Live Nation Is Acquiring Governors Ball

Michael Nelson | March 18, 2016 - 5:22 pm

There’s absolutely no way to briefly summarize the ever-escalating war between Panorama and Governors Ball, i.e., the two gigantic festivals that will be held at New York City’s Randall’s Island this summer, put on by AEG Live and Founders Entertainment, respectively. Two months ago I wrote a 7,000 word investigative feature about the whole mess and still had to leave out stuff that I felt was semi-crucial because I was physically unable to type any more. But if you’re not familiar, I guess the super-broad bullet points are:

• Governors Ball is an independently run festival that’s been staged in NYC since 2011.
• Panorama is a corporately owned festival brought to you by the company behind Coachella and a billion other things.
• The existence of Panorama threatens the existence of Governors Ball, because AEG has enough money and leverage to basically crush Founders into microscopic specks of dust.

In my analysis, I admitted to rooting hard for GovBall and Founders, but also being pretty bearish on the festival’s prospects. My exact words were, “It may be dead already.” And today, we get the equivalent of a death certificate, via Billboard:

Sources say that Live Nation is in the final stages of closing a deal to purchase a majority stake in Founders Entertainment, producers of Governors Ball, the successful (and, until this year, only) New York music festival.

I know what you’re thinking: “But that’s not a death certificate! That’s a heart transplant!” And I mean … yeah, it is, kinda. AEG is the second-biggest concert promoter in the world, but Live Nation is the BIGGEST concert promoter in the world, so this thing just went from being David vs. Goliath to King Kong vs. Godzilla. Real talk, this was the only way GovBall had even the slightest chance of survival. But it’s a massive compromise, and who knows what’s really surviving, beyond the festival’s name. Consider this January 2016 exchange between Billboard and GovBall organizer Jordan Wolowitz:

Asked if GovBall might be in a better position if affiliated with a major corporation, [Wolowitz] answers, “No. If you and I were having this conversation three or four months ago, and my lineup wasn’t done, and we didn’t know what was going to happen, maybe I’d be singing a different tune. But if you look at my lineup, it speaks for itself. The success of our onsale speaks for itself, the success of the festival brand overall speaks for itself. We’ve shown that, right now, we don’t need to [partner] — yet. Who knows what the future may bring.”

That was two months ago. The future came pretty quick. Today, Founders isn’t just just partnering with Live Nation, it’s selling a majority stake of its business to Live Nation. This probably means the Founders guys don’t have to start looking for new jobs — and that’s a BIG DEAL, don’t get me wrong — but it also means they’re just, like, working there instead of owning the thing. It’s kinda like the final season of Mad Men, when (SPOILER ALERT) Sterling Cooper & Partners became an independent subsidiary of McCann Erickson. Remember that? Remember how fucking sad it was when they were moving out of the old offices, how horrible it was to watch Don and Joan minimized and humiliated? This is like that. (I’m not saying Live Nation is gonna minimize or humiliate anyone, it’s just an analogy. I’m sure they’re all nice people.) GovBall can now compete on a level playing field with Panorama — it could still lose the war, of course, but it’s not outgunned or outmanned anymore — but it won’t be an independent anything after this. It’ll be another corporate festival. You know, like Panorama.