Live Nation Entertainment is the largest live music promoter in the world, but it’s never had much presence in Austin. The company posts more than $5 billion a year in revenue, with an operating budget of over $18 billion annually. It was spun out of San Antonio-based radio/billboard/entertainment holding company ClearChannel (which rebranded this fall as “IHeartMedia”) and grew to mammoth proportions after a 2010 merger with international ticketing behemoth Ticketmaster.
But aside from a 2012 deal that gave the company the booking rights at the Austin 360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, the company’s presence in Austin has been limited. It books events occasionally at the Frank Erwin Center, but despite the staggering 120+ venues it operates/owns/exclusively books around the U.S. and the rest of the world, Live Nation has struggled to establish much hold in Austin.
Part of that is because Austin has two powerful homegrown promoters who’ve effectively run the town for years, in the form of C3 Presents—which books not just the Austin City Limits Festival, but also major clubs including Emo’s, Stubb’s, the Parish, and more—and Transmission Events, which books Fun Fun Fun Fest and venues including The Mohawk and Red 7.
Between those two live music entities, there hasn’t been a lot of room for an out-of-town company like Live Nation to establish the sort of presence in Austin that it has in other cities, where it books both major amphitheaters and stadiums as well as small-scale clubs and theaters. But all of that may be changing soon, as Live Nation is reportedly looking to purchase a controlling interest in C3—which is valued at a staggering $250,000,000.
Live Nation Entertainment, the concert and ticketing giant, is in advanced talks to buy a majority stake in C3 Presents, the country’s largest independent promoter, whose portfolio includes the popular Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits festivals.
The prospective deal, in negotiations for months but still not completed, would give Live Nation a stake of 51 percent in C3 Presents and value C3 at around $250 million, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.
C3, based in Austin, Tex., is run by three friends all named Charles or Charlie — in the music industry, they are widely known as “the Charlies” — and has grown quickly from its founding in 2007.
Last year, it sold 2,025,002 tickets to its events, according to the concert industry trade publication Pollstar, with gross sales of at least $124 million, according Billboard. The company, which also controls concert venues in Austin and books performances at casinos around the country, is said to have earnings of about $20 million a year.
Representatives from both C3 and Live Nation have declined comment, which isn’t surprising for a pending business deal worth a quarter of a billion dollars. But if it happens, it’ll probably change the way live music in Austin works in some interesting ways.
The fact that Austin’s venues have remained locally-controlled and independent over the past twenty years, as both the city has grown and the power of companies like ClearChannel/Live Nation/Live Nation Entertainment have grown is almost anomalous, given how much power these entities have in other comparable cities. There are a dozen Live Nation-owned House Of Blues venues around the U.S., for example (including one in Dallas and one in Houston), but Austin’s managed to avoid that sort of encroachment from out-of-town interests even as its national profile has continued to grow. While the consolidation of booking power in entities like C3 and Transmission is an evolution from the days in the early 00’s when most venues were booked independently by some guy with a beard, the almost provincial approach to booking live music in Austin has helped maintain the city’s identity as a music town, maintaining a distinct flavor. Sure, C3 has been one of the world’s larger concert promoters for several years (and co-owner Charlie Walker is a former Live Nation executive), but it’s a concert industry behemoth based in Austin, as opposed to an external one.
That’s something that Transmission co-owner James Moody seems to think might be unfortunate for Austin—but good for his company, according to the Austin American-Statesman:
James Moody, a partner in Transmission Events, another Austin-based concert promoter, said he believes a C3/Live Nation deal would help – not hurt – his own company. Local venues Transmission works with include the Mohawk and Red 7.
“These guys have done well and earned the right to do this,” Moody said, “but if Live Nation takes a 51 percent stake, is C3 really an Austin company anymore? They become linked to Los Angeles and California – something a lot of people in Austin are against. We’re going to stay committed to Austin.”
The Statesman also quotes concert industry insider Bob Lefsetz as saying that “As for the average concert-goer, they’ll likely see no impact whatsoever,” but Austin’s music industry is more than just “concert-goer/concert promoter”—it’s an ecosystem in which promoters, artists, venues, and fans tend to have a lot of overlap and a lot of interdependency, and it’ll be interesting to see how all of this shakes out for them. In any case, the days when Austin’s live music industry was a small-scale, homegrown operation may well be reaching their end—what that means in the long term is a question for another day.(image via flickr)