Live Nation ‘On Prowl’ for Deals With Malone’s Liberty

Concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc. is looking at possible acquisitions with John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp., its largest shareholder, and is considering ways the companies can work together.

“We’re on the prowl together,” Live Nation Chairman Irving Azoff said in an interview yesterday at the company’s Beverly Hills, California, offices. Liberty Media Chief Executive Officer Greg Maffei participated by phone.

The ties are deepening as Liberty Media increases its stake in Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter and ticket-seller. Live Nation is “looking through Liberty’s whole portfolio” for opportunities to work together, said Azoff, who pointed to home-shopping channel QVC, Sirius XM Radio Inc. and premium cable channel Starz as areas of interest.

Liberty Media’s investment “gives us stability in a very volatile business,” Azoff said.

Liberty Media agreed yesterday to buy 5.5 million shares of Live Nation for $57.7 million, which will bring its stake to 20 percent. Maffei was named to Live Nation’s board and Azoff was named chairman. Malone, who controls Englewood, Colorado-based Liberty, stepped down as Live Nation’s interim chairman.

There are no immediate plans for Liberty Media to increase its holding in Live Nation beyond 20 percent, Maffei said. He said Liberty, which a year ago proposed buying a 35 percent stake, may reconsider in the future.

“We like the company,” Maffei said. “We continue to think it’s a good investment.

Diller’s Departure

The increased ties with Liberty Media also coincide with Barry Diller’s exit from the company. Diller, who became chairman of Live Nation after its merger with his Ticketmaster Entertainment in January 2010, stepped down as chairman in October and sold his shares. He left the board in January.

Live Nation bought ticket sellers in Spain and France last year and is looking for more acquisitions outside the U.S., Azoff said.

The company is also looking at buying more management operations and is considering investing in Web-ticketing startups, he said. Azoff ruled out buying EMI Group Ltd. or Warner Music Group Corp., two record companies that are for sale.

“Greg and I have been besieged by every bidder out there who’s interested in EMI and Warner,” said Azoff, who said Live Nation isn’t interested in owning a record company. “The catalog of EMI and Warner is the best that ever existed. It’s not to be.”

MSG, Forum

Live Nation is in partnership talks with Madison Square Garden Inc., Azoff said. MSG, the New York-based owner of namesake arena and the Knicks basketball team, acquired an option to purchase The Forum, the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers in Inglewood, California.

“We are interested in the remodel of the Forum,” said Azoff, “as both a user and in a management capacity.”

Live Nation added 14 cents to $10.94 at 4:15 p.m in New York Stock Exchange composite trading and has lost 4.2 percent this year.

The company is still suffering the effect of the 2008 recession on the concert industry, CEO Michael Rapino said in a November conference call. Ticket discounts and other promotions were offered to fill concerts last year, he said.

The company, which will announce fourth-quarter results on Feb. 28, is expected to lose $18.6 million on sales of $1.12 billion, the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The Ticketmaster business is facing new competition. Rival concert promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group this month formed a ticketing venture, Outbox Enterprises LLC, with former Ticketmaster CEO Frederic Rosen as co-CEO.

Live Nation is working with concert promoters and venues to offer variable pricing, list a single face amount inclusive of fees, and lower the industry-wide cost of tickets to revive demand, Azoff said in the interview.

“The business is going to change a lot in the next two years,” Azoff said. “Especially when it comes to pricing.”

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