O2 European GC: Stadium performer
9 January 2012 | Updated: 9 January 2012 9:48 am
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Chris Kangis, European general counsel at London entertainment venue the O2, is proving his worth on the big stage
Every year more than two million people stream into the vast tent in Greenwich once known as the Millennium Dome and now rebranded as the ‘O2’. They come for concerts, sporting events and awards ceremonies; to shop and eat and generally have a good time.
Work and play
But Chris Kangis goes to the O2 for another reason – to work. Kangis is European general counsel for the O2’s owner, AEG Europe Facilities. As well as looking after the legal work for the London arena and the surrounding facilities, Kangis is also responsible for AEG’s other European venues, which include the Stockholm Arena and Galatasaray FC’s Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The O2 is the largest of AEG Europe’s venues. Kangis took over as general counsel for facilities last year, shifting over from sister company AEG Live. The work of the two businesses is related, but quite different: AEG Live is a music promoter, organising tours and events, while AEG Europe manages the actual facilities – booking events in, dealing with contractual issues and looking after the franchises that lease premises in the so-called ‘entertainment districts’ around the arenas.
“The relationship is very much between the building and the promoter,” says Kangis. “We effectively hire the arena to them.”
In his new role Kangis manages a team of three lawyers in the UK and one in Germany. Although there are issues across Europe, he deals with these remotely. The position was created after an internal restructure.
“It was felt there was a need for someone to be looking more at Europe,” Kangis explains.
Like many other in-house counsel, the AEG Europe team takes on a wide variety of work, from the strictly legal to offering advice that is less so. One of the team’s main jobs is making sure that contracts between event promoters and the arenas are correctly drafted – and with around 190 events a year, that is a lot of contracts.
Kangis says that quite often the promoters using the arenas are the same people, who know how things work. AEG Europe has a standard form contract that is used as much as possible.
“If they were all different it would be fairly tricky,” he notes.
Once the contract is signed, much of the pure legal work is done. But the team’s input on an event rarely stops there.
“It’s rare that we don’t get some query or other about what someone can or can’t do,” adds Kangis.
Another area that heavily involves the legal team is sponsorship. AEG Europe’s partnership with telecoms company O2 raised a number of eyebrows, and it took some time for the venue’s rebrand to be accepted. However, the relationship is now integral to the promotion of the O2 and that can raise questions when a sponsored artist books an event at the venue if there is a conflict.
While O2 is the main sponsor for the London arena there are also others, such as Sky, while other venues have their own name sponsors.
“We try to work as closely as we can with our sponsors’ legal teams, as they’re really partners,” explains Kangis.
Another key relationship is that between AEG Europe and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog), as the O2 is hosting the artistic gymastics, trampoline, basketball and wheelchair basketball events for London 2012 – although it will be known as the ‘North Greenwich Arena’ for the duration.
Preparations really kicked off this month with a test event for the gymnastics, but the legal work has been ongoing for some time. Kangis reveals that the contract with Locog was restructured last year, as it was originally drawn up before AEG Europe took over the management of the venue.
“That’s one of our biggest relationships,” he adds. “It’s a massive piece of work, both from their side and ours. They’re down here a lot and we have people who are working hard on the Olympics.”
Despite the AEG Europe legal team being fairly small, most commercial and contractual work is done in-house. Real estate and development work, along with major transactions, require external advice. Kangis inherited longstanding
relationships with several firms, including Bryan Cave, Herbert Smith, Olswang and Hogan Lovells. The latter came out of the company’s US parent and is a legacy Hogan & Hartson relationship. White & Case is a regular adviser in Germany.
Kangis says he is likely to continue instructing advisers on this basis in the future, with no plans to form a formal panel.
The live entertainment industry has not been immune from the economic storm of the past few years, relying as it does on spectators spending a significant proportion of their declining disposable incomes. Kangis says the O2 in particular has survived well, although the economic climate remains challenging.
“We’re lucky in that the O2 has managed to keep a lot of its customer base,” he says. “We’re lucky with the events we attract, which have large fan bases of people who want to come.”
To help keep them coming, Kangis says AEG Europe and similar companies have to keep an eye on issues such as ticketing, clamping down on touting and other illegal activities.
By and large, however, he believes there is plenty to keep the crowds coming in under the now-iconic yellow struts of the Greenwich tent.
AEG Europe Facilities
Title: European general counsel, AEG Europe Facilities
Industry: Facilities management
Reportingto: Chief legal and development officer Sarah McGuigan
Company turnover:Not disclosed
Annual legal spend:£500,000 (UK)
Legal capability: Five (four in the UK, one in Germany)
Main external law firms:Bryan Cave, Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells, Olswang
General counsel, NEC Group
The UK’s other major facilities and venue group is NEC Group, which operates Birmingham’s major exhibition centres and arenas such as the National Exhibition Centre and the National Indoor Arena (NIA).
Like the O2, sponsorship is a key part of managing the centres, with the need to balance the requirements of venue sponsors with those of event sponsors.
NEC Group general counsel Keith Marriott says the trick is to make sure such eventualities are catered for in the initial contracts.
“It’s difficult because anybody buying these rights is going to say, ‘I don’t want anyone else advertising in my space’, but our business is about selling venue space,” he points out.
However, Marriott thinks sponsors are now “more relaxed” about such a situation and are prepared for it to arise.
Contracts are the key legal point for the NEC Group in its planned £21m refurbishment of the NIA. In order not to lose a single event the construction contracts will be staggered so the venue can stay open.
“The phasing of construction contracts for something like this is pretty critical,” adds Marriott.
While to date NEC Group has been primarily a UK company, it is beginning to look overseas. Like Kangis at AEG Europe, Marriott uses existing relationships as well as the networks of his panel firms to find lawyers in countries where the company has not traditionally been present.
Marriott is also grappling with the changing social media landscape and the need to balance privacy requirements with the benefit to the company of promoting venues or events over Twitter, Facebook and on big screens at the locations.
“We’re trying to get our buildings to start talking to the consumers,” he explains, adding that issues arise over the use of people’s faces, names or material over such media. “It’s fast-moving – there’s no time to vet and review everything that goes into these channels.”