AEG Live is bringing the power of its Denver-based management team to bear in the Pacific Northwest, hoping to dominate live-music promotion in Seattle and Portland, Ore., as it has in Colorado.
The strategy shows faith in the leadership of Chuck Morris and Don Strasburg, but concert industry professionals in the Pacific Northwest say the change is bad news for existing promoters and music fans.
“We’ll hopefully do some of the things we’ve done (in Denver) in the northwest, from finding buildings to taking over buildings and making them work,” said Morris, AEG Live Rocky Mountains president and CEO. “I think the music scene in the Seattle area is unbelievable; the tradition in that area is right up there with Denver.”
The move has nearly doubled the territory overseen by Morris to include areas of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington that were already in AEG Live’s northwest division. Rob Thomas, who ran AEG-managed Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Englewood, has moved to Seattle to oversee the as-yet unnamed new division.
“The fact that they’ve added Seattle to Chuck Morris’ purview may just mean that they’re impressed with what he’s done in Denver and want to see him duplicate it in Seattle,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of concert tour industry publication Pollstar.
Since Morris became president in 2007, AEG Live Rocky Mountains has grown to exclusively book and opperate six major venues and promote about 800 shows a year, compared to one venue owned by Live Nation and three owned by Soda Jerk Presents, the next largest promoters in the Rocky Mountain region.
AEG Live Rocky Mountains currently runs most of the non-municipal professional music venues in the Denver/Boulder area, including, Fiddler’s Green, and the Ogden, Gothic and Bluebird theaters. AEG Live, in partnership with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, also runs the 1stBank Center in Broomfield. The branch of AEG Live also has strong ties to the Boulder Theater, Fox Theatre, Larimer Lounge and Lost Lake.
AEG’s reach extended even further when its ticket purveyor AXS recently finalized a five-year deal with the city of Denver to be the exclusive ticket seller for city-owned venues, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver Coliseum, Boettcher Concert Hall, Ellie Caulkins Opera House and the Buell Theatre.
AEG Live operations in the Rocky Mountains won’t change with the added focus on the Pacific Northwest, Morris said.
The promoter’s success in Denver is built on an ability to control or dominate booking at a large swath of the area’s venues, Bongiovanni said. Such a commanding role makes it tough for independent promoters to compete.
“AEG has shown that when they find someone really good in the market, they will look to work with them or work to acquire them or hire them,” Bongiovanni said. “That’s part of how they’ve grown.”
And that has independent promoters in Oregon and Washington worried.
“It doesn’t help anyone to have a big corporate entity to open its door to business,” said longtime independent concert promoter Stephen Reischman, who books shows in Seattle and Oregon with Bear Concerts. “Anytime you can have independent guys in the driver’s seat you’re better off, because we know our market.”
It took less than a decade for AEG Live to dominate in Colorado, Denver indie promoters said.
Seattle promoters are “facing what we’re facing here,” said Mike Barsch, founder of Denver-based Soda Jerk Presents. “They’ve really kind of created a quasi-monopoly in the market, and they’ve developed a lot of leverage for themselves, which makes it tough for others to compete.”
Local promoters say that the Seattle scene is currently balanced between independent promoters, Live Nation and AEG. In Washington, AEG exclusively books Marymoor Amphitheatre, Showbox SoDo and The Showbox, while Live Nation controls the White River Amphitheater.
Already this month, AEG Live has become the promoter for the iconic Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. And promoters in the area are expecting AEG’s new focus change the live music scene there.
“It could be a situation where AEG comes in and starts pushing,” said Reischman, the Portland promoter. “It’s tough to compete with a corporation where money is no object. The ticket prices are bound to rise when you have a corporate entity in charge of things.”