What will happen to the “glowing executive profile” in the darkening days of the new economy? How will writers portray those mavericks who are good at spending and making money when there’s less money to be made, there’s ? These are all worthy questions—but they’re probably best saved for another time, at least in the minds of Wall Street Journal editors. The paper’s weekend supplement features a glowing profile of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, one that opens with him being celebrated with a glass of Jay-Z’s overpriced champagne and closes with him hinting at maybe signing a 360 deal with Kanye West. (Sure, he’s still under contract with Universal, but he does have that whole burgeoning design thing going on.) So what is Michael Rapino really like? He’s kind of like a maverick (there’s that word again!) rolled into a hockey player rolled into a recovering metalhead… who never has to worry about services fees on his tickets.
He’s scruffy! “But Rapino, 43, isn’t just any music exec, despite his three-day beard, black T-shirt, jeans and leather motorcycle jacket.”
He’s got an up-from-the-ashes story that’s only magnified by his willingness to swear! “’Because I grew up with no money, I like fixing s— myself,’ Rapino says [about being unwilling to go to the hospital to have an injury checked out] the day after the concert, sitting on a veranda at his Spanish-style villa. ‘I used to rebuild car engines in my dad’s driveway, and I never needed a single stitch. Now a stainless-steel dishwasher did this to me.’ ”
No, really, he’s just like you! Except for that whole “getting into places for free” thing. “As a teenager, Rapino says, he moved comfortably among three usually distinct social groups. He played hockey with the jocks, took college-prep classes with the brains and partied on the weekend with the beer-drinking, hard rock–loving ‘bangers.’ ‘I still start from the position of hanging out with my banger buddies,’ Rapino says about the late nights in crowded clubs his line of work requires.” (NB: This somehow doesn’t get into a discussion of ticket prices. Weird! I know!)
He could be referred to as “the Sarah Palin of the concert biz”! “When it became clear that there was a rift, Rapino morphed from CEO into hockey-rink brawler. After Cohl called an emergency board meeting and was soundly defeated, Rapino stripped his old mentor of power and left him with the title ‘consultant’ to Live Nation. (Reached for comment, Cohl doesn’t dispute this account.) The altercation, Rapino says, sent investors and artists alike a loud, clear message about the prospect of endless 360 expansion: ‘The tap got turned off.’ ”
He may be like you and me, but he’s also not unlike those underpants gnomes!“Rapino believes the skeptics are too focused on the eye-popping sums Live Nation is paying artists and not enough on the deals’ long-term implications. ‘Remember, we were never in any business but a 90–10,’ Rapino says of the unfavorable split on ticket sales. ‘Making deals with splits of 50–50 and 75–25, “that’s a huge upside for us.’ ” … “Starting in January, Live Nation plans to start selling tickets directly at the roughly 50 percent of its shows in venues it controls (many others will continue to go through Ticketmaster). Live Nation says it is spending about $20 million to create a new ticketing system and hasn’t offered any details on how it will work—including whether it will break out fees or roll them into the ticket price.”
I don’t know about you, but the lack of details on the softening market for tickets—plus the notion that the “long-term implications” of deals with aging performers like Madonna and U2 aren’t a sure thing, particularly if the economy continues to sour and the cost of arena shows continues to skyrocket out of the reach of the “banger” types Rapino claims to be down with—doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s all $500 bottles of champagne for now, but what about in a year, when the picture looks grim, and people feel less inclined than ever to fatten that bubbly proferrer’s bottom line?