It is not just Coles and Woolies, the big banks or pay TV that spark concerns over dominant market players. The world of live concerts, too – of Bruce Springsteen, Pink, Michael Buble and Bon Jovi – is now increasingly subject to the influence of one man, Harvey Lister.
Lister, a Maserati-driving Queenslander sometimes monikered Prince Charming, runs AEG Ogden, which has quietly gathered up the management rights for six of the nine major capital-city concert venues in the country.
Lister and Ogden’s co-founder, Rod Pilbeam, cut their teeth promoting rock’n’roll acts for a Brisbane radio station almost 40 years ago. Now they preside over a monopoly in arenas and entertainment centres in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. When it comes to winning government contracts, Lister has no peer.
Lister and Pilbeam have surely come a long way since the days of driving through country towns in the 1970s promoting their next pub gig from a loudspeaker on the roof of their car.
Theirs is one of Australia’s great success stories. Last year, Ogden hosted 5000 events and six million patrons. They are even jagging offshore contracts, such as the mandate to run the Qatar National Convention Centre. And it is the action offshore which now fascinates observers in the world of big events.
In 2007, the global facilities group AEG snapped up a 50 per cent stake in Lister and Pilbeam’s Ogden IFC. This AEG runs stadiums from Berlin to Beijing and a slather of other snazzy venues such as The Colosseum in Las Vegas.
It is a vertically integrated live entertainment juggernaut which spans the entire spectrum from concert promoting to ticketing to locking the door when the last roadie has left the building.
Artists have to work harder these days. As Gen Y is wont to rip its music right off YouTube for free, the likes of rockers, rappers and crooners are more dependent on touring to make their money.
The high dollar has been a lure for offshore acts for three years but despite the recent success of Bon Jovi, Pink, Michael Buble and Bruce Springsteen, the overall market for big live acts has been subdued. Vineyards tours have been cancelled and the likes of Paul Simon and Robert Plant struggled for ticket sales.
For the promoters – the Gudinskis, Daintys and Chuggs of the world – things are no easier. BusinessDay understands that a contract recently served on one of the top promoters has been tightened substantially in favour of the venue operator.
Ogden becomes principal rather than an agent. It also insists on greater control of event sponsorship and the right to appoint ticket resellers. Other industry players point to AEG’s vertically integrated model offshore and say Ogden wants to exert more control over presales, packaging and sponsorship.
Now controlling six out of the nine major concert venues in this country, Harvey Lister is nothing short of the supremo in the market for big events, although the group has no presence in Melbourne or Adelaide as yet.
Tours vary. Pink, for instance, did 46 concerts and played in the Gold Coast and Newcastle. But a typical big act will do five cities and Lister has already sewn up three of the five.
Until now, AEG Ogden has stuck to venue management but the game plan might soon change.
Overseas, its partner AEG has rolled out its own ticketing platform, AXS Ticketing, at its primary venues in the US and the UK.
AEG’s promotion arm regularly brings AEG tours to the Australian market. Leonard Cohen was a recent one. But it has no day to day presence here. It mostly works with Frontier, also the subject of speculation for an AEG takeover.
In Australia, AEG Ogden has dealt loyally with Ticketek for 14 years. But is Ticketek itself about to become prey? Insiders say that Ogden recently changed the structure of its reseller arrangements.
At least one player has been told that tickets to resellers will be capped at 15 per cent of total ticket volumes.
Reseller tickets had been a fast- growing part of the market as corporate sponsors such as Telstra have been using this channel to fill out up to 30 per cent of tickets to headline acts such as Bon Jovi and Buble, even before tickets went on sale to the general public.
Access to this channel is a boost to promoter economics. In the UK, 40 per cent of event tickets are set aside for resellers.
On reining in the amount of reseller tickets, the equivalent sharemarket analogy would be the ASX insisting the underwriters of a float not use retail stockbrokers for their distribution.
Telstra moved into the live concert game over the last year, emulating the success of premium loyalty offerings by British telco O2. These have proven a good engagement for O2 customers – as it delivers access to big event tickets and a priority code.
The question is, will AEG move on Ticketek? Overseas it uses its own ticketer, AXS. Adding to the uncertainty, the future for stand-alone ticket companies is far from assured. Their historical advantages of technology and a database are no longer compelling. Now, anybody with a database – a Telstra, Coles or Shell – can get into ticketing and enhance their customer loyalty offerings.
Meanwhile the mooted float of Nine Entertainment later this year – which has attracted some fancy valuation numbers in the press of $3 billion – contains Ticketek as one of the core assets.