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The deal brokers
Family-film venture by Anschutz, Murdoch marks pair's latest power-pact episode in long-running series
By Tom McGhee, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An agreement between Denver financier Philip Anschutz's Walden Media, maker of "The Chronicles of Narnia" movies, and media titan Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to jointly develop family films isn't the first deal cut by this power couple.

Over the years, the Australian media mogul and Anschutz have partnered in deals including ownership of the Staples Center in Los Angeles and a now-dissolved sports-marketing venture, Fox Sports One.

The latest agreement, announced last week, gives News Corp.'s Fox Filmed Entertainment first rights to future Walden projects.

"They have done deals before which seemed to work out for everybody, so why not do another one?" media-industry analyst Dennis McAlpine asked.

Both men dwell in rarified social strata occupied by a small number of business titans.  They both attended the recent annual Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, a soiree that attracted 18 billionaires with a combined net worth of $140 billion.

"When you go out to Sun Valley, you play with the same people," McAlpine said.  "They do get to run in the same circles a lot."

The two men rank among the world's richest people.  Forbes pegged Murdoch as the 84th-richest person, with $6.5 billion, and Anschutz as the 89th-richest, with $6.4 billion.

Anschutz has ownership stakes in movie-theater chain Regal Entertainment, movie-production companies Walden and Bristol Bay Productions, the Staples Center, the Home Depot Center, the Los Angeles Lakers and other sports teams.

Murdoch, who sold a controlling interest in the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, has a media conglomerate that includes Fox Sports Net and Direc TV.

In 1998, Anschutz enlisted Murdoch to buy into his Staples Center sports and entertainment venue in Los Angeles.  As part of the agreement, News Corp. bought options for minority stakes in both the Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings.

News Corp. never exercised that option.

The two also combined to form Fox Sports One, a sports-marketing venture, to sell sponsorships to sports arenas and teams.  They later dissolved the venture.

In 1998, some noted the natural business fit of their various entities.

"More and more, we'll be seeing ways for the two to work together," then-Kings president Timothy Leiweke said. Leiweke is now president of AEG, Anschutz's entertainment company.

In 2004, Fox Entertainment Group, which is largely owned by Murdoch's News Corp., sold its share in the Staples Center back to AEG for $128 million.

Murdoch held a 40 percent interest in LA Live, an Anschutz project to develop the area around the Staples Center.  AEG bought the interest back last year for an undisclosed amount.

In 2004, Fox paid $25 million for a 10 percent interest in an affiliate of AEG that has rights to develop and operate an entertainment and sports complex at the Millennium Dome in London.

The intersections between the men aren't confined to dealmaking.  British media outlets have reported that AEG employs Murdoch's son-in-law Matthew Freud, a public-relations executive with connections in the British government, as a strategic consultant.

Freud set up a dinner meeting between An schutz and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, whose agency will have a say in whether a casino is built at the Dome, according to the Daily Mail.

"I attended a dinner at which Philip Anschutz was a guest.  He certainly talked to me about casinos but got absolutely no information that was not freely available in the newspapers," the Daily Mail quoted Jowell as saying.

Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan said he couldn't comment on the report or on the relationship between Anschutz and Murdoch.  No one from News Corp. returned calls for comment.

Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer is a friend of Anschutz and knows Murdoch. Romer, who for the past six years has served as the superintendent of the Los Angeles school district, said the two men, and the businesses they run, are compatible in many ways.

"They're both very creative, very skilled, and they are both operating in a sphere that is multidimensional, with entertainment, recreation, a number of enterprises," he said.  "These are two guys that probably can deal and partner very easily."

Staff writer Tom McGhee can be reached at 303-820-1671 or