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O2 takes centre stage as AEG–MSG turf war heats up

The stateside booking war between AEG and MSG Entertainment has spilled over to London, with artists who choose the LA Forum over Staples Center to be barred from The O2

By Jon Chapple on 03 Jul 2017

C2C Festival, The O2, London

The O2 is home to SJM's Country to Country festival

The Los Angeles ‘booking war’ between rival US venue operators AEG and Azoff MSG Entertainment has crossed the Atlantic, with acts who opt to play MSG’s the Forum rather than AEG’s Staples Center to be turned away from The O2 in London.

In a no-holds-barred statement issued this morning, an AEG representative says MSG’s “aggressive practice of requiring artists to perform at the LA Forum in order to secure dates at Madison Square Garden” means it will now have to implement a similar policy at The O2, with slots at the venue reserved for those acts who played Staples Center (21,000-cap.) when passing through LA.

“AEG always places artists and fans first and believes that artists should be free to play whatever venue they choose,” reads the AEG statement, shared with IQ. “However, MSG Entertainment’s aggressive practice of requiring artists to perform at the LA Forum in order to secure dates at Madison Square Garden is eliminating that choice, which serves neither the interests of artists nor fans.

“After exhausting all avenues, our hand has been forced by MSG’s actions, and AEG will now coordinate bookings between The O2 Arena and Staples Center to level the playing field for all. We believe that AEG’s offering of venues will provide artists the greatest financial potential and fans the best experience. While this coordinated booking strategy seeks to defend our business interests, our ultimate objective remains protecting and restoring choice for artists.”

“We are highly confident of the legality of our booking policy”

AEG also reveals it has been threatened with legal action by its chief rival, Live Nation, which it insists it is not trying to shut out of The O2. “Our policy is not intended in any way to deny Live Nation, or any other promoter, access to The O2 arena,” it continues. “To the contrary, we desire to bring as much content as possible to all of our venues and we will continue to actively seek concert bookings at The O2 from all promoters, including Live Nation.”

The 21,000-capacity O2, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday, has since 2008 been the world’s busiest venue. It is also by far the largest in London, dwarfing its nearest rival, The SSE Arena, Wembley (12,500-cap.), which is also operated by AEG.

Despite assuring Live Nation it will still be welcome to put on shows at The O2, AEG says it will “vigorously defend” any legal bid to thwart its new booking policy – and accuses the rival promoter of “hypocrisy”, given its ownership of Ticketmaster and overall “dominant market position”.

“Live Nation’s threat of antitrust action in response to our booking policy is the height of hypocrisy coming from a company that publicly boasts about its control of content and distribution as the world’s largest concert promoter and ticketing company and one of the world’s leading artist-management companies,” it continues. “As evidenced by a parade of antitrust lawsuits, regulatory investigations and an antitrust consent decree that have followed the company over the years, Live Nation has a well-earned and widespread reputation for resorting to aggressive tactics, including threatening to withhold its content, as it continually seeks to enhance its dominant market position in these various sectors.

“Given its asserted market dominance, we find it astounding that Live Nation would have the audacity to complain merely because it finds itself agitated by a competitor’s business response to heavy-handed tactics in which Live Nation has participated.

Irving Azoff has defended coordinated booking between the Forum and MSG as “good, tough business”

“Not only did Live Nation not complain about MSG’s tying of the Garden and the Forum, but it actively encouraged and supported that policy because it suited Live Nation’s interests in driving content away from a competitively ticketed building to a Ticketmaster building, which, in the process, succeeded in sending a very loud message to the live entertainment industry: how well equipped Live Nation is to punish any buildings that dare go with a competing ticketing provider.

“Notwithstanding Live Nation’s recent threats to pursue legal action and deprive AEG venues of shows, we fully intend to proceed with our new booking policy. We are highly confident of the legality of our booking policy and will vigorously defend any misguided attempts by Live Nation to use the courts or the regulatory system to combat a practice they have aggressively pursued and benefitted from elsewhere.”

Azoff MSG chief Irving Azoff – himself a former chairman of Live Nation – has previously defended the coordinated booking between the Forum and Madison Square Garden as “good, tough business”.

Live Nation declined to comment.


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