Music biz vet sells his shares to Liberty Media

In a New Year’s Eve surprise, Irving Azoff has ankled his post as chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, selling his stake in the company to Liberty Media.

Live Nation said Liberty’s acquisition of Azoff’s 1.7 million shares brings Liberty’s stake the concert promotion giant to 26.4%.

As chairman of Live Nation since 2011, Azoff had a contract that ran until 2014. Michael Rapino remains as CEO, having recently signed a contract extension that will keep him with the company until 2017. Azoff has also ankled as CEO of Live Nation’s Front Line Management Group, which will now report to Rapino, and from Live Nation’s board of directors.

Azoff will exit Live Nation with at least $3.5 million in bonuses, plus the repayment of an $8.2 million note due Azoff and the Azoff Family Trust. The note, from 2010, had been set to mature in October 2013, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday by Live Nation.

Azoff is expected to join the board of Liberty Media’s pay cabler Starz Entertainment, which is in the process of being spun off into a separate entity. The chairman vacancy at Live Nation is expected to be resolved at the company’s next board meeting in February or March.

Throughout a long career that has also included an eventful stint heading MCA Records in the 1980s, Azoff has built a formidable roster of management clients, with which he founded Front Line Management in 2004. The company, now an LNE subsidiary, managed well over 250 acts, including the Eagles, Aerosmith, Journey and Kenny Chesney.

Azoff became CEO of Ticketmaster when the ticketing giant bought a majority stake in Front Line in 2008. After Ticketmaster’s merger with Live Nation, he took charge of LNE after it bought out the remainder of Front Line in February 2011.

According to the SEC filing, Azoff will be taking a number of his former Front Line clients with him, including the Eagles and Christina Aguilera. He is bound to other non-compete agreements but there are “certain limited carve-outs which will permit Azoff to manage certain artists,” according to the filing. The pact also allows Front Line chief financial officer Colin Hodgson to exit the company and join Azoff in a new venture.

The nitty gritty of what Azoff can and can’t do now that he’s left Live Nation is spelled out in great detail in the SEC filing, including his ability to be involved with certain types of TV and film projects but not others. Other than managing a set number of artists, he’s generally restricted from being involved directly in the music business, including producing live concert pics or TV specials. In one parenthetical comment, the agreement offers this example: “Azoff could produce the musical ‘Chicago’ but not the life story of Katy Perry.”

On the flip side, Azoff and his artists have certain obligations to Live Nation, including the first shot at promoting tours and offering VIP ticketing services during the next two years. The agreement specifically mentions that Live Nation has first right of refusal to promote at least 75% of the Eagles’ live dates in 2013 and 2014.

Azoff presented his departure as a natural move following the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

“After successfully overseeing the integration of Live Nation and Ticketmaster over the past two years, my job here is done,” Azoff said in a statement. “We put together the leading company across concert promotion, ticketing, sponsorship and artist management and delivered the great results promised by the merger.”

Greg Maffei, Liberty Media CEO and lead external director of Live Nation, said of Azoff’s departure: “While he has played a key role in setting Live Nation on a path for success, we understand his entrepreneurial desires.”

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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