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Allen Becker, Who Built PACE Concerts Into a Live Promotion Powerhouse, Dies at 90

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In the 1970s, Louis Messina visited the Houston Astrodome to check out the events his new business partner, Allen J. Becker, was putting on. “He’s doing boat shows and having Evel Knievel jump over 150 cars and thrill shows and demolition derbies,” Messina recalls. “I went, ‘Holy crap, there are 60,000 people here!’ A guy jumped from the top of the Astrodome into the air bag.”

Becker, 90, who died Monday (Dec. 12) at his Houston home, first approached Messina, then a New Orleans rock promoter, in 1975 to form a concert-promotion partnership. Their company, PACE Concerts, went on to dominate Texas and much of the South for more than 20 years, booking stars from The Who to Bruce Springsteen to Rush.

“Allen had an old saying: ‘I’d rather lose money with you than you make a dime without me’ — meaning that if you had a good idea and you truly believed in it, he’ll be there with you,” says Messina, today an Austin-based promoter who has represented acts from George Strait to Taylor Swift. “He saw something in me that no one else in my whole life saw in me.”

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Becker had been a life insurance agent in 1965 when a banker friend suggested they promote a consumer boat show at the new Astrodome. The show was a success and led to years of monster-truck rallies and tractor pulls. In 1975, the New Orleans Superdome approached Becker about producing entertainment events for acts such as Bob Hope and The Temptations, which is where he met Messina. A Glenn Miller fan, Becker recognized he had a blind spot in rock acts and reached out to Messina to partner on shows throughout the South.

It was Messina who suggested moving to Houston to create the partnership that became PACE Concerts: “We’ll make a go of it and we’ll see what happens,” he told Becker.

Like other promoters in the U.S., Becker and his son, Brian, soon recognized the money in the concert business wasn’t in ticket sales but in beer, hot dogs and popcorn. They steered PACE into building amphitheaters for $8 million to $10 million apiece — “They were affordable,” Messina says — in Nashville, Atlanta and elsewhere. “The concert promoters who have really prospered have been the ones that stepped out and got involved in facilities,” Becker told Billboard in 1998, about controlling sheds and their revenue streams. “You need those other revenue streams.”

“That created 10, 12, 13 amphitheaters,” says Gary Becker, Allen’s son, a former top PACE exec who was 16 when his father employed him to shuttle bus and truck drivers to their hotels and purchase batteries and guitar strings for touring artists. “You go to an Elton John and book him 13 times around those amphitheaters and it was a win for everybody, including the bands.”

In 1998, PACE was on track to gross nearly $250 million in revenue when Robert Sillerman‘s company SFX bought it for $130 million. Two years later, Silllerman then sold SFX to radio giant Clear Channel Entertainment for $3.3 billion in stock — Brian Becker, Allen’s son, served as CEO of that company for the next five years. “It was definitely emotional,” Gary Becker recalls. “It was time for my dad. Things can’t stay the same. It gets too big, I guess.”

Born in Houston, Becker was the son of a shoe salesman and a homemaker. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a marketing degree. He served in the Air Force, then started his career in 1957 with Kansas City Life Insurance Company. When he began working in entertainment, he told Texas Monthly in 1996, it was a “real street business.”

After the SFX sale, Becker continued to be active in that business. He oversaw the ACE Theatrical Group, whose holdings included the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in New Orleans, before selling them in 2018. 

“He liked to compete, and he liked to win, but he liked to do it in the best way possible,” Gary Becker recalls. “You don’t need to go for the jugular. You don’t need to press real hard. You want the people you do business with to know you are honest and fair.” In 1998, Allen Becker told Billboard: “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We have a reputation in the marketplace, and people trust us. It has been a hell of a career.”

Becker’s survivors include his sons, Brian and Gary; daughter, Sunni Markowitz; 11 grandchildren; and one great grandchild. His wife of 54 years, Shirley, died in 2008.

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