Stage appears set for Anschutz buying Gazette

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He owns hotels, railroads, newspapers, sports teams, arenas, movie theaters and ticket brokers. He has interests in at least 150 companies. His family foundation, created in 1964, has more than $2 billion in assets. He gave $100 million to the University of Colorado Medical Campus, which was renamed to recognize his generosity.

His net worth is somewhere north of $7.8 billion.

An intensely private man, he can live wherever he chooses. For the time being, at 72, he’s spending a lot of time here in Colorado Springs, unrecognized during his morning walks through his new neighborhood.

His name? Phil Anschutz. His neighborhood? The Broadmoor, which he owns lock, stock and barrel.

Born in 1939, Anschutz grew up in Kansas. As a child, he spent time in Colorado Springs, where his family would go to escape the stifling summer heat. They’d stay in the stately resort hotel that Spencer Penrose had built in the 1920s, then the epitome of Midwestern grandeur.

Did that sentimental attachment drive Anschutz’ 2011 purchase of Penrose’s aging grand dame? Or did Anschutz look at the deal as Penrose himself might have, thinking that he could make some money, benefit the city and have fun?

The Broadmoor had good numbers, strong management and enormous potential.

But his newest (apparently, though still unconfirmed) acquisition isn’t in the same class. Its business model is superannuated, its management marginal, and its growth potential limited. It’s our city’s long-embattled daily newspaper, The Gazette.

The usual semi-reliable sources tell me that the purchase of The Gazette is a done deal, pending completion of due diligence by Anschutz representatives.

This isn’t Anschutz’s first rodeo. His wholly owned company, Clarity Media, owns a national news and information website (examiner.com), and two free metropolitan daily papers, the San Francisco Examiner and Washington Examiner. (Another property, the Baltimore Examiner, was shut down in 2009.) Clarity’s CEO, Ryan McKibben, was once publisher of the Denver Post. McKibben’s brother Scott was The Gazette’s publisher from 2006 to 2009.

If Clarity acquires The Gazette, its operating model may change. The Washington Examiner is a daily tabloid, free on racks seven days a week, and delivered without charge to approximately 300,000 households on Thursday and Sunday.

One thing won’t change, though — The Gazette’s stanchly conservative editorial policy, though this sale might well end the daily’s remaining libertarian leanings.

Anschutz has long supported conservative causes, and has hired publishers who are comfortable with his beliefs and standards. In 2009, he acquired the Weekly Standard from a distracted Rupert Murdoch, who had just bought the Wall Street Journal. Founded in 1995 by Bill Kristol, the Standard is at the epicenter of American conservative thought. Whether that epicenter is profitable, as well as influential is another question, but it’s clear that Anschutz can absorb operational losses indefinitely.

When Anschutz first acquired the San Francisco Examiner in 2004, the paper had few reliable profit centers. One of them, according to Scott McKibben, was ads from “escort” companies — hooker ads.

“Anschutz asked me how fast we could get rid of them,” Scott McKibben recalled a few years later. “I told him we could cancel them all immediately, but it’d cost plenty. [Anschutz] told me to go ahead — he didn’t want to see a single one in the next day’s paper.”

Much of Anschutz net worth is tied up in AEG, formerly the Anschutz Entertainment Group. It’s for sale, at a price estimated by the Wall Street Journal to be between $8-$12 billion. AEG owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles, The O2 Centre in London (an entertainment and shopping mecca), 36 percent of the Los Angeles Lakers, the ticketing company AXS, an arena management company, and interests in a dozen other professional sports teams.

Selling the company will net him several billion dollars — so what will he do next?

In Anschutzland, the price of The Gazette is barely a rounding error. If Anschutz closes the deal, it won’t be because he expects to make a killing — but he doesn’t plan to lose money, either. As fellow billionaire Warren Buffett said when he bought his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald:

“I wouldn’t do this if I thought this was doomed to some sort of extinction.”

And since Anschutz now counts Colorado Springs as one of his hometowns, why not buy The Gazette? It’s been 64 years since a hometown boy owned the paper, and local ownership is good for the community.

Phil, welcome to our media market! We look forward to the competition — as long as you don’t lure away our ace reporters/columnists with six-figure salaries.  CSBJ