Just hours after Irving Azoff’s departure from Live Nation was confirmed, Billboard’s Ray Waddell caught up with him over the phone from Mexico, where Azoff’s family is vacationing with Don Henley’s family. In this conversation, Azoff explains why he’s leaving (especially on New Year’s Eve), who he’s taking with him, and why merging with Ticketmaster was both a highlight and a regret.
Irving Azoff: Sorry to f— up your New Year’s, Ray.
Billboard: I thought that was the motivation for announcing today.
A: It wasn’t to f— up New Year’s, it was to pay [taxes] on 2012 rates rather than 2013.
Q: Something like this would seem to have been in the works for quite a while.
A: It came down very quickly. We had a board meeting on Dec. 10 and we got it done by last night. Really, all it was about was it was time for me not to work for a public company. That’s all.
Q: Still, you had voiced a lot of confidence in what Live Nation can do.
A: There’s no animosity between me and [CEO Michael] Rapino or anybody at the company whatsoever. He was a great partner, no problems there, none of that. It was just the frustration with working at a public company. We had a board that was afraid to do things because of the Treasury, institutional shareholders, people writing you letters, everybody complaining about you and your people making too much money, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, everybody has to be on the same e-mail address. Sh– like that just drove me crazy.
Q: But you will remain a manager.
A: I am going to remain a manager, although not to the scale that I was. I’m going to look to do other things in the business. I love the representation business, I’d like to maybe expand that beyond just music. But [Live Nation] were kind enough to work out a way for me to exit my contract early and still work with the people who are my friends, that I love and work with every day. That’s people like the Eagles, Van Halen, Steely Dan, and Christina [Aguilera], the people you’d expect to be on that list.
Q: Will there be a new management company?
A: It’s my old management company — Azoffmusic Management continues on. That was the unit that I personally ran and that’s the unit I left with. [Azoffmusic staffers] Susan Markheim, Damian Smith, Tina Kennedy, Karim Karmi, Adam Flick, Allison Statter and Richard Palmese are the staff there.
Q: Will you be signing new artists, developing or otherwise?
A: It’s too early to predict right now. Right now, Tina Kennedy and I are going to work on Cassadee Pope, the lady that won “The Voice,” but it’s kind of too early to predict anything else.
Q: So what’s interesting to you, what would be fun?
A: It’s so new. I’d love to talk to you in four to six weeks into my new life. The phones are ringing, but I have no idea yet. It all happened so quickly that I haven’t really had a chance to take stock, see what’s out there and what I want to do.
Video: Irving Azoff’s Keynote Q&A at 2012 Billboard Touring Conference
Q: But your not going to just go play golf, are you?
A: F— no! The main reason I’m not going to just go play golf is I don’t play well enough. I always say if my job was this hard I would quit. Golf is too f—in’ hard for me to play any more golf.
Q: What can you say about Liberty Media’s strategic goal, in your view, as an observer, now?
A: Liberty has a long-term commitment to the company. I think they believe in the long-term prognosis of the technology and the prospects of Ticketmaster. They’re in for the long run.
Q: What can you say about the vacant chairman’s spot?
A: I don’t have a right to comment on that.
Q: Would you say that being in a public company chafed against your entrepreneurial spirit?
A: To me it was smothering. All I can say is public company life to me was smothering. This was not about people, it was about public company process, in the end. That’s the most honest appraisal about why I wanted to leave.
Q: What about your other boardships?
A: IMG is a private company. Clear Channel is a mostly private company. I’m going to stay on those boards, and I’m also going to go on the Starz board, because Liberty asked me to. They’ve been a great partner to me and because Liberty asked me to I’m going to do that.
Q: What was your highlight at Live Nation Entertainment?
A: The highlight was getting the [Ticketmaster/Live Nation] merger done. And, by the way, Ticketmaster’s renewal rate is incredible, Ticketmaster has done unbelievably well since the merger and I’m real proud of that.
Q: Any other highlights?
A: No, not really.
A: The sad part is I would have preferred to have purchased all of Front Line and kept the whole team together, because I dearly love all the artists and other managers at Front Line. But it just didn’t make any sense, there was no way to get that deal done.
Q: Did the roll up of Front Line management companies play out as you hoped?
A: If I had it to do over again I never would have merged with Ticketmaster.
Q: Why not?
A: Because further down the line I ended up in a situation where I had to break up Front Line because I merged with a public company and now I can’t figure out a way to buy it back. If you ask me what my biggest disappointment was, it’s that I made a decision to merge with Ticketmaster. I really wish we would have kept it a pure management play. That’s my biggest regret.
Q: Had you done that, what would have been the end game? Would you still be running Front Line?
A: I think so. Financially, it was a hugely successful move for lots of managers. I didn’t totally make that decision, the whole group of us did. But at the end of the day, if I could wind back the clock, that’s the one regret I’ve got.
Q: What’s the immediate future? What are you doing tonight?
A: I’m at my villa in Cabo at the El Dorado Beach & Golf Club. The Azoffs are spending New Year’s with the Henley family. We’re going to go down to the restaurant called the Palapa here at the club and have a nice dinner.
As Azoff told Billboard’s Ray Waddell in a Q&A earlier today, the timing of his resignation was related to the higher tax burden that high income Americans will face in 2013. The company gave Azoff an early payment of an $8.2-million note due to him related to Ticketmaster’s acquisition of Front Line, which would not have matured until October 1, 2013. Live Nation also accelerated the vesting of 1.47 million shares of restricted common stock that would have otherwise vested on October 29, 2013, and also accelerated vesting of nearly 664,000 shares and 326,000 options. In relation to Azoff’s departure, Liberty Media purchased 1.7 million of his shares.