Within hours on Sept. 18, word that Anschutz Co. was selling off Anschutz Entertainment Group went from a possibility to a certainty. And by the next morning, a possible buyer was being widely reported.
AEG CEO Tim Leiweke talks to hundreds of Brentwood School students, parents, and alumni as he shares the Stanley Cup with them on the school's campus during his day with the cup in Los Angeles Sept. 14.
That Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz would sell the abundant assets of AEG came as a surprise – not because there were rumblings it was hemorrhaging money but quite the opposite. The assets of AEG – from Stanley Cup champions L.A. Kings to London’s O2 arena to the holdings of promotion wing AEG Live – have been viewed as moneymakers, although only so much can be known of a privately held conglomerate.
What is known is that it can be considered one of the biggest sports-related sales in history, which just happens to include the second-largest promotion company in the world behind Live Nation.
The leadership roster is intact. Anschutz recently renewed the contract of AEG President Tim Leiweke, and the contracts of others, such as AEG Live President Randy Phillips, are also secured. And ownership of a Los Angeles sports team – or many – is enticing.
See Also: Tim Leiweke Talks AEG Sale.
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times first reported Anschutz was considering the sale of AEG. By that evening, the Los Angeles Times reported it as fact, and soon Leiweke sent out an internal memo, and AEG shot out a press release, that the reports were true – reaffirming the employees that their jobs were unaffected. Soon, the NHL stated it had prior knowledge of the deal, and so did Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The sale is being handled by Blackstone Advisory Group, which brokered the deal that sold the Los Angeles Dodgers to Guggenheim Partners. In fact, Guggenheim Partners is one of the names that was being bantered about at press time as a potential buyer of AEG. So were MSG’s Jim Dolan, Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and Liberty CEO Greg Maffei.
But the name that landed quickly was Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in L.A. The pharmaceutical mogul had made an unsuccessful run at the Dodgers and owns a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers, bought from Magic Johnson. He’s reportedly worth north of $7 billion.
With a purchase of AEG, Soon-Shiong would oversee privately held management shares of the Lakers.
“Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is keenly aware that AEG is in play,” a representative said. “We have the utmost respect for Phil and Tim and what they have accomplished in entertainment and sports and in revitalizing the downtown community. We clearly are interested in furthering this legacy for Los Angeles.”
That’s not to say the good doctor will soon be changing all of the AEG signage to S-SEG. It’s possible that he expressed interest in private but Anschutz wants to see what the company is worth on the open market. The assets, by the way, include Axs TV, with investment from Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.
It could take until 2013 to negotiate a sale price. Estimates range from laughably low numbers to $7 billion – possibly a sign that analysts haven’t had a chance to count up all the jellybeans in the jar. There’s real estate (L.A. Live, itself estimated at $2.5 billion), more than 100 venues it owns or is affiliated with (Staples Center, Sprint Center, O2 Berlin, China’s Mercedes Benz Arena and Australia’s Allphones Arena), sports teams (Kings, Galaxy, Dynamos), facility management, ticketing (Axs, Front Gate), festivals (Coachella, Stagecoach) and events like the Amgen Tour of California bike race.
The media was falling over itself predicting who would buy the company, but little ink was dedicated to why Anschutz was selling. Whatever the case, no signs of dissention within the ranks reached Pollstar. In fact, it could be as simple as Anschutz, who turns 73 in December and remains a biking enthusiast, may just want to streamline his work calendar.* Or maybe there’s all that Michael Jackson email hubbub. Or that damned Mayan calendar.
(*Leiweke later said this was a motivation for the sale)
But if you live in Los Angeles, it appears to be about one thing and one thing only: A football stadium.
Leiweke has helmed the efforts to build a NBA football stadium next to the L.A. Live complex. The potential stadium has already secured a $700 million naming rights deal from Farmers Insurance, and Anschutz will spend billions in building the facility and buying a portion of the Chargers, Vikings, Rams, Raiders or another gridiron team.
Meanwhile, there are the efforts of billionaire Ed Roski who has secured everything needed to break ground on a football stadium 22 miles away in the City of Industry. Roski and Anschutz go way back: according to longtime sports writer T.J. Simers, Anschutz lent his name to an L.A. football project, backing Roski, and it was repayment for when Roski helped Anschutz buy the L.A. Kings.
But although Anschutz has not given a formal interview in 30 years, he does talk to reporters, and 17 years ago made it clear to Simers that he had zero interest in bringing the NFL to Los Angeles.
“But this time around, Leiweke put his AEG career on the line with a grand plan, not everyone convinced in the AEG empire it would be money well spent,” Simers wrote. And although Leiweke has brought the stadium very close to the goal line, Anschutz was the one to negotiate for a team and that “wasn’t going well.”
Other writers have mirrored Simers’ implications – that AEG and Anschutz were going in different directions. Some implied Anschutz wanted out of the NFL efforts; others said a sale would secure him the money needed to build his legacy: a Los Angeles NFL empire.
AEG said in its statement that a buyer would be part of the NFL effort. And the mayor said nothing’s changed.
“I have worked with both Philip Anschutz and Tim Leiweke for years to bring a football team to Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said. "I speak to both of them on a regular basis and I have known about this potential sale for some time. I have the commitment from both of them that this sale will not affect plans for an NFL team to return to Los Angeles in the near future and will not affect my support for moving ahead with Farmers Field and the Convention Center site.”
Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes L.A. Live, said she was not aware of the sale.
"The city has done a good job of protecting the taxpayer's interest in negotiating an agreement," Perry said, "so whoever steps into the shoes of Mr. Anschutz will have the same obligations."
Anschutz Corp., which made most of its fortune in oil and gas, also has non-AEG properties in the Regal Entertainment Group movie theatre chain and hotel operator Xanterra Parks & Resorts.