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AEG accused of “underhand methods” in MSG Sphere PR war

AEG Europe, owner and operator of London’s O2 arena, created a residents’ group to oppose rival Madison Square Garden’s plans for a new venue in east London, according to an investigation by The Times.

In an article that appeared on Saturday, The Times reported that AEG hired media agency Sans Frontières Associates to conduct a community-based campaign opposing the creation of the 21,500-capacity MSG Sphere.

The venue, MSG’s first property outside of the United States, is set to be located in Stratford, east London, across the river from AEG’s O2 Arena (20,000-cap.) in north Greenwich.

The media agency, founded in 2017 by Jonathan Lehrle, formerly of Lord Bell’s Bell Pottinger agency, set up social media accounts and put up billboards in the name of Newham Action Group, which were the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, the report alleges.

A MSG representative confirmed to IQ that the company is reviewing its legal position opposite AEG Europe and Sans Frontières Associates.

In a letter written to draw attention to the “unacceptable behaviour in Newham”, MSG’s executive vice-president of development and construction, Jayne McGivern, described the “damage” caused by the “fake” action group as “significant and lasting”.

“My team has worked tirelessly for over a year to ensure MSG Sphere would bring significant benefits to the Newham community,” writes McGivern. “I know that MSG Sphere would be the most amazing asset that everyone in Newham would be proud of.”

“We had hoped the owners of existing arenas in London would welcome innovation, diversity, and choice, and it’s extremely disappointing to us that they have not”

“Our plans are not about competition,” says the MSG executive. “Examples from New York and Los Angeles suggest that a new arena would grow the market and complement London’s existing venues by expanding booking options and allowing more artists to perform in the city.

“We had hoped the owners of existing arenas in London would welcome innovation, diversity, and choice, and it’s extremely disappointing to us that they have not.”

AEG has previously voiced concerns over the MSG venue’s proximity to the O2. In a statement, a spokesperson  reiterated that AEG “does not oppose competition in the music industry”, but does object to the location of the Sphere and the potential congestion that could be caused on the underground line serving both venues.

“AEG became concerned that during the pre-application process in the second half of last year there appeared to be little local understanding of the MSG proposals,” reads the statement.

“AEG believed that it was right that residents had reliable information about the potential negative impacts of the scheme before an application was submitted, and therefore created a web page and paid for advertising hoardings, through a media buying agency, to be placed around Stratford in the name of the Newham Action Group.”

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)’s consultation of the planning application for the MSG Sphere concludes this Friday (28 June).


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