The Fate of Fantasma – Stoll’s Fantasma
sold to Live Nation; Valentino and others jump to AEG Live
Author: Gil Kaufman
Date: April 01,2008

In a series of twists worthy of a Shakespearean drama, over the
course of one week in early March, one of the last big independent
promoters in Florida to survive the SFX buyouts of the early
2000’s sold its assets to Live Nation, while the trusted
deputy of that company and nearly all of his staff jumped ship to
rival AEG Live.        

           
Just days before leaving Fantasma, longtime executive vice
president John Valentino was still talking about the
company’s future. But, just like it was impossible for
someone to replace the irrepressible Bill Graham following his
tragic death in 1991, nobody imagined that we’d see the likes
of Florida promoter Jon Stoll again, and certainly no one expected
that his fiercely independent company would wind up in the hands of
his sometime
rival.         

           
“I was trying to do the best thing for Jon’s family, my
staff and the music scene and this is the best solution all
around,” said Valentino of his decision to leave Fantasma,
after the deal with Live Nation was announced, to become senior
vice president of AEG Live’s new Florida office. “We
may have found it even though we weren’t looking for
it.”           

           
Following Fantasma Production founder Stoll’s death in
January at the age of 54, it was unclear what would happen to the
independent concert promotion company he’d preserved from
corporate takeover and grown into a force in South Florida, and
which was still booking acts for SunFest, Mizner Park Amphitheater
in Boca Raton, Fla., and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in
Hollywood,
Fla.            

           
Then it was announced that Live Nation had agreed to purchase the
majority of Fantasma’s assets, including the company’s
slate of shows, leases on two outdoor mid-size music venues (the
2,900-capacity Pompano Beach Amphitheatre and Grounds and the
3,500-capacity Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton). Those
acquisitions add to LN’s already strong South Florida
portfolio of venues, which includes: the House of Blues in Orlando
(capacity 2,100), the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa (capacity 19,000),
Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach (capacity 19,000) and the
new Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theatre in Miami
Beach (capacity 2,100). The deal and also includes rights to two
outdoor festivals put on by Fantasma, SunFest and the Wanee
Festival.

           
As part of the deal, Stoll’s widow would retain an interest
in the profits of the acquired business for a period of years and
take a senior position in Live Nation’s Florida
office.  

           
In a statement, the President of Live Nation Florida, Neil
Jacobsen, said, “Over the past year we have worked hard to
strengthen our presence in the Florida market, and this agreement
is a major step in that expansion.” Live Nation would not
comment further on the deal and Lori Stoll could not be reached
through Fantasma’s
office.           

           
For Valentino, once the Live Nation deal was consummated, the
writing was on the wall. “I wanted to maintain my office and
the option under Live Nation didn’t involve bringing nearly
as many of my staff, and [it required] a commute that was a long
way away and reporting to someone locally.” Instead,
Valentino signed a deal with AEG that not only allowed him to keep
most of his staff intact, but also provided him with a 12-minute
commute to the new West Palm Beach offices, access to AEG’s
resources and the opportunity to give the company its first
on-the-ground presence in the Florida
market.          

           
The 15 Fantasma direct employees and three Fantasma Tours employees
whom Valentino has brought on so far, many with 20 or more years
with the company, include: George Perley (director of production),
Kathy Bohan (office manger/regional comptroller), Amanda Ances
(marketing manager), Erica Rieke (marketing manager), Ethan
Levinson (buyer), Allen Anders (producer/buyer), Carrie Swett
(artist relations), Colyn Volpe (artist relations) and one other
staffer whose position he is still working on.

           
In a business where loyalty isn’t always a virtue, Allen
Johnson, executive director of Orlando Venues, including the Amway
Arena, said Stoll and Fantasma bred an allegiance that won’t
likely fade. “Obviously, when you lose someone like Jon
— even though he had 20-30 employees on the arena side
— Jon was still the guy who kept the pressure up and
maintained the relationship and made it feel like it was his show
and people knew that,” said Johnson. “Obviously, John
Valentino and the whole staff have picked up the slack, but some of
those relationships were Jon’s and that will be a challenge
for them.”       

           
What is still up in the air is where some of the business will
fall. “John Valentino did a lot of the festival business
himself, so will they follow the name or the person, that remains
to be seen,” Johnson said. “It didn’t surprise me
that they all went to AEG. It’s a close-knit company and some
of them had been there for 25 years and had great working
relationships and a camaraderie built
up.”           

           
AEG Live’s President and CEO Randy Phillips said he began
meeting with Fantasma’s lawyer while Stoll was still alive
and was willing to make a deal with the company whether Stoll made
a full recovery or not from his stroke, just because of the
promoter’s vast wealth of knowledge of the market. “I
loved his independent spirit, and I loved that he didn’t sell
out,” Phillips said. AEG was in active negotiations for
Fantasma before Christmas, with Phillips feeling that the company
would be in better hands under his umbrella, both emotionally for
the employees and in honoring Stoll’s
memory.        

           
In keeping with the constant chess match with Live Nation, though,
Phillips said he felt his rival simply wanted to “keep us out
of the market,” and so AEG was outbid on the deal.
“They valued it slightly more than we did,” he said,
pointing to what he said was a five-year employment contract for
Lori Stoll that put the deal out of AEG’s reach.

           
While he won’t be working under the Fantasma banner for the
first time in nearly three decades, Valentino said he’ll
strive to keep the company’s and Stoll’s spirit alive.
“I hope we continue on in the way Jon and I and the staff did
business for many years,” he said.  Phillips is excited
to plant a flag in South Florida and vowed that, “when it
comes to competing with Live Nation, we have no trouble doing that.
It’s costing us a couple of million dollars a year to run
that office, but we feel it’s well worth it. I’d invest
in passion over brick and mortar any
day.”           

           
Valentino already is working on upcoming AEG Live tours by
artists including Alicia Keys and, at the end of the day, he said,
“all’s well that ends well.”

 

Interviewed for this story: Allen Johnson, (407) 810- 3055; John
Valentino, (561) 889-2618; Randy Phillips, (323) 930-5701