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Defense attempts to downplay Jackson’s celebrity, earning potential

Michael Jackson announces his new concert series "This Is It" in London on March 5, 2009. (23680)
Michael Jackson announces his new concert series “This Is It” in London on March 5, 2009. Credit: CNN

A top executive with AEG Live insists Celine Dion is a “bigger” artist than Michael Jackson.

John Meglin, testifying Wednesday at the wrongful death trial of AEG Live, also downplayed how many tickets Jackson could have sold if he had not died while preparing for his comeback concerts.

AEG Live lawyers are challenging an entertainment expert hired by Jackson lawyers who estimated the King of Pop would have earned $1.5 billion touring the world before his 66th birthday had he not died from an overdose of a surgical anesthetic at age 50.

Michael Jackson’s mother and three children contend the company is liable for damages because it hired, retained or supervised the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in his death.

If jurors agree, they could then use estimates of Jackson’s lost earnings as a guide to determine how much AEG Live—the promoter and producer of his “This Is It” tour—must pay the Jacksons in damages.

AEG Live lawyers argue that Jackson—not its executives—chose and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who signed a $150,000 a month contract with the company to serve as Jackson’s doctor for the tour. AEG Live executives never signed the contract, which Murray returned to them just hours before Jackson’s death.

A nurse anesthetist was to testify Thursday about administering anesthesia to Jackson during a medical procedure. He would be the first of what AEG Live lead lawyer Marvin Putnam said would be a parade of “many, many” medical professionals who treated Jackson. The company will try to prove that Jackson was a secretive drug addict, which prevented promoters from knowing about the dangers he faced under Murray’s care.

Meglin, who has been a concert promoter since the 1970s, is the CEO of Concerts West, the division of AEG Live that was in charge of Jackson’s tour. He was the first witness called as the company began presenting its defense in the 13th week of the trial.

Much of his testimony was focused on attacking the analysis of certified public accountant Arthur Erk, who testified last week that he was “reasonably certain” that Jackson would have performed 260 shows around the world as part of his “This Is It” tour. He would have earned $890 million over the three years of concerts in Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Australia, Erk said.

Jackson would have earned at least $1.5 billion from touring, endorsements and sponsorships had he lived to age 66, Erk said.

Erk’s analysis suggested Jackson would stage many of his shows in large stadiums, with more than 90,000 fans buying tickets to many of the concerts. But Meglin testified that his experience told him that no stadiums would seat that many people for Jackson’s kind of show. The Erk estimates were inflated by about 30 percent, Meglin testified.

The Rose Bowl would only seat 60,000, Meglin said. Although Billboard Magazine reported that U2 performed for 97,000 people in the Pasadena, Calif., venue in 2009, Meglin said he was “trusting my gut” that the numbers were inflated. “I know how those numbers can be manipulated,” he said.

Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish noted that 98,000 people were in the Rose Bowl seats when Jackson performed the halftime show for Super Bowl 27 in 1993.

Meglin also contested Erk’s suggestion that Jackson would have taken his tour to India for at least three shows.

“Nobody goes to India,” he said. He later acknowledged that Jackson performed there during his HIStory tour.

“It’s not a very big market,” Meglin said of India, which is home to about 1.25 billion people.

Meglin also disagreed with what one of his superiors, AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, wrote in an e-mail that there was enough demand in England alone to sell out more that 200 Jackson shows. “He believed that,” Meglin testified. “I don’t believe that.”

Fans bought all 750,000 tickets put on sale for 31 shows in March 2009 in just two hours, Phillips said. Enough buyers were already registered to sell out another 100 shows, Phillips wrote.

Meglin also disagreed with Phillips’ opinion that Jackson was the biggest entertainment artist ever.

“I do myself personally believe that that is not true,” Meglin testified Wednesday. “In my opinion Celine Dion is right up there with Michael Jackson and, to me, she is bigger.”

Alan Duke | CNN