Media Mogul Eyes Chicago from 'Rugrats' to MJ, to Stones, High-Rolling SFX a Headliner in the Entertainment Industry

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Byline: Mike Comerford Daily Herald Business Writer

Heralding the stock listing of mega-entertainment conglomerate SFX Entertainment, singer Rod Stewart this week was head-butting soccer balls onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

One of the tours that SFX books, the aging rocker's presence in the very heart of Wall Street mixed metaphors fitting of the company itself. Part entertaining but all business, SFX is at the forefront of a revolution in the entertainment business.

That revolution has reached the Chicago area and as in any revolution, things could get bloody.

The speed and completeness of SFX's entry into the market has sparked heated criticism that it will monopolize the best venues and drive up ticket prices.

Indeed, the world's largest promoter, producer and venue operator of live entertainment events, SFX now dominates the area's largest venues and ticket prices are rising.

In January, SFX had no local presence.

By April, it had obtained exclusive booking rights to the Allstate Arena (formerly the Rosemont Horizon), the Rosemont Theatre, Alpine Valley Music Theater and had obtained ownership of The World Music Theatre.

One of the first acts that came to the Rosemont Horizon under the SFX flag was another aging rocker, Farm Aid's Neil Young. Railing against the "big corporations," the 1960s symbol of counter-revolution was still raking in the proceeds of $75 concert seats.

Throughout the concert industry, ticket prices has been rising faster than inflation in general. The Rolling Stones at the United Center last year reportedly were garnering as much as $350 for tickets and the Paul Simon and Bob Dylan 30-city tour this summer will be going for as much as $125 a ticket. Cher is coming to Chicago later this year and is also likely to ask for $75.

Luxury seating, upscale food and VIP packages that include separate entrances and meetings with the stars are now part of the scene.

However, SFX and others in the industry argue that its rise to the heights of the entertainment business has not contributed to the rapid ticket price rises.

"It's the artist not the promoter that sets ticket prices," said Harry Pappas, executive director of the Allstate Arena. "Anyone who says differently doesn't know what they're talking about."

Criticism that SFX will homogenize the concert scene also is unfair, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor and chief of Pollstar magazine, a weekly trade magazine for the concert industry.

"The biggest facilities were always going to the biggest, national bands," Bongiovanni said. "SFX has grown by buying a lot of little promoters and they are going to listen to them. They are going to listen to their local experts. …