An accountant’s projection that Michael Jackson would have made as much as $1.5 billion if he had taken his doomed “This Is It” concert on a 260-stop world tour was attacked sharply Tuesday by a defense attorney who said the singer had never pulled off an engagement even half that long.
“What you’re projecting is totally inconsistent with Michael Jackson’s history, isn’t it?” asked attorney Sabrina Strong, one of the attorneys representing AEG Live, the entertainment company that was producing what was to have been Jackson’s comeback tour in 2009.
Jackson had been sued for canceling shows and had a history of drug use, Strong told jurors. And she suggested Tuesday that his popularity may have started to wane after his 2005 child-molestation trial and the bizarre instance in which he dangled one of his young children over a hotel balcony. Jackson was acquitted in the molestation case.
Arthur Erk, a certified public accountant who has worked with various rock acts, testified that Jackson’s earning power remained robust and that he could have made as much as $1.5 billion if he’d gone on tour after his 50-concert stand in London.
Erk disagreed that Jackson’s earning power had diminished or that he was incapable of pulling off a long, multiyear tour. He said “This Is It” was going to be a “blow-out tour, and he was going to earn a lot of money.”
“I packed a lot of shows in to go out with a bang,” he said of the number of performances he included in his world tour calculations
Testimony over the last two days, for the first time, has touched on what the pop star’s death might have cost in terms of lost revenue, and attorneys representing AEG Live pushed back aggressively on Erk’s high-dollar calculations.
The most Jackson had ever performed in one tour was 123 shows on the “Bad” tour in 1987, according to a chart Strong showed the jury. His highest grossing tour was his last one, “HIStory,” which began in 1996, in which he performed 82 shows and grossed $165 million in ticket and merchandise sales.
Strong told Erk that AEG executive Paul Gongaware, a defendant in the case, had testified that Jackson didn’t make any money on “HIStory.” Outside the courtroom, Jackson attorney Brian Panish said that was only because the pop singer had given 85% of his share to charity.
Erk said that the five-hour sale of 750,000 tickets to his 50 London concerts showed that Jackson’s popularity had not suffered. AEG’s plan was for the 50-year-old singer to march across the world after the London shows, performing in Europe, Asia and ending in the U.S., Erk said. “And by that time, his image would be rehabilitated.”
Strong, though, insisted that Jackson had not agreed to anything other than the London shows, although Jackson’s contract included the possibility of extending the tour.
Erk said he spoke to Jackson’s son Prince on Saturday night. “He said his father specifically told him, ‘We’re going to Asia,’ ” Erk said.
Jackson’s mother and three children filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against AEG, saying the entertainment firm hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave the singer the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in June 2009. AEG says that the doctor worked for Jackson and that any money the firm was supposed to pay Murray was an advance to the singer.
Strong also talked about Jackson’s prolific spending, saying he was $400 million in debt, his mother’s home was in foreclosure and a former Jackson business manager had quit because the singer showed no interest in pulling back on his spending.
In one instance, she told jurors, Jackson bought a $1-million watch but had to return it because he couldn’t afford it.
Another former Jackson business manager said Jackson spent $20 million to $30 million a year more than he earned, Strong said.
Erk said Jackson had a $320-million loan on his portion of the Sony/ATV musical catalog, which includes the songs of the Beatles.
Erk’s calculations of Jackson’s projected earnings also included a Las Vegas show based on the pop star’s music, but one in which he would not perform. Erk calculated that Jackson could have earned as much as $1.96 billion if his tour was extended to four years, a plan based on an e-mail from AEG Chief Executive Randy Phillips.
His more speculative projections had Jackson taking a nearly three-year break after the global tour and then performing in four smaller sets of concerts through 2024, which would have earned him an additional $376 million, including merchandising.