Robert F.X. Sillerman Dies at 71; Built Entertainment Empires


Robert F.X. Sillerman, an investor and media executive who built and sold radio empires, controlled the Elvis Presley estate and consolidated the American concert industry, died on Sunday. He was 71.

His brother, Michael, confirmed his death but gave no other details. Mr. Sillerman had recently been living in Hinsdale, N.H.

For decades, Mr. Sillerman was a regular in the headlines of the financial press, buying and selling numerous media and entertainment businesses, often at a huge profit, and presenting a brash public persona that sometimes rivaled those of the celebrities he dealt with.

When Mr. Sillerman tried to corner the fractious world of dance music festivals in the early 2010s, for example, he played the part of a devil-may-care rebel to a sometimes puzzling extent. He posed for publicity photos in clothes emblazoned with profanities, and after a video of Mr. Sillerman making an obscene gesture circulated on social media, a Wall Street analyst was prompted to question his sanity. Mr. Sillerman called it an inside joke.

But for years he had maintained a golden touch in building media franchises and extracting maximum value from them.

Starting in the late 1970s, Mr. Sillerman built a portfolio of radio and television stations worth nearly $1 billion, and in 1993 he founded SFX Broadcasting with a partner, R. Steven Hicks. Helped by federal deregulation of radio ownership rules, the two were able to quickly amass a chain of more than 70 stations, which they sold in 1997 to a larger rival, Capstar Broadcasting, for $2.1 billion.

By that time Mr. Sillerman had turned his sights on another industry ripe for consolidation: the nationwide concert circuit, which had long remained a loosely connected network of venues and promoters who operated regional fiefs.

Over a few years in the late 1990s, Mr. Sillerman and his new company, SFX Entertainment, spent more than $2 billion acquiring dozens of promoters and venues, creating the concert world’s first truly national force. A crucial part of his strategy was using the nationwide audience at SFX’s shows to lure sponsorship deals by big consumer brands like Smirnoff and Levi’s.

“We want to make money both by selling tickets and by putting a live audience in front of Madison Avenue,” he said in an interview in 1998.

Mr. Sillerman’s plan transformed the concert industry even as it drew complaints, which still linger, about rising ticket prices and the outsize power of a centralized super promoter.

In 2000, the radio chain Clear Channel Communications bought SFX for $4.4 billion. Five years later, Clear Channel spun off those concert assets into a separate company, Live Nation, which in 2010 merged with Ticketmaster to become Live Nation Entertainment, the biggest concert promoter in the world.

Robert Franklin Sillerman was born in Manhattan on April 12, 1948, to Michael McKinley Sillerman, a radio and television executive, and Estelle (Levande) Sillerman. Robert, who grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, was born on the third anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his original middle name was a tribute to the former president.

Mr. Sillerman’s marketing talents emerged early. As a teenager he started his own greeting card company, buying cards in bulk and enlisting youngsters to sell them. While attending Brandeis University, he founded Youth Market Consultants, which sold magazine subscriptions to students and in turn advised companies on how to reach that market.

He graduated from Brandeis in 1969 and, three years later, sold Youth Marketing Consultants to Ingalls, an advertising firm in Boston. At Ingalls he met a young copywriter, Laura Baudo, who would become his wife. Along with Mr. Sillerman’s brother, Ms. Baudo Sillerman survives him. Their daughter, Mackinley, died in 2012.

By the time Mr. Sillerman began buying radio stations in the late 1970s, he was using a new name — Robert F.X. Sillerman. He often named his companies using some combination of those initials.

After selling SFX Entertainment, Mr. Sillerman pursued various entertainment projects. He was one of the producers of “The Producers,” the Broadway hit, by his friend Mel Brooks, that ran for six years and pushed the limits of ticket prices on Broadway. He also acquired a majority of the Presley estate, with the right to operate Graceland, the Presley home in Memphis; took over the company behind the long-running television hit “American Idol”; and acquired the rights to Muhammad Ali’s name and likeness.

But Mr. Sillerman’s success ran out in recent years when he tried to repeat his concert model with a new version of SFX Entertainment, this time going after electronic dance music, or EDM, a bull market in 2012, when Mr. Sillerman opened the company with a $1 billion war chest.

At first, advertisers and investors flocked to the new SFX. But the company’s performance was weak, and its stock price eventually plunged by more than 95 percent. It declared bankruptcy in 2016, and many of the assets it had amassed were sold off.

Mr. Sillerman largely withdrew in recent years, moving to New Hampshire and dealing with the fallout from the collapse of several businesses. This year, he agreed to pay a $179,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission for defrauding investors of another of his companies, Function(x).

But in making his push for the new version of SFX in 2012, he spoke with boundless optimism about the potential for his new company.

“I’m also confident that we will create a better experience for the fans,” Mr. Sillerman said in an interview with The New York Times. “Can we monetize that? If we can, this will dwarf the first SFX. That’s the whole game.”



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