Phillip Anschutz: The Most Powerful Billionaire You Have Never Heard Of
Denver, Colorado-based devout Christian billionaire
A devout Christian, Anschutz, a Denver, Colorado-based billionaire who has made a chunk of his fortune in railroads, telecommunications, and the oil and gas businesses, has, through his Anschutz Entertainment Group, taken the entertainment industry by storm.
Anschutz owns the Regal Entertainment theater chain; movie making enterprises such as Walden Media, which co-produced The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,"(that grossed more than 1 billion in ticket and DVD sales); arenas, such as Los Angeles's Staples Center; a number of sports teams, including one-third of the LA Lakers basketball team, and stakes in the LA Kings hockey team and the LA Galaxy soccer team; and, Anschutz Entertainment Group's (AEG) concerts division promotes tours for pop stars like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Jon Bon Jovi.
Anschutz also owns, The Examiner chain of conservative newspapers, and last year, Anschutz added The Weekly Standard (bought for a reported $1 million from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation), an influential conservative magazine, to his ever-expanding quiver.
Anschutzing Los Angeles
For nearly 16 years, from the time that both the Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles, the city has been without a National Football League team. Now, thanks to Anschutz, within the next few years that could change.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles city council, "unanimously approved tentative plans by AEG to build a new NFL-quality stadium on the site of the outdated and underused LA Convention Center," Forbes magazine's Christopher Helman recently reported. "The deal still requires a raft of further approvals before construction can begin, but it shows that Anschutz is moving assuredly towards the goal of bringing pro football back to LA. And what Anschutz (net worth: $7.5 billion or so) wants, Anschutz usually gets." (Anschutz comes in at #34 on Forbes' list of "The Richest People in America.")
According to Helman, Anschutz's AEG, "would put up all the expected $1.2 billion to build the stadium, to be called Farmers Field. It would seat 72,000 and could be completed as soon as 2016. The only cost to LA taxpayers would be some $275 million in tax breaks."
Anschutz's stadium plan was aided by the California legislature. As the Los Angeles Times reported in September 2007, "One of the last things lawmakers did before they adjourned ... was to pass a measure that would make Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of Staples Center, eligible for millions of dollars in state funds to improve the downtown area around its arena."
Helman reported that the Kansas-born Anschutz's, "holding company has just sold its oil and gas fields in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and the Bakken Shale of North Dakota for roughly $3 billion--the biggest payday of his life."
According to Helman, "AEG, in partnership with Ryan Seacrest, soon plans to launch a new music-and-lifestyle-themed TV network that will bring viewers into the likes of LA Live, Shanghai's new Mercedes-Benz Arena and [England's] O2 [arena]."
The Odd Couple: Michael Jackson and Anschutz
Perhaps the strangest of Anschutz's business relationships revolves around the late Michael Jackson. Anschutz's AEG was the prime promoter of what was to be the "King of Pop's" spectacular comeback tour.
According to Portfolio.com's Matt Haber, the deal was, "potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars," as Anschutz's AEG Live, "would promote the 45 London Jackson events, ... at London's O2 arena, which ... [is] owned by AEG Worldwide. AEG was so committed to keeping the event on track, it paid Dr. Conrad Murray to act as the singer's personal physician. Dr. Murray is ... at the center of a police investigation into Jackson's overdose from the anesthetic Propofol."
AEG Live also partnered with Jackson's estate to release This is It, a movie put together from "more than 100 hours of footage of Jackson preparing for the concerts." Since its release, This Is It has become the highest grossing concert film in history, with over $250 million in worldwide sales and nearly $45 million in US DVD sales.
Anschutz's voice of choice appears to be The Examiner chain of free newspapers. According to The Examiner's Karen Holt, "His instructions to the editorial staff was simple - the editorial page would be composed only of conservative columns by conservative op-ed writers. " Amongst the regular contributors are "Byron York (National Review) - chief political correspondent; David Freddoso (author of The Case Against Barack Obama) - investigative reporter; and Michael Barone (Fox News) - senior political analyst." Anschutz "also owns Examiner.com - which offers hundreds of journalists the opportunity to create hyperlocal dispatches from the comfort of their homes."
According to newsmeat.com, Anschutz has donated nearly $550,000 to political candidates and causes, including $301,000 to special interest groups and $223,000 to Republican Party candidates and committees.
As I reported in a November 2007 story, Anschutz supported Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2, a ballot initiative designed to overturn a state law giving equal rights to gays and lesbians. He helped fund the Discovery Institute, a conservative philanthropy-supported "think tank" based in Seattle, Washington that promotes intelligent design and critiques some theories of evolution.
He has also contributed to Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, the New York-based Institute for American Values, another conservative philanthropy-supported organization that campaigns for marriage and against single parenting, Enough is Enough, whose President and Chair of its Board of Directors is Donna Rice Hughes (the major figure in the sex scandal that ended the 1987 campaign of Gary Hart, in the Democratic presidential primary), and which claims to be "Lighting the way to protect children and families from the dangers of illegal Internet pornography and sexual predators," and Morality in the Media, established in 1962 "to combat obscenity and uphold decency standards in the media."
One way that Anschutz expresses his political/Christian beliefs is through Walden Media films. According to the website Moria, "As with much of Walden Media's films, The Dark is Rising [adapted from a popular series of young-adult fantasy books from British author Susan Cooper] comes with an underlying conservative Christian agenda -.... director David L. Cunningham, who previously made the heavily conservative-biased The Road to 9/11 (2006) mini-series, which tried to blame 9/11 on the Clinton administration, is an evangelical Christian - indeed, Cunningham's father [Loren] is founder of the Christian youth organization YWAM [Youth With A Mission] and David has lectured on presenting a Christian message on film.
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