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DiCesare-Engler/SFX

Will SFX buy grind the acts?

Local promoters fret over sale of DiCesare-Engler

Pittsburgh Business Times

Aug 10, 1998, 12:00am EDT

Patty Tascarella

 

STRIP DISTRICT -- New York-based SFX Broadcasting Inc.'s purchase of DiCesare-Engler Productions has left smaller concert promoters reeling.

It's certainly the end of an era -- and of the 25-year partnership of Pat DiCesare and Rich Engler. Mr. Engler and 11 employees will work for SFX, retaining the DiCesare-Engler name. Mr. DiCesare will promote other projects, occasionally working in tandem with his old partner.

While the purchase, at an undisclosed price, means change is definitely afoot in the local promotions market, no one's sure where exactly it will lead.

The benefit to SFX is clear. By acquiring a network of promoters who buy arena-size shows, SFX can easily book an act across the country.

But for smaller operators, who lack that level of financial backing and clout, the sale will either open opportunities or slam doors.

Jon Rinaldo, an owner of Shadyside-based Joker Productions, narrowed it down to two scenarios.

"They'll either put us -- meaning Joker, Elko Concerts and Next Big Thing Productions -- out of business, which would force at least myself to work for them," he said. "Or it will open up the doors for us as promoters as well. We establish these up-and-comer (acts) at 500- and 2,000-seat rooms, and they get snatched up by bigger promoters."

It's also a mixed bag for Pittsburgh. Among the likely fallout: ticket prices could go up, and many concerts could move to Star Lake, also owned by SFX.

Other unknowns include whether SFX will bring bigger, better or -- most important -- fresh names to Pittsburgh.

Even though SFX is assembling a nationwide network of promoters, the concert circuit is currently packed with revival tours featuring bands popular in the 1960s and '70s.

"How many times do you really want to see the same routines?" asked Michael Elko, who heads Monroeville-based Elko Concerts.

Mary Binder, arts and entertainment editor at the weekly alternative newspaper, Pittsburgh City Paper, thinks SFX's presence may make life harder for young bands who open for established talent. "Particularly in deals like this, there will be a tendency not to take chances on alternative bands that haven't proved themselves," she said. "They'll go for the established artists."

Mr. Elko thinks SFX may find the Pittsburgh market more difficult than its other beachheads. "It's a hard market, a secondary market as far as concert promotion goes. It's not like Cleveland or Philadelphia or Columbus, for that matter," he said. "We don't draw the same attendance and our ticket sales are last minute."

Many of these prospects for change hinge on the question of whether SFX is in the concert business for the long haul.

SFX, a $77 million entertainment company, launched in 1992, entered Pittsburgh on the heels of the 1996 telecommunications deregulation. SFX bought 67 radio stations that year -- including five of Pittsburgh's top 10. But by summer 1997, SFX began selling stations, including all of its assets here, snapping up concert promoters instead.

Mr. Engler said SFX was working on one-, three- and 10-year business plans, and will release some details later this year. But he said the new parent's resources enable DiCesare-Engler to offer special events and more concerts, while still nurturing local talent.

But business as usual for Mr. Engler may be a brave, new world for his competitors.

"Things will happen," said Jon Rinaldo "SFX is a gigantic monster that's taking over the entire entertainment industry. It's not fair. But it happens."