Moguls Do L.A. Courtside Deals as Lakers Battle for NBA Title

Los Angeles Lakers home-game broadcasts often show close-ups of Jack Nicholson while ignoring the man to his right, Lou Adler. He produced “Up in Smoke” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles rock band, was showcased on ABC in Game 1 of the Lakers’ National Basketball Association finals matchup with the Boston Celtics, though not the band’s longtime manager, Live Nation Entertainment Inc. Chairman Irving Azoff. Nearby in anonymity sat Joe Smith, who helped make stars of musicians Garth Brooks and Bonnie Raitt.

The power brokers rubbing shoulders with entertainers possess the ultimate status symbol in a city that trades in celebrity, and often they are far richer. As the Lakers battle for the title, the business elite looking on from courtside range from Hollywood dealmaker David Geffen to drug-company billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. The mix of wealth and fame creates a “kind of fraternity,” Azoff said.

“There isn’t any more prestigious possession in this town than a Lakers courtside seat,” said Azoff, 62, who said he has held his for almost 40 years. The location “is only slightly more prestigious than owning your own plane.”

Season tickets at courtside have changed hands for millions of dollars, Azoff said.

Holders include Norman Pattiz, founder of Westwood One Inc., the New York-based producer and distributor of news and programming to radio stations. His two seats between the Lakers bench and the scorer’s table “are the difference between being at the game and being in the game,” he said.

‘They Sweat on Us’

“You hear everything, the players and the coaches, the grunts and the groans,” Pattiz said. “They sweat on us. It’s like sitting ringside at a championship fight.”

Pattiz said he recently sold two of his season tickets to Geffen, a co-founder of DreamWorks SKG. Among about 30 executives with season tickets is another DreamWorks co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who runs publicly held DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., based in Glendale, California.

Also representing Hollywood: former United Artists Chief Executive Officer Jerry Weintraub, “The Matrix” producer Joel Silver and former Yahoo! Inc. CEO Terry Semel.

Soon-Shiong, CEO of Abraxis Health Inc. and executive chairman of Los Angeles-based Abraxis BioScience, has a net worth estimated at $5 billion this year by Forbes and has committed $100 million to help reopen troubled Martin Luther King hospital. Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Nicholas, worth $1.5 billion as estimated by Forbes, is another ticket holder.

“We all know each other,” said Soon-Shiong, who has gone to Lakers games for 25 years and has six seats.

‘Grown Ups’

Los Angeles leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 after last night’s 91-84 victory in Boston. Ratings for each of the first three games have been at least 10 percent higher than last year, Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Co.’s ABC said, citing data from researcher Nielsen Co.

Access to courtside seats at Staples Center gives Hollywood studios and agencies a way to get air time for stars. At the June 3 opener between the Lakers and the Celtics, ABC showed comedian Chris Rock trying to talk to the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant during a break. Nearby were David Spade, Kevin James and Adam Sandler. They star together in “Grown Ups,” the comedy being released on June 25 by Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures.

Talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment holds the seats and represents Spade, James and Sandler, said Marie Sheehy, a spokeswoman.

Affleck, Wahlbergs

In Boston, where the team recently began to offer fireworks and state-of-the-art video, the crowd has a working-class image. New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is a recognizable face. Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis also attends games.

The smattering of celebrities at TD Garden on a given night may include Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The Wahlberg brothers, Mark and Donnie, are seen regularly during the playoffs.

From the business community, the names tend to emanate from the private equity world of team owners Wycliffe Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca, from Highland Capital Partners and Bain Capital, respectively. They include Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. CEO Gary Loveman, said Heather Walker, a team spokeswoman. Two second-row tickets for last night’s game were offered for $14,768 at Razorgator Tickets, the Boston Herald reported.

For Lakers season-ticket holders, a courtside seat in the finals costs $4,500, according to spokesman John Black. Pattiz, 67, estimated his seats might fetch as much as $40,000 each through private brokers.

“Clients enjoy sitting in those seats,” Pattiz said. “It’s easier to get a deal done there than sitting across from someone in an office.”

Azoff said he often takes clients to games to do business. During the first game of the series, he said his goal was to convince Frey to go on tour in Australia. He said he doesn’t mind when the TV camera ignores him.

“What are they going to show me for?” Azoff said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter J. Brennan in Los Angeles at pbrennan3@bloomberg.net

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