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Hollywood Bowl Turned Down $100 Million Offer From AEG

When the Hollywood Bowl announced Aug. 7 that it had struck a deal making Live Nation-Hewitt Silva Presents the exclusive promoter of non-Philharmonic concerts at the venue for 10 years, it capped a months-long bidding war between rivals Live Nation and AEG.

That meant, sources with knowledge of the auction tell Variety, that the Bowl turned down a $100 million, 10-year deal offer from AEG. And while it’s unclear whether the winning bid was even close to that sum, the likely reason for the choice, people close to the matter said, was that for a traditionally conservative venue, which does not have a particularly youthful board of directors, familiarity goes a long way.

A rep for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, which operates the venue, declined comment, as did reps for AEG and Live Nation.

Andrew Hewitt and Bill Silva have booked the non-Philharmonic concerts at the Bowl since 1991, contemporizing its music offerings and cementing its reputation as arguably the most prestigious venue — and most coveted booking — in the Los Angeles area. Since its official opening in 1922, the Bowl has hosted concerts by Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and multiple orchestras and classical luminaries — and even a star-studded memorial concert for George Gershwin in 1937. The outdoor canyon setting provides for stunning visuals as well as elaborate concerts, such as Jeff Lynne’s ELO performing with a full orchestra last year.

The 18,000-seat Bowl is owned by Los Angeles County and operated by the Phil, whose season generally runs from June through October. Since Hewitt and Silva came on board, it has hosted an increasing number of non-classical concerts in its off-season (and on several nights during the summer), now averaging 15-20 per year; upcoming shows include Incubus, New Order, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Imagine Dragons and Chance the Rapper.

Sources say Hewitt and Silva were attached to Live Nation, headed by CEO Michael Rapino, having joined forces with the promoter in 2011, and would not have been able to work with either of the other main bidders.

“We’ve had a wonderful experience with Andy and Bill for over 25 years,” Gail Samuel, acting president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, said in prepared remarks announcing the deal. “We look forward to continuing to develop this relationship with Live Nation-Hewitt Silva, bringing great artists to perform for our audiences at the Hollywood Bowl and enhancing the musical history of this iconic venue.”

The move is the latest in a contentious game of one-upmanship between Live Nation and AEG, the world’s largest live-entertainment companies. Live Nation is peripherally involved in a standoff between AEG and Azoff-MSG Entertainment, whereby sources say AEG is blocking artists from performing at London’s O2 Arena if they perform at the Forum, an AMSGE venue (as is New York’s Madison Square Garden), instead of Staples. In a statement to Variety, AMSGE’s Azoff and James Dolan said: “We would like to clarify our booking policy. We always do what is best for artists. Both MSG and Forum are open buildings and will accept business from any performer that wishes to play there.” Live Nation has also been a player in the recent battle over Bowery Presents, which operates the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge. Sources say Live Nation will take over booking for both.

AEG’s giant offer made business sense for the company because its margins are low, much of the staffing required for such a move is in place, it has strong sponsorship and premium-seating offerings (which Live Nation may implement) — and not least because it would have provided a plumb booking for many of its touring acts, which include the Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

Yet when the Bowl does business, an industry source says, “history counts for a lot.”

Correction: A previous version of this story listed Oak View Group as one of the bidders for the Bowl contract. The company was not in the running, says a rep.

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