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Pricetag will be high for AEG

Many obvious potential bidders ruled out by cost

One thing is certain about the future of the Anschutz Entertainment Group: The pricetag for the Anschutz Co.’s entertainment and sports division will be high. And that’s enough to rule out quite a few potential buyers.

“The $6 billion or $7 billion figure that I’ve seen floating around out there actually seems kind of low,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert biz tracker Pollstar, noting that the assets on the block include the No. 1 arena in Los Angeles (Staples Center) and the No. 1 arena in London (O2 Arena).

“The marquee assets are going to bring strong valuation,” he said.

Bongiovanni points out that construction of AEG’s Farmers Field stadium in downtown’s L.A. Live is alone budgeted at $1.2 billion and could rise as high as $2 billion. The L.A. Planning Commission approved the project last week, and the L.A. City Council is set to vote on approval of the venue Sept. 28.

The diversified AEG division encompasses international venues, sports franchises and the No. 2 concert promotion firm behind Live Nation Entertainment. In its announcement Tuesday, billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Denver-based firm said it would sell to “the qualified party best able to reflect the full value of AEG and fully committed to working with AEG’s management team as it pursues its long-term business objectives.”

Translation: Given the integrated nature of AEG’s businesses, a buyer who can purchase the unit as a whole is being sought.

The list of prospective buyers for the firm is short, Bongiovanni noted. Live Nation, in which John Malone’s Liberty Media has a 21% stake, would probably have a hard time getting a deal past federal antitrust scrutiny given its heft.

Live Nation was forced by the Justice Dept. to license its ticketing software to AEG following the former’s merger with ticketing titan Ticketmaster. “There’s no way you can merge those companies,” one prominent manager said.

Bongiovanni said of other potential buyers, “You’ve got billionaires like Mark Cuban who might be interested in it, but I don’t know that he has the kind of money it would take to buy the entire operation.”

One veteran artist manager, who declined to be identified, floated the notion that Robert F.X. Sillerman — the billionaire who assembled SFX Entertainment, the concert promotion company that became Live Nation — could be a potential buyer for AEG. The manager also acknowledged Wednesday reports that identified Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong as a probable bidder for AEG but added that the L.A.-based billionaire, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Dodgers last year, may be uninterested in the firm’s non-sports assets. “The venues, the real estate, the sports teams are the gold mines,” he said. “Who wants to be in the concert business?”

Apparently, Philip Anschutz does not and has decided that the time is right to deal his entertainment unit — even with the long-gestating L.A. stadium deal still pending.

Bongiovanni said, Anschutz is “a 72-year-old guy. If he’s ever going to entertain a sale of the empire he’s built, he can’t let the NFL part of the deal affect what he does one way or another.”

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