AEG chief talks LN/Ticketmaster merger

Tim Leiweke says company is 'very concerned'

NASHVILLE -- Sounding every bit like a man girding for a protracted legal battle, Tim Leiweke, CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group said his company is "very concerned about the proposed Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger, and in particular very nervous about its impact on the fans, the consumer, the artists and the industry."

Typically open and insightful in his interviews, Leiweke was guarded and precise when discussing AEG's reaction to the merger. Asked about the potential pitfalls this merger may face, Leiweke said, "I'm not a lawyer, I'll let the lawyers figure that one out. But I can tell you that as we look at it we have deep concern on whether or not this is in the best interest of the consumer."

Referring to the Bruce Springsteen camp's public denouncement of such a merger, Leiweke said: "I would completely agree with Bruce Springsteen. I think he has it 100% right. We're very supportive and we appreciate him stepping out there and taking a leadership role. We share his concerns."

AEG's stance on the merger matters, beyond the company's competitive relationship with Live Nation.

Owned by Denver-based billionaire Phillip Anschutz, AEG owns and operate a large portfolio of arenas, theaters, clubs and sports teams, including such high profile properties as the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., the O2 Arena in London, and the O2 World Arena in Berlin, and runs or books such buildings as the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Target Center in Minneapolis, the San Diego Sports Arena, the Globe in Stockholm, and the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas.

AEG's live entertainment division, AEG Live, is a distant second to Live Nation in the concert promotion world, handling recent tours and concerts by Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond, Miley Cyrus and the upcoming Britney Spears tour, as well as such festivals such as Coachella in Indio, Calif., and others.

AEG Live reported more than $1 billion in concert grosses to Billboard Boxscore in 2008, compared to nearly $2 billion from Live Nation.

Leiweke would not address talk that AEG has a broad ticketing agreement with Ticketmaster that could be nullified in the event of a TM/LN merger, or that AEG is developing its own ticketing system, saying only, "We're closely monitoring the proposed transaction and we're reviewing our options."

Nor would Leiweke address speculation that Ticketmaster had been involved in merger talks with AEG only days before news breaking of the deal with Live Nation. "We've been a client of Ticketmaster's for many years, so we always have had conversations with them about where the industry's headed," Leiweke said.

"Needless to say, all we react to now is not speculation, but what's been announced. We're going to closely monitor this transaction, we absolutely are going to review all options, and I will say this: I will be very, very surprised -- shocked -- if this transaction were permitted to proceed as proposed."