Irvine, California spiked plans for a partnership with Live Nation on a planned amphitheater in a city park, with the city council rejecting the entertainment giant’s proposal by a 3-2 vote this week. One city council member who voted against the measure called the deal “lopsided” in favor of the promoter, which drew complaints over how much money taxpayers would provide for the venue, while the company made most of the decisions on how it would be run.

Instead of a partnership with the corporation based in Beverly Hills on an exclusive operational arrangement, the city is now looking to develop a proposal for a 10,000 seat venue that would be managed by a third party and allow multiple event promoters to book shows there – a system that Live Nation allegedly threatened would keep it from booking any shows there if the city went that way during the negotiations.

“We would be engaged in gross malpractice as public policy makers to be approving this contract tonight,” says Councilmember Larry Agran, who joined with fellow councilmember Kathleen Treseder to propose the independent path. “I am enthusiastic about the idea of an amphitheater in the Great Park… we just have to not rush into some crazy decision here.”

The Live Nation proposal drew significant opposition when it was released on Friday without input or review by the city. It would have cost the city as much as $110 million in construction costs for the new venue plus another $40 million for parking facilities in the area. The company would have contributed $20-30 million to the construction costs, then pay $3.5 million in rent per year to the city plus a share of maintenance costs and a fee paid to the city passed directly to consumers as a portion of the cost of tickets to shows there.

Live Nation would have been in line to receive all revenue from parking, sponsorship rights, and any other revenue stream generated from events there, leading to a conclusion that it would take between 20 and 30 years for the city to break even on the initial investment. That, plus the fact that Live Nation would have complete control over the calendar of events held at the taxpayer-funded facility, proved to be central to the opposition.

“[Live Nation] are in the business of maximizing revenue, and that’s what they’re doing,” Vice Mayor Tammy Kim told Voice of OC in an interview. “I’m not blaming them for that, but I have to look at it from our taxpayer’s perspective … it’s important we capture as much of the revenue sources as possible for ourselves.”

At the meeting this week, a lobbyist representing Live Nation urged the city council members to ignore the public opposition to the plan, arguing that the in-person opposition was counteracted by a Live Nation-funded survey that showed 80% of Irvine residents supported a permanent amphitheater being built. The lobbyist, Patrick Strader, also engaged in multiple arguments with council members opposed to the deal during the hearing.

“If (Strader)’s not reporting accurately what’s in the contract right now, I don’t know if he can say we’ll go back and negotiate it,” Treseder said after bringing up some concerns with Strader’s interpretation of the contract in terms of charging for parking and other revenue.

Strader answered shortly after.

“It was hard to break into that series of red herrings you were throwing out, that was truly amazing,” Strader said. “Almost complete misstatements of everything.”

In the wake of the contentious meeting and the defeat of the Live Nation proposal, it is an open question whether or not the promoter will choose to work with the city or its venue manager to book shows. Live Nation has faced repeated accusations of anti-competitive conduct in the past, including “conditioning” allegations like withholding shows from venues that don’t use its ticketing services.

When these accusations were investigated by the Department of Justice in 2019, it resulted in a clarification and extension of the existing consent decree that Live Nation had agreed to upon its merger with Ticketmaster a decade earlier. Live Nation is reportedly once again under investigation by the DOJ over continued allegations it operates as an illegal monopoly.

Kim told Voice of OC that the threat of Live Nation avoiding booking shows at the new venue if it was not its exclusive operator had been made during the meetings leading up to the contract proposal.

“That was absolutely discussed by Live Nation, in that they simply won’t throw acts our way,” Kim told the publication, which said that Live Nation did not respond to a request for comment for the article.

It did indicate its plans to continue working with the city in a statement provided to the Orange County Register, however:

“As the city continues to debate plans for the permanent amphitheater, we remain committed to supporting live music in Orange County as we have for the last 40 years,” Live Nation said in a statement to the OC Register. “At every phase of this process, we have responded diligently to the requests and concerns of council members and staff.”

Live Nation currently operates the FivePoint Amphitheater in Orange County’s Great Park, which opened in 2017. It consists of temporary bleacher sections and a temporary stage, which is to be replaced by the proposed venue. Live Nation was also the exclusive operator of the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater at the time of that nearly 40 year old facility being replaced by the temporary FivePoint venue.

Last Updated on July 27, 2023