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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Rolled Gold for Stones Inc
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger's wrinkled-rebel image still pulls the crowds

Rock legends can't win.

If they live out their old age in obscure poverty, it's a scandal and testimony to the rapacious music business.

If they get themselves accountants and lawyers and worry about tax rates, then they're accused of selling out.

So what should we make of the Rolling Stones?

Raw power

On one side, there's the wrinkled-rebel image. On the other one of the most astute business operations in a very astute industry.

Financially they're run like a Swiss watch
Andy Serwer
Fortune Magazine

Where most old rockers fade away to sad shadows of old greatness, the Rolling Stones remain vibrant - and very profitable.

They've just announced a world tour, starting in the United States in August and sweeping through South America, Asia and then Europe by next Summer.

At the New York press conference where they broke the news of the tour, they played three numbers which conveyed an undiminished raw power.

Pumped up

In their early 60s, Sir (as he now is) Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may be, but the energy thunders on.

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger
The Stones are loud rockers, but discreet financiers

And they've got the off-stage business arrangements taped.

Their last tour three years ago took more than $300m in tickets, sponsorship, endorsements and accoutrements that accompanied the hoopla.

The 2005/6 tour should gross even more.

Ticket prices have risen. There are more venues and fewer appearances in each of them - one night per city instead of a run, so more places will be pumped up with enthusiasm and keen for souvenirs.

"We call them the Rolling Stones Incorporated," says Andy Serwer, who spent time with the Stones for Fortune magazine.

"They may be the greatest rock'n' roll band, but they're also the richest rock'n'roll band and they act that way.

"Financially they're run like a Swiss watch".

Score card

Mr Serwer likens it to a partnership, with the four Stones at the top, below them a small group of legal and financial advisors and a string of companies that perform different tasks and are based in Holland, which has tax advantages.

The Stones aren't driven by money, though money is important, according to Mr Serwer.

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

"The business model is to maximise revenue and for these guys to have fun," he says.

"They wouldn't do it if they didn't want to do it because they don't have to do it.

"But there are a lot of people on Wall Street in New York who haven't had to work for twenty or thirty years - rich people, buy-out kings, kings of Wall Street. They keep on doing it. The line is they're like sharks. If they stop swimming they die.

"And I think that's true of the Rolling Stones. They want to make as much money as they can, but they're not doing it for the money. The money is the score card."

Key people

Rolling Stones' key advisor is Prince Rupert Zu Loewenstein, a banker based in London who retains his old family title from Bavaria.

The prince is as shrewd as Wall Street's finest and has kept the financials tight and the millions flowing for thirty years.

The second crucial person is Michael Cohl, who promoted rock concerts in Canada until he got involved with the Stones.

Mr Cohl offered them a deal: serious money (about $40m) if he could organise the whole "Steel Wheels" tour in 1989.

Before that, touring was an ad hoc affair involving negotiating with promoters in each city the Stones visited, with each local promoter taking a cut.

Mr Cohl's involvement cut out the middlemen.

American dream

Mr Cohl also bumped up the sponsorship, bringing in Tommy Hilfiger, Volkswagen and Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser.

The "Steel Wheels" tour brought in more than $250m from tickets, merchandise and sponsorship, a record for a rock tour, so it became the template.

The American leg of the coming world tour will be sponsored by Ameriquest, one of the country's biggest mortgage lenders.

Brian Woods, the company's chief marketing executive, said the Rolling Stones would enhance its image as "proud sponsor of the American dream".

"In today's saturated marketplace", says Mr Woods, "the Rolling Stones break through the clutter to reach fans in a way that few iconic brands can."

Of course, the Rolling Stones don't acknowledge much of this.

If you ask them about leaving Britain for legitimate tax reasons, they call you boring.

But in truth: tax and finance are as much part of the Rolling Stones Inc as are drums and guitars.

What do you make of Rolling Stones' behaviour? Please share your views.

The comments below reflect the balance of opinion received. This debate is now closed.

Well, Keith was right. You are a very Boring Broadcast Corporation. Most from you are old fashioned. What a shame. A very unpleasant person from the BBC , with a very unkind question to Keith. Go away to an old man's house.
Henk Charite, Zoetermeer , Holland

They should call them the Greedy Grandpas. They're no ambassadors for Britain as they don't want to contribute by paying tax here.
Keith, Reading UK

The Stones' heroes often died in poverty after passing on a legacy of music often ignored today. The band themselves were also ripped off in the 60s by 'sharks'. Little Richard and Chuck Berry are still angry about getting ripped off. If the cash doesn't go to the band, it goes to the company. Keep it up lads.
Chris, Belfast

It's all about money. The US ticket prices are too high. And again, the Stones play everywhere else before playing in England, and when they do it will be one or two enormous gigs. When was the last time the Stones actually played 10-15 UK gigs in a tour - 1971?
Tony Lewis, Ruislip, England

The Rolling Stones don't have to tour. But, they love to tour. Of course, finance is involved. However, that is not the only reason they tour. I have gone to many of their recent shows and they really give some of the best live concerts I have seen. More Power to the Rolling Stones. Rock On.
Robyn Gregory, USA

If jazz and blues musicians go on producing music whatever their age, why not the Stones? The reason for them to keep doing it on the scale they do is that millions still turn out to see them - and they still put on a great show. If you or I were in a position to do it, would we be turning down the money?
James Page, Bath, UK

The fact that the Stones are so financially savvy is purely down to Mick. He didn't go to the London School of Economics for nothing. He has been the motivator for the rest of the band to get out their zimmer-frames and tour in recent years. And stories of Mick's tightness are rife - ask any of his ex-wives. If it wasn't for his love of music he'd be working in the City.
Smike, London

Let's be honest; the Stones haven't written a good song in about 20 years but their sixties and seventies back catalogues will always keep them popular as long as they remember to play the old anthems live.
Jimmy, Kirkby UK

What's the point of being a rock superstar if you're not going to be filthy rich and can tell every one else to get lost? I'll be getting my ticket, because they rock, and I can't stand the way everyone knocks the success of others. If you don't like them don't listen to them, make your own music.
Paul, Cardiff

I first saw the Stones 30 years ago and believe me the buzz they create is still very much alive today. I'm really looking forward to the tour hitting England next year! Keep on rollin'.
Peter Nutt, London, UK

People have been debating the behaviour of The Rolling Stones ever since the band first appeared in 1963. It's now 2005 and they are still rollin'. The Stones are just about the only truly English export that has been consistently profitable for the last 40 years or so. I can't wait to buy my ticket and do my bit to increase their personal fortunes. Why not? They have brought and continue to bring me considerable pleasure and I understand that that comes at a price.
Dansku, Helsinki, Finland

I am a massive Stones fan - pre '74. They have become a sad shadow of their former selves, and these perpetual 'last ever' tours are pure money-making exercises for old men who should know better. Take your 40 quid gig money and buy 'Beggars Banquet', 'Let It Bleed' and 'Sticky Fingers' instead. That's how we should remember the Stones.
Wess, Notts

If they did it for nothing and lived in a council house, it wouldn't quite be the same would it? Where would the fantasy and glamour be then?
Keith Parker, Hull, England

Why should they give a heck what you or I think? If you don't like what they're doing, don't go to the concerts and don't buy the records.
Derrick Thatcher, Guernsey

I understand their greed, but its much nicer when you hear about Paul Simon giving a free concert because, as he said, he's already "made too much money". Acts of charity can go a long way in giving an act some respect. Whenever I hear the Rolling Stones now, I switch off. They're squeezing the little guys for every penny they can.
Sevaan, Japan

Well, they play very good music, so if they make a boot full of money out of it, good luck to them.
George Pierce, Dan Khun Thot, Thailand

Behaviour? They're a rock'n'roll band, perhaps the greatest the world has seen. Long may they continue.
Tony Dixon, Malvern, UK

The Rolling Stones are like Star Wars - a massive commercial franchise. I like their earlier music, but they should now be honest and write songs about what its like to be obscenely rich and privileged, since their lives no longer bear any relevance to "normal" people like us.
James Russell, London

They are in their 60's, singing, making millions and partying, I hope they keep on going for many years to come.
Richard, London, UK

They are greedy b******, and have sold out their fans many years ago, along with the music :-(
Rick Lund, West Point, Utah USA

It was nice to see an article validating the financial genius of the Stones. Mick is also renowned for being very intelligent, very investment driven and very shrewd over the years. Mick and Charlie have always been grounded intellectuals. So, what do I make of the Rolling Stones' behaviour? Impressive.
Sue, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Fair enough, the Stones make a lot of money, but they also put on incredible shows, and consistently produce good albums - no matter what the critics say. To ask them about the financial side at the press conference, as Stephen Evans did, is a wasted opportunity. To find out more about their new album would have been better.
Tom Cavill, Leeds, UK

I'd rather they got the cash than Britney and the likes!!!
Seb Long, Bath, UK

I think the Stones are great ambassadors for Britain, both in the traditional sense and in the rock'n'roll, 'cool Britannia' sense. They show people all across the globe that they can rock their world but that they move with the times, run a very tight ship and they're nobody's fools. A British institution to be proud of.
Richard Clarke-Wilson, Sydney (Brit abroad)

Sue, UK

All very interesting but the bottom line is how do I get a ticket?!
Simon, Stockton UK

Go home!
Paul McCartney, England

Watch the Stones perform in New York

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