Irving Azoff's Live Nation Exit Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Powerful manager was frustrated in efforts to reform concert business

Irving Azoff
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Irving Azoff
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Days after announcing his surprise resignation as Live Nation Entertainment's executive chairman, powerful Eagles and Christina Aguilera manager Irving Azoff revealed his frustration that he couldn't use his position to lower ticket prices, kill service fees and create a long-planned online market to bundle tickets with T-shirts and downloads. "It was frustrating to be in that position," he told Rolling Stone on Thursday by phone, while golfing with Don Henley and Adam Levine at the Eldorado Golf and Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "I thought I could push a button and get it done. Couldn't get it done."

Azoff, 65, will continue to manage the Eagles, Aguilera, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen and more of his biggest clients; he has a two-year non-compete agreement with Live Nation, the world's biggest concert promoter, but can work on projects involving recorded music, TV, movies and music and book publishing. He refused to speculate about his future plans, but many in the concert business expect him to resume his role as an adversary to rich companies on behalf of his artists.

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"This guy's a sporting guy, and he likes to be involved and stir the drink," said Danny Zelisko, a veteran Phoenix promoter who worked for Live Nation from 2001 to 2011. "I would expect a lot more stirring."

Live Nation's chief executive, Michael Rapino, and his team will remain with the company. Azoff has publicly praised his partnership with Rapino, but some predict the company will struggle without a veteran "closer" to sign major tours in a heated competition with its top rival, AEG Live. Despite Azoff's non-compete clause, said Andy Cirzan, vice president of concerts for competitor Jam Productions in Chicago, "One of the two or three most powerful managers in rock is now a free agent again and open for business. He can maximize all facets of artists' careers, and that gives him an advantage when it comes down to [an artist] signing with Live Nation for a contract or signing with Irving."

Live Nation reps were unavailable for comment, but Rapino told Billboard in an interview: "You can't replace Irving Azoff, but the good news is underneath that division is a powerhouse of individual experienced managers, who have over 200 artists on their rosters, experienced pros who have been running their own business for years."

But concert-business sources predict Azoff's departure will mean Rapino's promoters will begin to seize power within Live Nation from Front Line's management team. When Azoff was with the company, an industry insider says, artists usually won financial negotiations with promoters. "Those guys [managers] had Irving in their back pocket."

A typical exchange, the source says, went like this:

ARTIST MANAGER: "Rapino's offering only 450 grand – I want $500."

AZOFF: "I'll call you back." [Pause. Calls back.] "You got the $500."

"The balance of power, which was steeped in the management side, has now shifted, with the loss of Irving, to Rapino, who comes from the promotion side," the source says. "Who gets hurt? The artist."

In interviews since his resignation on New Year's Eve, Azoff expressed frustration with working for a large public company after a 35-year career as an entrepreneur. "I can't work at a public company," he told Rolling Stone. "I kind of got trapped."

After selling his record label, Giant, to another company in the early 2000s, Azoff returned to managing the Eagles and other artists full-time. His management company, Front Line, became so large that he was able to merge it with Ticketmaster in 2008. After that, he steered the ticket-selling behemoth to a bigger merger, with Live Nation in 2010.

Azoff spent weeks before that merger telling congresspeople and reporters that he planned to use the company's new clout to fix the problems in the concert business – such as rapidly rising ticket prices on top acts and widespread scalping. He expressed frustration Thursday that he was unable to achieve these goals, blaming the travails of running a public company as well as the conflicting interests between managers and promoters within Live Nation.

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"I really believed we could lower the ticket prices, we could stop the scalping, and I still think we can," he said. "I couldn't get cooperation from the industry to institute paperless ticketing and dynamic pricing and all-in ticketing – three things I thought were really important for artists and consumers."

Azoff left the company a much richer man. The timing of his resignation allowed him to take home $3.5 million in bonuses and salary payments and 196,000 Live Nation shares. He predicts the company will continue to grow, particularly now that Ticketmaster has upgraded its technology over the past five or six years, but he expressed frustration with the company's struggling stock prices. Some sources predict that with Azoff's departure, top shareholders such as Liberty Media's John Malone will expand their influence within the company – which could mean layoffs and other corporate cuts.

In a reflective mood, Azoff said that in hindsight he wouldn't have pushed for the multibillion-dollar merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster. "The worst experience in my life was the process of being in Washington, dealing with the merger," he said. "But Ticketmaster, in a couple of years, is going to be a great technology company. Michael Rapino is doing great things. I'm 65. I'm not going to be there for that."