Industry Profile: Arthur Fogel
By Larry LeBlanc
Industry Profile: Arthur Fogel ó This week In The Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Arthur Fogel
Arthur Fogelís home base for nearly 9 years has been Los Angeles, but his route book spans the globe.
A Canadian, he is the undisputed top international tour producer in the world.
As chairman of global music, and CEO of global touring at Live Nation, Fogel directs its music division in the acquisition of live musical events around the world, and has overseen mega-tours of U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Sting, the Police, David Bowie and Neil Young.
"Arthur knows how to make the impossible possible," claims Madonna. "He's a touring genius."
Fogel was tour manager for the Toronto new wave band Martha & the Muffins before hooking up with Concert Productions International (CPI) in 1981.
Michael Cohl and Bill Ballard had started Toronto-based CPI in 1973, financially backed by partner Molson and later Labatt's breweries. For the next decade, CPI was primarily a Canadian player in the North Americaís concert landscape.
That changed as CPI significantly extended its sphere of influence, first across Canada through affiliations with Donald K. Donald in Montreal, Perryscope Concert Productions in Vancouver, and then with affiliations with regional promoters in the United States, including holding a 50% stake in Feyline Productions of Denver
Under Cohl, CPI created new revenue streams around tours, including utilizing aggressive merchandising, VIP ticketing, and fan clubs. in 1987, Cohl and Ballard became partners with Labattís in BCL Entertainment which became CPIís parent.
Fogelís life changed forever when Cohl wrangled the Rolling Stones' 1989 Steel Wheels world tour from San Francisco-based promoter Bill Graham. Suddenly, Fogel, who had moved up through the ranks to become CPIís president, found himself routing a Stones world tour despite having no prior experience of promoting or producing shows overseas.
However, while CPI continued to produce an average of more than 250 concerts per year, Fogel, by planning out further international tours by the Rolling Stones as well as with Pink Floyd and David Bowie in the '90, became a major player on the global stage.
The traditional take on the Cohl/Fogel relationship in those years was that the colorful Cohl was the hard-nosed master chess strategist with a global vision (and enough cards up his sleeve to confound his opponents) while Fogel was the nuts-and-bolts administrator who nailed down the most minute details of any venture.
That might be a widely-held industry perception but, as insiders might tell you, it is not quite true.
Cohl may possess those large-scale attributes but heís also renowned for tracking down the tiniest detail of a business. And Fogel is a fierce and competitive negotiator in his own right.
Fogel continued in his CPI global capacity until MCA Concerts Canada and Molson Breweries purchased the concert divisions of BCL Entertainment, including CPI (which Cohl would later take back and sell again in separate deals to SFX, Clear Channel and Live Nation). Cohl then launched The Next Adventure with Fogel as a partner.
Based in Toronto and Bermuda, TNA became the largest promoter/producer of international tours, including those with the Rolling Stones, U2, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and others.
In 1999, TNA was sold to SFX, which eventually became Live Nation in 2005. For over a decade, Fogel has flourished at his new corporate home with tours by U2 , Madonna, David Bowie, Sting, Rush, Blue Man Group, and the Police.
Fogel is producing U2ís 360į Tour which has sold almost three million tickets to date. The tour is global and lengthy. U2 will stay in Europe through Aug. 22, then hit North American shores on Sept. 12 until Oct. 28.† The band plans to be working until the fall of 2010.
In 2008, Madonnaís Sticky & SweetĒ tour grossed over $280 million, with another $130 million anticipated from her current summer European stint.†
Fogel was instrumental in both Madonna and U2 signing Live Tour 360-degree share-revenue deals. Madonna bought into that vision after spending months with Fogel on her 2006 Confessions tour.
As tour producer, Fogel organizes promotion, routing, marketing and the efforts of local production staff and promoters. He also takes care of the production budget, hiring key personnel who hire their own staff; and contracts vendors.
While Fogel rarely places himself out in the sunlight glare of media, throughout a tour, he very visibly is the guy in charge.
Has it been a burden having both U2 and Madonna touring Europe at the same time this summer?
Iíve managed to avoid a conflict for 10 years. Not this summer. Both tours have done amazing but it is challenging and hard work (working both). The two biggest acts in the world, and Iím right there.
How extensive is U2ís 360į Tour?
This year itís 44 shows between Europe and North America. Next year, we will re-do Europe and North America and possibly do South America at the end of the year. I donít know if there will be anything else. Likely, next year will be between 40 and 50 shows.
You produced U2ís Vertigo tour (2005-06) that grossed $385 to $389 million. How does this tour compare?
This tour will, in all likelihood, end up being the highest-grossing tour in history. We are at almost three million tickets sold. This yearís gross will be $300 million plus. If you layer on next yearís shows, itís certainly going to top $600 million. The top tour of all time was the Rolling Stonesí 40 Licks tour (2002-3) which (grossed) around $540 million.
Has the 360į Tour staging opened up increased ticketing opportunities?
Yes. Basically, for every two show we do, we are doing three because in most places we have added 20,000 tickets to the (venueís) capacity.
[The 360į Tour features a round stage, designed by Willie Williams and architect Mark Fisher, positioned on the stadium floor with the band surrounded by their audience. By elevating the sound and lighting equipment, the elements that traditionally obscure performers from their audience were removed.]
ďSticky & SweetĒ is Madonnaís biggest tour of her career?
Thereís no question. The first Madonna tour I did in 2001 (The Drowned World Tour) grossed around $95 million, if memory serves. The re-Invention Tour (in 2004) was $125 million, and the Confessions Tour (in 2006) was around $195 million.
The Sticky & Sweet tour is going to do $420 million (gross). We did $280 million in last yearís dates and now thereís this two month run to end the tour.
You look at (the tour) and you go, ďSheís bigger than sheís ever been.Ē Whatever the peripheral issues are about her, people want to pick at her, but sheís an amazing performer who puts on a great show. She is one of the biggest global acts today, certainly the biggest female global act. Everybody knows Madonna. She is arguably the most famous woman in the world.
Has your role and responsibilities with Madonna stepped up with each tour?
Yes. The first tour I was involved with I wasnít the producer. I was just the promoter. After a fourth tour, the confidence is there (between us), the history is there. It works well. I think being the incredible wise and astute businesswomen she is, she saw the (Live Nation 360 degree) model, the ultimate partnership model, as making sense. So, just like, U2, it has become a partnership with her..
U2 manager Paul McGuiness claims that your relationship with U2 goes back to the bandís first Canadian gig at the El Mocambo Tavern on Dec. 9, 1980.
I donít precisely remember the El Mocambo with U2. Thatís a long time ago. But I remember a show at the Maple Leaf Ballroom on St. Clair Avenue ((March 10, 1981). That was the second play for U2 in Toronto (with opening act the Diodes). I think U2 was one of the few bands that ever played that place. These Irish guys owned it. Each step working with U2 through the years in Canada led to me becoming their world-wide promoter/producer, just before the PopMart tour in 1997.
[The Maple Leaf Ballroom, operated by John Gilligan, was an institution in Toronto for several decades. It brought in top show bands from Ireland.]
U2 has considerable weight as a live act today.
No question. They are bigger today than they ever have been. But thereís also another dimension to that. Performing is an art form into itself. I canít tell you how many times Iíve gone to see the flavor of the month buzz band opening, and they are shitty live. They go up and (just) play their songs.
Itís called a show because people want to see a show. They want to be entertained. They want to be excited.
Why U2 is bigger today as a live attraction than they have ever been is because they are great live. They know how to deliver a show. People then want to go to the next show, and word-of-mouth builds (demand).
You were closely involved in the 360 degree deal negotiations with U2 and Madonna. While the predicted value of these deals seems huge some suggest that these will turn out to be safe bets for Live Nation.
Thereís no question. We are not in the habit of making stupid deals. When you truly analyze the potential from those deals in all of the different areas that we are partners in, it is absolutely a no-brainer to me. What better partners are there than U2, Madonna, Jay-Z, Shakira and Nickelback? All great artists with great futures in front of them.
Yet, since Michael Cohl left Live Nation last summer, there havenít been any more such deals.
Thatís true. Thereís any number of reasons of why that is. At this time, there are certain things that we want to get in place, and different strategies that we want to execute on.
Was there also a sense of, perhaps, that Live Nation was moving too fast with these deals? That with five acts, it was time for to develop the careers of the acts signed?
Yep. That was part of it as well. You never have to worry about opportunities being out there, but do you need to get a foundation in place.
Most people didnít think CPI could pull off the Rolling Stonesí Steel Wheels world tour in 1989. You and Michael Cohl may have known how to tour North America but you didnít have a clue about the world wide market.
We didnít have a clue. Well, it was a challenge. Iím remember sitting around just before the tour and having these philosophical and business discussions about where (CPI) could go. How do you break out of Canada and shape a global business? We went for it. I suppose it could have gone wrong but it didnít.
Iím not sure you could have accomplished what you did with many other groups other than the Rolling Stones at that time.
No I donít think so either. Thereís a built-in leverage when itís the Rolling Stones driving the train. But all credit (goes) to Mr. Cohl. The band had faith in him and his team. We pulled it off.
How difficult was the learning curve?
It was pretty intense. It was a challenge (doing the routing). But it was an amazing learning experience too, and that tour really (was) the spring board for the past 20 years.
CPI was doing some 250 shows a year in North America but it hadnít operated overseas at that point. What was the concert† industry climate overseas in the Ď80s?
It really was the Wild West 20 years ago. Since then, a lot of territories have emerged and developed as viable concert markets today, including Eastern Europe and South America,
By then, CPI had become North Americaís innovator in full-service touring, but there was sizable resentment in the U.S. because of the companyís strategy of consolidating local markets by either buying out local promoters or forcing them to partner shows.
Did the Europeans perceive CPI as a carpetbagger coming into their territory?
Well, I donít think that there was any questions that we were received as a massive threat to what the world order was at that point in time. In those days (the industry)† was very much a local based business with fiefdoms. Each guy had a power base and we really threw a monkey wrench into that way of doing business. But I think when you fast forward to today, it really was a revolutionary way of approaching these mega-tours.
Really, the foundation of (our) strategy was what Bob Sillerman perfected several years later (with SFX). The flip side to that was (considering) if it wasnít better to go out into the world with 100 shows or more with the best acts in the world as opposed to promoting 100 shows with 100 different acts in a (single) market? Some you made money on; some you lost money on. These are completely different business (models). Ultimately, I think we were absolutely right about the direction we took 20 plus years ago.
Your first world wide David Bowie tour was the year following the Steel Wheels tour. Then came more large-scale international tours in the Ď90s with Pink Floyd, U2 and others.
Each subsequent tour and each new project brought a better understanding, and a better approach to what we do. You canít buy experience, right? So one fed to the next. Of course, 20 years provides a long learning curve. Every day we continue to learn. But you canít beat that 20 years experience.
Where do you live today?
Iíve been in Los Angeles for 8 1/2 years. I was in Bermuda for three years (1995-1997). We moved there because we formed TNA and our base of promoting operation wasnít Toronto, it was the world. I briefly came back to Toronto and then went to LA with Clear Channel. Today, my office is at Live Nation in LA. I have a couple of people working there. The backbone of our global touring operation is still in Toronto. I have 20 employees there. I had the opportunity early on to put together a really good team of people, many of whom are still with me.
You are proud of your team.
They are fantastic. Without the infrastructure and backbone, (these tours) wouldnít be possible, really. And, when you layer on that the platform that has been created by Live National globally, it really is impressive.
[Fogelís formidable core team includes senior VP Gerry Barad; VP of legal and business affairs Eric Kert; VP of tour operations Craig Evans; marketing dir. Susan Rosenberg; dir. of touring Tres Thomas; tour dir. Tim McWilliams; and tour production accountant Ian Jeffery.
"It is that machine that they put together in Toronto that is really at the heart of Arthur's operation," says U2 manager Paul McGuiness. ďThey are the best in the world at what they do.Ē]
Back in the CPI days, the first order of business in putting together a huge tour was lining up investors to bankroll production costs and artist guarantees that could reach $100 million.
With SFX, then Clear Channel and now Live Nation providing the capital and, in some cases the venues, has that taken the pressure off you?
Totally. It just put it in a whole other context, and on a whole different level. And you are right. Those days of raising cash, they were stressful. But to Cohlís credit he pulled that end of it off. Again, it was the Wild West in certain parts of the world, and we were living in the Wild West (in raising tour financing).
How far before a tour do you start planning?
Usually from 4 to 6 months before. There are variables that come into play but, generally with my relationships with acts and their manager, we sit down and I indicate to them what I am thinking. We then figure out what the vision for the tour should be, what the routing will be and (pricing of) tickets.
Have you started to plan out a tour and then thought, ďThis is not going to work?Ē
Yes. There are opportunities that come along that you look at it, and think, ďThis doesnít feel goodĒ or ďI donít think that it will work at the level that they (management and band) think it will work.Ē
You have had two high-profile tour missteps: the derailed Return to Love tour by Diana Ross with the-not-quite Supremes in 2000, and a Guns N' Roses tour in 2002 that fell apart.
First, the Diana Ross tour.
Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Bottom line it didnít work. I knock on wood that those situations donít present themselves very often. But is was an experience.
Guns Ní Roses?
Axl is incredibly talented and Guns ĎN Roses as a performing act are brilliant. But at a certain point, with no disrespect intended, itís not worth (touring some acts) for the drama and the grief. For me, it wasnít worth it.
What are the advantages of using a single promoter? Do they include cost efficiency, increased revenue streams and greater control of marketing?
Well, thereís certainly that. The fundamental of it all is two-fold. From 1989 onward, starting with the Rolling Stonesí Steel Wheels tour, Iíve spent my life developing a global touring expertise. For U2, Madonna, Sting (which led to the Police), Madonna and David Bowie, itís the marketing, and having somebody 24/7 that is putting together a tour with the artistís interest being first and foremost.
In essence, you are partners with the artist.
That is absolutely right. And as a consequence of that relationship or the result of that relationship, it translates into a much more cost-effective way to (tour) and a much more profitable way to do it. My expertise, I guess, is about maximizing revenue for the artists that I work with in a way that the traditional system canít.
Your job includes handling routing, strategizing promotion and marketing and coordinating local production staff and vendors. Are those different for each territory or for each gig?
Yeah. Thereís no question that you do this sort of thing around the world and you encounter all sorts of differences. I suppose that is just the nature of global business. Some times, I will think, ďOh shit, I have to go on the road.Ē There are reasons why thatís a complicating issue in oneís life. But in terms of maintaining your edge, and understanding the global arena, it is fantastic to tour the world every few years and stay in touch with all of the markets.
Before his Sacred Love tour (2003-2005), Sting hadnít worked with a single tour producer. Later, you snapped the Policeís Reunion tour that followed.
Stingís very smart. Heís got great people that look after him on the business and management side. Heís a pleasure to work with. When I got involved with him I wasnít thinking of the Police reforming but that was an incredible opportunity. It was a great experience, and so successful. Iíd never worked on a Police show prior to that tour. The Garys (Gary Topp and Gary Cormier) were the promoters of the Police in Canada.
Did you deal with Michael Rapino (CEO/ president of Live Nation) when he was at Labattís in Toronto, and when he headed Clear Channel Entertainmentís European operations?
Rapino is a good friend from our days in Toronto when he was with Labattís and I was with CPI. He then came into the Clear Channel world, and ended up running Europe for Clear Channel Entertainment. By then, I was part of Clear Channel too, so I was communicating regularly with Rapino. We would talk about how we saw the company and where we thought it should head. Ultimately, he ended up as the CEO as he should of. Heís definitely the right guy. Heís an incredibly skilled CEO with great vision and leadership (qualities). Heís really overseen this company emerging to what it is today.
[Canadian born Rapino worked at Labatt's Breweries of Canada for 10 years in various progressive marketing and entertainment roles. While at Labatt's, as dir. of entertainment and sports, he worked closely with Labatt's-owned Toronto Blue Jays and with CPI. He subsequently became head of Labatt's Marketing brands.
Upon leaving Labatt's, Rapino co-founded Core Audience Entertainment which was acquired by SFX in 1999, creating SFX Canada. After running Clear Channel Entertainmentís Canadian operation, Rapino ascended to the head of its European operation in 2001, before being named global music head in Aug. 2005.]
It must be helpful that, while you have 20 years experience on the global stage, Rapino knows the international market from being in Europe. Does he have an understanding of the challenges facing you?
He absolutely has that. And he has tremendous qualities that he honed from his corporate days at Labattís. The skill set you need to run a public company and, in particular a public entertainment company, is no easy task. Heís done a masterful job.
In essence, you changed the funnel of concert promoting in such a way that you take the act to market instead of hiring an act for individual shows. But you canít utilize that strategy with developing acts on a global basis.
As part of Live Nation, we can do it all, really. What I do in the global touring world is one small segment of what the company is. A lot of time and effort by Live Nation is devoted to developing new acts. It is a lot harder, obviously, than it used to be.
The top 25 list of touring acts is dominated by acts that first achieved success a quarter century ago or more.
Thatís absolutely true. That is a concern for the industry as a whole.† However, I remain pretty optimistic that we will continue on as an industry and replenish. But it certainly is not an easy exercise.
What markets can be opened up?
Clearly, India and China with their huge populations are still underdeveloped markets but both are very challenging markets to develop. It is going to take a long time, a lot longer than some impatient people want to think for those markets to truly develop as international touring markets. Itís very expensive to go to those places. On the other hand, over the past 20 years, I have seen Mexico and South America develop into real markets as well as Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
Have you worked in China?
The only thing Iíve been involved in China with was the Rolling Stones playing there (as part of the Licks world tour). U2 hasnít played there. Nor has Madonna. There are all kinds of issues in a market like that beyond financial. What you wear. What you say.
You are originally from Ottawa?
Yes, I left Ottawa to go to McMaster University (in Hamilton, Ontario) taking an arts degree. Then I came to Toronto.
You were the night manager at the Toronto club, The Edge (also known as Egertonís). How did you come to join CPI ?
While working at The Edge I met Martha & the Muffins. I left The Edge to become their tour manager. While I was tour managing them I met Norman Perry (of Perryscope Concert Productions) when we did a gig for him in Vancouver. He then moved to Toronto to work for Michael Cohl at CPI and hired me at CPI in 1981.
Were you any good as a tour manager?
Yeah, I was pretty good. Iím a pretty organized and disciplined guy, even back then. It was certainly crazier times.
What attracted you to be on the concert promotion side of the business?
Iím not 100% sure other than from the time I was in college, or even before, I wanted to be in the business. I kind of fell into it when I got that call from Norman. I thought there was a great opportunity to learn a different side of the business.
And did you?
Oh yes, I did all kinds of jobs when I started at CPI. Eventually, I got into the booking side, booking clubs, and concert halls. I graduated to booking Massey Hall. Then when BCL Entertainment (CPIís parent company) created the merchandising division The Brockum Group, Norman went to run that, and I ran the concert (division). It was a great learning experience to work at CPI.
After TNA was sold to SFX in 1989, you didnít work directly with Michael Cohl for several years. Did you stay in close touch?
Yep. Over the Rolling Stonesí tours in that period, our global touring division was hired by him to help put The tours togetheróthe bookings and the marketing.
[In 2006, Live Nation acquired a controlling interest in the touring division of CPI, and a 50% interest in Grand Entertainment, then worldwide promoter of the Rolling Stones. Cohl then became Live Nationís chairman. He abruptly stepped down last year.]
Were you hopeful when Michael joined Live Nation that you could again work closely together? Or had you grown too differently? Your learning curves were quite different following TNA.
Thereís no question that when Michael came there was the expectation of us picking up where we had left off. But itís difficult. As you emerge as your own operator, and as time passes, things change.
Cohl certainly contributed to your development as a tour producer and promoter
I will forever be grateful and appreciative of the opportunities and the mentoring I got from Michael and from Donald K (Donald Tarlton of Donald K. Donald in Montreal). But, and I suppose it is an ultimately a tribute to them, that I sort of set my own course. I developed my own relationships, and I took the (global touring) model in my own direction. Certainly, Cohl is at the top of my list (of career influences). Donald played a big role and Norman Perry. As well, Paul McGuiness has been a great inspiration and a great teacher,
You must be proud of being one of those who changed the concert business globally.
Absolutely, I am proud. I couldnít have written this script 25 or 30 years ago. Itís pretty amazing. When Iím in a full stadium somewhere in the world and I look around, I will sometimes think, ďHoly shit, this is pretty cool!Ē
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.