$1 Million Payment to Garth Brooks Stirs Controversy in Chicago

garth-brooksIt is getting chippy up in Chicago, and not just from the latest cold front. Garth Brooks is causing a stir in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont and beyond after it was revealed the town shuttled $1 million dollars to the country superstar to secure the right to host his very first comeback concerts in September of 2014 at the city-owned Allstate Arena. Brooks also received discounted rental rates for the venue as part of his Rosemont deal. In return, Garth promised to perform 11 concerts at the venue—his first shows after coming out of retirement.

What has elevated the anger over the revelations was the effort it took to receive the information. When first asked for the numbers surrounding Garth’s comeback concerts by the Chicago Tribune, the city of Rosemont refused, citing the difficulty divulging the information would cause negotiating future concerts for the venue. The result was a five-month legal battle where the Chicago Tribune sued the town, and Rosemont subsequently passed a city ordinance giving local officials the power to withhold documents if they felt it may put the city in a strategic negotiating disadvantage.

Then on January 23rd, Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled that both the withholding of the concert information, and the new city ordinance went against the Illinois open-records laws and the Freedom of Information Act. Even then it took Rosemont another month to turn over the paperwork to the Chicago Tribune after the city decided to not appeal the judgement.

Garth Brooks was paid $1,050,000 by Rosement in what was characterized by critics as a payoff, and by Rosemont officials as a “rebate.” Garth was paid an agreed-upon $100,000 for every sold-out show, and a $50,000 payment for the final show that didn’t sell out. Garth was also given a discounted rate of $35,000 to $40,000 per show to rent the city-owned Allstate Arena. City officials still refuse to divulge what the regular rate for renting the venue is.

Though the numbers look big, and Rosemont did their best to keep them private, it’s questionable if anything that happened was improprietous, and few if any are saying it was illegal. Large headliner acts regularly draw big guarantees from venues, and the money doesn’t just go to the entertainer, but goes towards equipment rental, manpower, and many other expenses tied to the production of the concerts. In many instances performers attempt to keep the numbers private to help in future negotiations, and because it can be publicly embarrassing by portraying them as being overcompensated.

The Rosemont suburb has made it clear they feel it was worth the investment in Garth Brooks, and say the concerts brought a total of $2 million to the town, though they refuse to make the details of how they came to those numbers available to the public. The Chicago Tribune wants to see all the documents to determine if the deal Garth Brooks received was typical or extraordinary since a publicly-owned venue was involved.

Garth sold over 183,500 tickets for the 11 shows, and grossed around $12 million. The run of shows broke the North American sales record for a single city at that time.