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AEG, Osbournes both claim victory as lawsuit ends

Lawyers for Ozzy Osbourne have agreed to drop their lawsuit against AEG after the US venues giant ended its ‘Staples Center Commitment’ tying booking between Staples Center in LA and the O2 in London.

The long-running ‘booking war’ between AEG and Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) reached its conclusion earlier this month after Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, confirmed the company is no longer block booking its LA Staples Center and London O2 venues.

The Black Sabbath frontman had previously sued over the policy, which the suit said was a “explicit”, “brazen” violation of US competition (‘antitrust’) law.

Welcoming the end of the legal action, AEG says in a statement: “This dismissal with prejudice is a victory for AEG. We were fully prepared to see the case through to vindicate our policy, but now that Osbourne has decided to dismiss with prejudice, the case is over.

“Our policy was an appropriate, lawful and effective competitive response to Irving Azoff’s pressure tactics seeking to force artists into the Forum [by requiring them to also play Madison Square Garden]. If those tactics resurface, we will redeploy our policy as needed.

“It is no surprise that once AEG refused to back down, Azoff, MSG and Live Nation became eager to drop the case as soon as possible”

“The Osbourne suit was instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation. It was hatched on the back of an artist who we believe had no idea what he was biting off. The suit was a transparent public-relations ploy that failed to pressure AEG into backing down from a booking policy that was an effective competitive response to the MSG–Forum tie.

“It is no surprise that once AEG refused to back down, Azoff, MSG and Live Nation became eager to drop the case as soon as possible. They dismissed the case with prejudice after realising AEG would aggressively defend it, costing them tens of millions of dollars and posing a source of embarrassment once their questionable tactics were exposed in the course of discovery and trial.”

Unsurprisingly, and in characteristically outspoken style, Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife, soon offered a rebuttal of the AEG line and instead claimed victory for Osbourne/Azoff/MSG.

A full statement, sent to Rolling Stone, reads: “We know Mr. Anshultz [sic] (aka “Daddy Big Bucks”) is living in his billionaire bubble, but the fact is that Ozzy sued AEG for the right to perform at the O2 in London. We won the case and Ozzy’s show at the O2 went on sale on September 5 for a show next year (February 11, 2019)–so in my world that means we won the case. Ozzy is playing the O2 without having to play the Staples Center, which is all that mattered to us. From the start of this dialogue in February, this has been a battle about respect for the artists and their personal preferences. It wasn’t then and isn’t now a battle between promoters, which is how this is being portrayed by the recent statement from AEG claiming this as a “victory.”

“To say this suit was ‘instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation’ … is untrue and disrespectful to Ozzy, myself and the entire team”

“To say that this “suit was instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation,” and that “it was hatched on the back of an artist who we believe had no idea what he was biting off,” is untrue and disrespectful to Ozzy, myself and the entire team working on this tour. Whatever differences you have with Irving Azoff, don’t presume you know who instigated the lawsuit or you know anything about Ozzy Osbourne, because you obviously don’t know anything about Ozzy’s history or mine. So stop with your hubbildy, bubbuldy BULLSHIT and your little pissing contest with Live Nation and MSG.

“Regarding the allegations in the AEG statement that this “suit was a transparent public relations ploy,” if that was indeed the case, why then did AEG rush out a statement of victory? While we, throughout this process, until now have only made one statement around the initial filing.

“Ozzy’s preference was to perform at The Forum, a venue that has been a part of his music history for more than 46 years. From the start, this was not a battle solely for Ozzy, as much as one for other artists who were being forced to abide by these rules and regulations. Let’s not all forget why you’re here … the artists.

“The only thing remotely interesting in your statement was your pitiful attempt at humor with your quote that Ozzy “had no idea what he was biting off.” If you’re interested, Ozzy and I have got something nice for you [to] bite on … our assholes … see ya loser!”


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Booking war nears end as AEG abandons block booking

Update (23/9/18): The Osbournes have dropped their lawsuit against AEG following the end of the O2–Staples Center block-booking arrangement.

 


The long-running ‘booking war’ between AEG and Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) looks to be approaching its conclusion, after Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, confirmed the company is no longer block booking its LA Staples Center and London O2 venues.

The two companies have been engaged in a tit-for-tat dispute since early 2017, with AEG instituting a booking policy that forces artists who want to perform at AEG’s European venues, particularly the 20,000-cap. O2 Arena, to also play Staples Center (21,000-cap.) rather than MSG’s LA Forum (17,500-cap.). MSG and Azoff MSG Entertainment, its joint venture with former Live Nation executive chairman Irving Azoff, similar tied Madison Square Garden in New York with the Forum in LA, with each party blaming the other for starting the ‘war’.

Recent developments include MSG-allied Live Nation lodging a complaint with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority over the O2–Staples Center arrangement, which was dismissed by the CMA last December, and, in March, Ozzy and Sharon Obsnourne suing AEG, alleging that forcing artists to play both venues is an “explicit”, “brazen” violation of US competition law.

Announcing the end of the block-booking policy, Marciano tells Variety it is no longer necessary now that MSG has ended its own tying arrangement.

“I applaud Jay Marciano and AEG’s decision to put artists first”

“Going forward, promoters for artists who want to play the O2 will no longer to be required to commit to playing Staples,” he says.

“We would only require that commitment if we had reason to believe that artists were being somehow pressured to play the Forum in order to have access to the Garden. But we’ve had a lot of feedback from artists and agents and managers that they’re no longer [feeling pressured to do so].

“We’re pleased that this is the end result.”

Azoff welcomes the news, while also praising the Osbournes for their legal action. “It’s a great day for artists when those of us that make a living serving them recognise that artists should have the right to their own decisions, especially regarding choice of venues to play,” he says in a statement. “I applaud Jay Marciano and AEG’s decision to put artists first, and of course thanks to Ozzy and Sharon for standing up for everyone.”

 


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Booking war: Ozzy sues AEG over “blatant anticompetitive conduct”

Ozzy Osbourne has brought legal action against for AEG for its block booking policy between The O2 and Staples Center, alleging that forcing artists to play both venues is an “explicit”, “brazen” violation of US competition (‘antitrust’) law.

In a class-action lawsuit filed yesterday in the US district court for central California, lawyers for Osbourne (real name John Michael) claim AEG’s policy of requiring acts who want to perform at the 20,000-cap. O2 Arena in London to also play Staples Center (21,000-cap.) in LA – allegedly dubbed the ‘Staples Center Commitment’ by AEG – is an “unlawful tying arrangement that unfairly leverages AEG’s dominance in greater London to distort and deter competition in greater Los Angeles”.

It is the latest twist in the long-running ‘booking war’ between AEG and Madison Square Garden Company/Live Nation – the latter of which has a similar tying of Madison Square Garden in New York and the Forum in LA – and marks the first legal action challenging the practice. A complaint lodged by Live Nation in the UK aimed at ending the so-called Staples Center Commitment was dismissed by the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) last December.

Osbourne (pictured), represented by San Francisco’s Latham & Watkins, aims, “on his own behalf and for all similarly situated artists, to prohibit AEG from enforcing the Staples Center Commitment”. The suit also seeks legal fees and “all other relief the court may deem proper and just”.

“The harm to competition from the Staples Center Commitment is profound, immediate and irreparable”

“The harm to competition from the Staples Center Commitment is profound, immediate and irreparable,” alleges the suit, “and must be enjoined”.

The lawsuit follows follows an open letter sent by Osbourne’s wife, Sharon, to AEG last month demanding the end of the block-booking policy and accusing AEG of “bringing artists into a power struggle you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation”.

After revealing AEG had sent Osbourne’s tour promoter, Live Nation, an agreement which “clearly states that Ozzy cannot play at The O2 in London unless we legally agree to play at Staples Center in Los Angeles”, Sharon warned: “If you do not confirm the date for Ozzy at The O2 in London then I will be forced to take legal action against AEG [Presents] without delay.”

Court documents make clear The O2 is at the centre of the dispute, with Latham & Watkins’ Daniel Wall, Timothy O’Mara and Andrew Gass describing the arena as “a singular concert venue – the only indoor arena in London with the capacity to host major concerts. The O2 is a ‘must-have’ venue for the top international touring artists, as witnessed by the steady stream of marquee artists who play The O2 annually.”

“This suit is without merit and we will vigorously fight it”

AEG – which also operates Wembley Arena (12,500-cap.) and the Eventim Apollo (5,039-cap.) – is, therefore, “a clear monopolist in the market for arena-sized venues in greater London”. That’s a situation set to continue for at least the next few years, although Madison Square Garden Company’s hotly anticipated new MSG Sphere London venue will shake up the market when it opens sometime around 2020.

In a statement provided to IQ, Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, responds: “This suit is without merit and we will vigorously fight it. We welcome a closer look at the global live entertainment market and, specifically, our practices and the practices of our competition.

“AEG has always worked hard to put artists first. At the same time, we must respond to the actions of those we compete with, specifically Live Nation and Madison Square Garden. Fighting for a level playing field is fair competition at its core.”

 


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Live Nation forms New York JV with Bowery co-owner

Following the end of his venues’ relationship with AEG in August, Bowery Ballroom/Mercury Lounge co-owner Michael Swier has joined forces with Live Nation for a new promotion and booking venture.

New York-based Mercury East Presents, described as a “nexus of current and future independently owned and operated venues within” the city’s five boroughs, unites the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge (pictured), along with Live Nation’s Irving Plaza (1,025-cap.), Gramercy Theatre (499-cap.), Warsaw (1,000-cap.) and Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk (5,000-cap.), under one umbrella.

The newly formed company will also collaborate with festival promoter Founders Entertainment (Governors Ball, Meadows Music and Arts Festival), acquired by Live Nation in April 2016, and assist in bringing acts to Live Nation-aligned Madison Square Garden Company’s major New York venues, including Madison Square Garden, Barclay’s Center, the Beacon Theater and Radio City.

Mercury East will be based at Live Nation’s new east-coast headquarters, on 15th street in New York’s Meatpacking district.

“Mercury East is the ideal partnership, and will allow Live Nation to bring New York’s residents and visitors more music and events than ever before”

AEG Presents (then AEG Live) acquired a stake in Swier’s former company, the Bowery Presents, in January 2017, although the deal excluded Bowery Ballroom (575-cap.) and Mercury Lounge (250-cap.). AEG/Bowery Presents severed its ties with the venues six months later, with Live Nation rumoured to be among those interested in taking over the lease.

The partnership with Swier gives Live Nation a bigger presence in the New York market, which is hotly contested between the two companies: both Live Nation and AEG promote major festivals – Governors Ball and Panorama, respectively – on Randalls Island, while Madison Square Garden is central to the ongoing ‘booking war’ between AEG and Irving Azoff’s Azoff MSG Entertainment.

“Swier and his team are the total package, delivering industry expertise, relationships and landmark venues that complement the greater Live Nation portfolio,” says Michael Rapino, Live Nation president and CEO. “Mercury East is the ideal partnership, and will allow Live Nation to bring New York’s residents and visitors more music and events than ever before.”

“The foundation of Mercury East reaffirms our commitment to quality and streamlines production by officially uniting the venues we own and operate with our key partners,” says Swier. “The team behind Mercury East remains focused on cultivating bands throughout all stages of their success, as well ensuring audiences have a premium experience, from ticket purchase to show’s end.”

 


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CMA sides with AEG over O2 block booking

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has reportedly dismissed Live Nation’s complaint against AEG over its block booking of The O2 in London and Staples Center in Los Angeles, telling the former company it does not intend to open an investigation on competition grounds.

The complaint, lodged in August, related to AEG’s tit-for-tat ‘booking war’ with Azoff MSG Entertainment, led by former Live Nation executive chairman Irving Azoff, over a booking policy that forces artists who want to perform at AEG’s European venues, particularly the 20,000-cap. O2 Arena, to also play Staples Center (21,000-cap.) rather than MSG’s LA Forum (17,500-cap.).

Live Nation shops AEG to CMA – amid thaw in booking war?

According to AEG, the implementation of block booking between The O2 (pictured) and Staples Center was in response to Azoff MSG’s “aggressive practice of requiring artists to perform at the LA Forum in order to secure dates at Madison Square Garden” in New York – something denied by Azoff, who says both MSG and the Forum are open to anyone.

According to Billboard’s Dave Brooks, the CMA contacted both AEG and Live Nation last week to inform them it did not plan to investigate the complaint, as the dispute began in California and should be settled there.

“Following their consideration of Live Nation’s complaint regarding our joint booking policy, we can confirm that the UK Competition Authority [Competition and Markets Authority] has decided not to open an investigation,” says an AEG spokesperson. “We are pleased with the CMA’s decision – it is the conclusion we always expected them to reach.”

 


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Live Nation shops AEG to CMA – amid thaw in booking war?

Just two days after Live Nation was itself accused of anti-competitive behaviour by the Association of Independent Festivals, the promotion giant has lodged a complaint with UK regulatory authorities against archrival AEG.

The complaint – to the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA), which is currently investigating its proposed acquisition of Isle of Wight Festival – concerns AEG’s tit-for-tat ‘booking war’ with Azoff MSG Entertainment, led by former Live Nation executive chairman Irving Azoff, over a booking policy that forced artists who wanted to perform at several of its European venues, including The O2 in London, to also play Staples Center (21,000-cap.) in Los Angeles rather than MSG’s Forum (17,500-cap.)

A statement from AEG acknowledges that it has been requested to “provide information regarding our booking practices, which AEG will of course provide. We believe our responses will clarify some questions recently brought before them and will be sufficient to allow all parties to move on.”

According to AEG, the implementation of block-booking between The O2 and Staples Center was in response to Azoff’s “aggressive practice of requiring artists to perform at the LA Forum in order to secure dates at Madison Square Garden” in New York.

Azoff (pictured), however, now says that isn’t the case, telling Billboard yesterday: “A show can play Staples Center and still play the Garden. You might have to route around basketball and hockey, but you can still play the Garden no matter where you’ve played before.”

Following Azoff’s statement – and facing the prospect of investigation in the UK – AEG is also reportedly considering dropping the block-booking from its end.

“So, that settles the matter: AEG and MSG have open buildings”

“We have always been staunch advocates of artists having the freedom to play the venues they want to play,” an AEG official tells Billboard. “That choice was taken away when MSG, supported by others, implemented their restrictive practices forcing artists who wanted to play the Garden to play the Forum in LA.

“This past July, after protracted use and explicit adoption of these bullying booking policies by MSG with the collaboration of powerful actors in the market, we reluctantly implemented booking practices we felt necessary to protect our company including the artists we serve, our customers, the communities we operate in and our partners, but we have been very clear all along: if market conditions change, AEG will consider reverting to its previous long-standing position that its buildings are open to all artists.”

The AEG exec does, however, caution that Azoff must follow through on his promise if he expects AEG to do the same, adding: “The only thing that would make us happier than if Mr Azoff officially declared that MSG will no longer prevent artists from choosing Staples Center would be if they then actually follow through with it.”

Azoff later issued another statement declaring the matter settled. Speaking on behalf of himself and MSG owner James Dolan, he says: “We are thrilled that AEG has listened to the artists and is going to adopt the same booking policy as MSG. For the record, and at the risk of being redundant: MSG and the Forum are open buildings. We said it and we mean it. Just ask the artists like Katy Perry who played MSG and Staples.

“So, that settles the matter: AEG and MSG have open buildings.”

 


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LA booking war escalates with Jingle Ball move

In the latest twist in the ongoing ‘booking war’ between AEG and Azoff MSG Entertainment, iHeartMedia’s popular festive Jingle Ball concert in Los Angeles is moving venues: from AEG’s Staples Center to MSG’s Forum.

Azoff MSG Entertainment, a joint venture between Irving Azoff and Madison Square Garden Company, and AEG are currently embroiled in a tit-for-tat booking dispute, with both parties barring acts from playing some of their venues unless they play another: for example, MSG’s Forum (17,500-cap.) and Madison Square Garden and AEG’s Staples Center (21,000-cap.) and The O2 in London.

MSG struck the most recent blow, expanding its footprint in the greater New York area by agreeing a booking deal with New Jersey’s Prudential Center (19,500-cap.).

Azoff MSG Entertainment and AEG are currently embroiled in a tit-for-tat booking dispute

According to Variety, Jingle Ball – last year played by 13 major international acts, including Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Fifth Harmony and One Direction’s Niall Horan – will now take place at the Forum, in a reported multi-year deal.

Oak View Group, a venue development and investment firm backed by Azoff, last month acquired concert business title Pollstar – a move reportedly met with disappointment by AEG, which supplies box-office data to the magazine.

A similarly named but unrelated UK event, Jingle Bell Ball, is organised by Global’s Capital Radio and takes place at The O2.

 


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