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July 3, 2011

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Mr Entertainment

AMERICAN John Cappo is a pioneer in sports marketing in Asia and has brought world-class artists and events to China, including Beyonce, Usher and the NBA.

Cappo, who has lived in Shanghai for 10 years and calls it home, heads the China division of Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, the world's leading sports and entertainment venue management company and event and performance promoter.

The 46-year-old native New Yorker got hooked on China and Asia 25 years ago when he studied in Taiwan. He was the first and only native English speaker to get a degree in Business Administration from Taiwan National University.

Today he is based in Shanghai with his family - his wife, son and two daughters.

His enthusiasm for China and its possibilities and his in-depth understanding of the language and culture, has helped him establish his career in the country.

In Shanghai, AEG China manages the Mercedes-Benz Arena, a world-class multi-purpose venue, formerly known as the World Expo Cultural Center. The new AEG name is the result of a landmark 10-year branding deal Cappo struck at the end of 2009 with the German auto maker on behalf of AEG and its local joint venture partners.

In Beijing, AEG China consults in the operation and management of the MasterCard Center, formerly known as the Wukesong Arena.

Cappo and his AEG team have brought hosts of mega entertainment and sport figures to China.

As a pioneer in sports marketing in Asia, Cappo applies more than 20 years' experience in the region to raise the standards of entertainment in China.

Q: How did you decide to build your career in China?

A: I first came to Asia 25 years ago and fell in love with it. As an American and a native New Yorker, to encounter China is to encounter the most significant challenge in your life. China is a country of rich heritage and culture that I can spend lifetime learning about ... I've seen the country develop and grow in ways that many could not have imagined and at an unprecedented pace. I'm very honored and fortunate to have been part of this growth - from the football and basketball leagues, both junior and professional, to golf and now the arena-based entertainment industry. I'm very proud to have helped in setting many "first" milestones here.

I am proud to call Shanghai my home and it has been my home for over 10 years.

Q: Was it difficult doing business?

A: China has a very different business culture. Relationships are extremely important here and you have to work hard to cultivate relationships. I've also learned to never promise more than what you can deliver. In other words: undersell, over-deliver. When you have great partners, such as OPG (Oriental Pearl Group), then it makes the job easier. Some setbacks are unavoidable, but these challenges give us a great opportunity to learn and to do better next time.

Q: Why does AEG value China so much?

A: During the Olympics, we saw the enthusiasm that the Chinese people had for world-class arenas and world-class events. China is one of the most exciting places in the world for most businesses, and that is also true for AEG. As one of the world's leading sports management and entertainment companies, AEG believes China has great potential.

AEG knows that China is hungry for the best-kind of live cultural and sports entertainment. The fastest-growing middle class in the world will not take second best: they want the world's best live entertainment right here on their home turf.

Q: How do you assess the China sports and live entertainment market?

A: The China sports and entertainment market is developing fast. China was not a stop for most touring international artists, mainly because the venues were not up to the international standard and the approval processes were complicated and opaque. For example, when Beyonce performed in Beijing at the Wukesong Arena (now MasterCard Center), there were no other venues in China that had a mother grid - which could hang the required equipment (and weight) from the ceiling. Now many of the top acts understand that China is a market that is developing quickly and will be a must play on the Asian touring circuit. Our world-class arenas - Mercedes-Benz Arena and MasterCard Center - assure the artists, athletes, promoters and fans will experience the best and the latest technology and facility standard in China. In turn, Chinese audience will not miss out on the best entertainment that the world has to offer.

Q: What's next in China?

A: AEG China has been in serious discussions with major cities in provinces such as Zhejiang, Sichuan and Liaoning to build state-of-the-art multi-purpose arenas and entertainment districts. We want to develop a strong network of four to six more arenas in China over the next few years. We've made a terrific start in Beijing and Shanghai. We want to take that momentum to cities like Hangzhou and Chengdu. That means millions more Chinese will have the opportunity to experience the lifestyle destinations that we create and enjoy the best live entertainment that the world has to offer.

Q: You've been in China's sports and culture industry for a decade. Why are you so dedicated?

A: I've been very lucky to have a career where I had a chance to work with the best and most inspiring sports figures and artists. I've also had a chance to develop and professionalize the sports leagues, and to find a new market and audiences for these events. To have been able to do that in Asia and China has been a great privilege. I am now excited to be able to expand on this experience to develop both the hardware for multi-purpose arenas as well as the software, bringing NBA exhibition games here and other great musicians, athletes and artists.

Q: AEG has created an industry in China - naming rights, founding partners, suite sales, sponsorships and touring. What's its role in entertainment?

A: AEG is proud to have played a role in the development of this new industry in China with the naming rights of arenas and by creating different and dynamic levels of sponsorships that formally did not exist in China. We want to do the same for setting the bar for the types of entertainment that China can expect. We are actively developing shows with both Asian and international music artists and performers. In Shanghai we are partners with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and in the future they will stage exhibition games here. We have brought spectacular family entertainment, "Walking with Dinosaurs," in both English and Chinese. We want our arenas to always present the world's most innovative and exciting entertainment. To do that we work closely with local partners and international agents to develop content - music concerts, sports or family entertainment.

Q: Does AEG aim to duplicate American-style sports entertainment and live performance and set up an AEG empire in China?

A: Haha. We are not focused on building an empire but building a value-added network of arenas that can share best practices, develop economies of scale and tour content. AEG China is really a small organization with an ambition to do big things ... To simply duplicate an American-style mode of sports and entertainment would not do justice to this market, which is continually expanding and innovating. From our experience you can implement about 60-70 percent of international best practices. The remaining 30-40 percent needs to be localized and tailored to each specific market. Getting that 30-40 percent right is the difference between success and failure. We will develop our local teams and aim to set a new global standard here in China.


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