revenue-producer for arenas on the same level as major league sports franchises. “More and more, these bricks and mortar assets have become critical for the owners, and Irving and myself and our team, and through our relationships with people like [Live Nation CEO] Michael Rapino, we will be able to go in and significantly help them create the value of these assets by using what we believe is the most underserved and under-marketed part of their content: music,” Leiweke says.

OVG already has the backing of major players in sports and entertainment, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, superstar Jon Bon Jovi, and Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, all voicing support in a press release announcing the venture, with Rapino stating, “The concept of creating an economic model for both arenas and touring artists that creates new revenue streams and develops an ‘anchor’ type of platform for music is one we share and are very interested to explore with them and their partners.”

Backed by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, Leiweke spent 17 years building AEG into a global powerhouse with a venue portfolio of arenas, theaters, stadiums and clubs on five continents, and the world’s second biggest promoter in AEG Live. Leiweke exited AEG in 2013 (in the wake of a sales bid that did not come to fruition), resurfacing at MLSE, which he departed earlier this year, citing a desire to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

He found such an opportunity with Azoff. “Tim is a megastar, and what I said to him was, ‘I want to back you in a venture with my contacts, Dolan’s money, and everything you have, because you should be in the Tim Leiweke business. Without being an egomaniac, you have arguably the two most successful executives, one from the talent side -- because I’m the talent guy -- and one from the positive exploitation of talent on the other side, both sports and music, in Tim. This is one-plus-one equals 50.”

While Live Nation is actively on board with OVG, the relationship isn’t exclusive. “We’ll work with any promoters, we’re not exclusive, but…[Rapino] is a fan of this alliance and very much likes what we’re doing,” says Leiweke. “At the same time, I get along just fine with everyone at AEG, [so] if they have content and acts that we could create opportunities with for our alliance, we absolutely would work with them, and anyone else. Our goal is to figure out how to book as many good dates as we can that are not being booked today.”

Both Leiweke and Azoff stressed that OVG is not in the concert promotion business. “That said, when the alliance comes together we may as a group decide that we want to help create new kinds of live entertainment and content, that would be up to the group to decide what they want to do,” Leiweke says. “The touring industry is changing. Now we have regional tours, we have mini-residencies. Certain artists don’t want to go do 60 nights. We will be creative on bringing all of our partners together and figuring out how as a group we can change the dynamics of the industry -- a positive disruption -- and we will let them guide us as to what they’re interested in.”

OVG is similar to a large facility management firm like SMG or Spectra, or even a large operator like Live Nation or AEG, only in that OVG could attempt to leverage its numbers and pool resources for buying power in operational needs. But Leiweke and Azoff insist that’s where the similarities end. “It’s not about operating. We are not competing with SMG or [Spectra], we’re building a different model, one that’s geared in particular [around] partnering with music and content in an important way,” Leiweke explains. “When you’re looking at the kinds of buildings we’re dealing with [at OVG], these are the biggest, most important, best, facilities out there. They know how to run their buildings.”

OVG is more focused on the revenue-producing end of the buildings, namely music and sponsorships. “The fact is, many categories in the sponsorship area are not going to go do a one-off deal, but if we brought them a national footprint, Dan’s going to have a lot of traction with that,” says Leiweke. “The fact is, there are certain artists that ultimately we’re going to fight for to go be a part of our buildings that may not be booking our buildings today, or maybe content that isn’t thinking about regional touring or mini-residencies. As a group, we will be able to have a bottom-line effect on their assets and their net profit.”

Leiweke declined to go into detail about the financial model nor how OGV will generate revenue from member facilities, but did say, “I assure you we will have a contractual relationship with our partners, but that will be between us and them.”

The Narrative component of OVG will offer opportunities for national campaign built around live events at major facilities for brands, “most of whom would never buy an arena one-off, but would love to have a national footprint where they could go in and tie up 20 top markets in one shot,” says Leiweke.

Griffis says that at Narrative he seeks to “erase any sort of friction points that big national brands, or even up-and-coming brands, had when they tried to get into this [sports and entertainment facility] space.” He says that brands are “eager” to spend their marketing dollars in these facilities, particularly in the music space, but often want more impact than a single market or arena can provide. “Anybody that can connect those dots in a more efficient way is going to reap the benefits of that,” he says. “The reality is nobody’s activating inside these arenas in a memorable way. To inspire people, you need to give them a reason for why they want to be involved with your brand, and tell a better story. I’m going to go out and recruit the best storytellers I can find and build it from there.”

In addition to Griffis, OVG has also hired three other well-known industry executives: sports and entertainment exec Francesca Bodie who most recently led a group trying to bring an NFL team and stadium back to Los Angeles; Jason Gonella, who has generated close to $1 billion in sales of premium seats and suites with professional sports teams; and Andrew Feinberg, who comes to OVG from Premier Partnerships where he was instrumental in selling sponsorships and naming rights deals across all five major sports leagues.

Like AMSGE’s GMR, the Alliance is invitation only.

Leiweke says they expect to have Alliance membership complete at about 24 member buildings by Q1 of next year. “We talk about two dozen being a ballpark, and that’s a little flexible, but not too flexible,” he says. “We cannot be everything to everybody, we have to make a difference, which means we can only be fighting for a select few. We now know we will fill this up quickly, so our issue is how do we say know, and do we make enemies out of that. But that is a professional quality problem to have.”

The OVG consulting division will offer a suite of services focused on advising sports teams, venue owners and entertainment and media properties on new stadium builds and renovations, naming rights and sales and revenue generation.   OVG will be continuing to assist MLSE in their transition and with preparation for both the NBA All-Star Game and World Cup of Hockey. In addition, OVG will be advising Beckham’s MLS bid and the development of a privately funded stadium in Miami as well as advising TownSquare Media on their festival and events business. The venture fund division will help seed existing and emerging assets in the sports, music and live entertainment.  

“If the Miami/Beckham/MLS deal gets done, we’ll invest in that team, and I will be a partner of David’s and Simon Fuller’s,” Leiweke says. “We are also very interested in the content/live entertainment facility space, and where we ultimately deem there is a chance to have an equity investment in bricks and mortar, we will do that. For example, when people go to build a new area, stadium or theater, they’re always looking for ways to ultimately backstop their financing so they use contractually obligated income. We are talking to few buildings now about ultimately giving them a guarantee on content and music and having a long term relationship with them where we become their music partner -- not as a promoter, but just trying to create as much activity and book as many dates as we possibly can. They can take that partnership and guarantee and go finance that.”

Leiweke says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive during the ramp-up. “This is something the big arenas independent from management companies have never had before, and I know from talking to them that they like this idea,” he says. “We’re all looking for ways to increase our EBITDA and the value of our asset. What’s changed in the NBA and NHL significantly in the last 20 years is we’re not running teams any more. We’re running facilities, we’re running entertainment districts, and sometimes the bricks and mortar are just as valuable as the franchise.”

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.

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