Clear Channel's "Hail Mary" Pass

There is so much coverage of the possible closing of Clear Channel's $19 billion privatization sale to Bain Capital and Thomas Lee Partners, but I'm afraid even the best financial publications are distracted from what's really important.

The Super Bowl is this weekend in Phoenix and this is as good a time as any to invoke the imagery of the "Hail Mary" concept.

In football, the "Hail Mary" is a desperation pass like the one Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach threw to his teammate Drew Pearson who was being covered by cornerback Nate Wright in a December, 1975 divisional playoff. Pearson stopped and pushed Wright as the ball came down -- caught it -- and went into the end zone for a victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

In radio, Clear Channel is getting ready to reach back, close their eyes (as Staubach did) and push as hard as they can to complete the -- deal.

A lot is on the line.

If you put aside the careers of all those talented Clear Channel folks who have played through worse over the past five years (and Clear Channel seems to be willing to put their best interests aside to complete this deal), then it's fourth down in this increasingly dirty game radio people play.

To hitchhike on the notable quote of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, “On any given day, any consolidator in radio can beat any other.”

It's late in the fourth quarter. It doesn't look good for the home team.

The buyers reportedly dispatched a slew of bean counters to the playing field in San Antonio to help craft the now infamous John Hogan "We shall overcome" email to employees demanding more cutbacks. You remember, Hogan broke it to them that there is no alternative and he even promised to return the cuts to the stations once the Clear Channel sale closes.

Now we hear that Clear Channel is ready to abandon its "Less Is More" play from the game plan. Just put as much money into the stations as possible and cut the expenses.

Things are so desperate this late in the buyout game that Clear Channel is even forbidding its stations to -- well, dare I say it -- advertise! Better hope radio advertisers aren't listening or payback could be a bitch.

In fact, the coach of this team isn't Hogan and it doesn't seem to be any one of the Mays' who have already showered and left the locker room. It's a financial guy sent in by the sellers on the sidelines.

It's so bad that press accounts of the arrival of Lee & Bain minions landing in San Antonio like a hoard of locusts is actually seen by some as a good sign.

A sign that these two buyout companies are still interested in completing the Clear Channel deal.

Still interested in paying $19 billion for a company that is worth ten dollars a share less than when they signed the purchase contract.

Still interested in avoiding the substantial $600 million break up penalty that has to come from Lee and Bain's own corporate pockets.

Still interested in buying into an industry that now has only one analyst covering broadcasting -- that has zero to little growth potential in the years ahead.

Now, you might think these people are crazy.

But they are as crazy like a fox.

Lee & Bain can't buy this thing at those prices and operate it on the decline in a dying business. Not if they ever want any credibility doing other deals in the future.

The field may not be frozen like the tundra of Green Bay but I see whoever is quarterbacking the last weeks of Clear Channel reaching back and letting go one final act of desperation -- a "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone.

But wait.

It's intercepted.

Could it be that the Clear Channel deal must eventually get intercepted by another buyer -- one who thinks they can run and build up the value of the properties.

One who is proud -- maybe too proud -- maybe even still stinging from being cut from the Clear Channel lineup some five and a half years ago.

Yes, it's intercepted by Randy Michaels for the Chicago Zells. He's in better shape now than ever and raring to go.

And what's this? They let him waltz down the field for a touchdown.

How could this be?

The Mays' need their money.

Lee and Bain need to save face now.

Sam Zell's team needs to buy as much of Clear Channel as the law allows -- at their customary discounted market price.

If I'm wrong and it's not Zell, it sure as hell isn't going to be Lee and Bain.

This game isn't over until the fat wallets sing.

(I'm sorry I got carried away with football and Super Bowl imagery. I am a disheartened Eagles fan in a bad mood for the obvious reasons, but still -- I could be calling this Clear Channel game right. Enjoy the Super Bowl because the Clear Channel game is far from over!).

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