By Jeff Gottlieb
5:48 PM EDT, July 15, 2013
Michael Jackson would have earned $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion if his ill-fated "This Is It" concerts in London had turned into a worldwide tour, an accountant with decades of experience working with pop music acts testified Monday in downtown Los Angeles.
Jackson had been scheduled to perform 50 shows in London's 02 Arena when he died in June 2009 as he prepared for the comeback tour.
Arthur L. Erk testified as an expert witness for Jackson's mother and three children, who are suing concert promoter and producer AEG Live and two of its executives in the wrongful-death case. Erk based his projections, he said, on AEG budgets, emails from company executives, Jackson's written notes and testimony in the wrongful-death case.
The white-haired Erk, wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, looked the antithesis of the rock world. A certified public accountant in New York, Erk has worked with many rock and rap acts, including Kiss, Britney Spears and Notorious B.I.G.
His projections, sure to be attacked on cross-examination by AEG's lawyers, are the first indication in the trial of damages the jury will be asked to award the Jacksons.
Erk, who described his financial calculation as conservative, said his projections included a 37-month tour with the London shows and an average of two concerts a week in Central Europe, Asia, Australia and the U.S. He said he also included a 10-year show in Las Vegas based on Jackson's music, where the singer would not have performed. It also included sales of merchandise and endorsements.
AEG sold 750,000 tickets to Jackson's London concerts in five hours, meaning the equivalent of 1.4% of Great Britain's population bought tickets. Erk said the tickets sold in "record-breaking time. It never happened before, and it still hasn't happened again."
The jury was shown a chart from Billboard magazine of the highest-grossing tours of 2009, led by U2, Madonna and Paul McCartney. Jackson, he said, would have beat them all.
"Michael Jackson was in a class by himself," Erk said. "He was known as the King of Pop. There’s no one who comes close to him."
His projections include the often-extravagant Jackson spending $134,386,236 total over the next 15 years, which took him to age 65 and retirement, Erk said.
His projections did not include CD and songwriting royalties, since Jackson would have received those anyway, said Kevin Boyle, one of the Jackson family's attorneys.
Erk figured that if AEG charged $108 a ticket for the concerts, Jackson's worldwide tour and the Las Vegas show would net him $1,127,378,787. If tickets were $200 each, what were described as his "lost economic damages" would total $1,511,182,374.
“Demand was so wild that he probably could have charged more for tickets and still sold out,” Erk said.
Erk pointed to the singer's record sales. "Thriller" sold 65 million copies worldwide, "Bad" 45 million, "Dangerous" 32 million, "Off the Wall" and "HIStory" 20 million and "Invincible" 13 million.
“Looking at it historically, he has a huge fan base," the accountant said.
Although he had only signed a contract for the 50 London concerts, AEG was hopeful Jackson would follow it up with a four-year tour.
AEG Live chief executive Randy Phillips was ecstatic after the astonishingly swift sale of the London tickets, and at the same time worried about the star.
“We could have done 200 plus shows based on demand," he wrote in an email. "Major stars like Coldplay, Akon, Blackeye Peas, etc., want to support. We so underestimated the demand.
"Now I have to get him on stage. Scary!”
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