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Phil Anschutz donates $1m to Elton John LGBT Fund

AEG chairman Phil Anschutz has donated US$1 million to the Elton John Aids Foundation’s LGBT fund, which supports LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) people in need in sub-Saharan Africa.

Anschutz – who has previously come under fire for donating money to allegedly anti-LGBT organisations in the US – says the grant is “intended to emphasise that we support freedom of all people to live their lives peacefully, without interference from others”, and expresses his regret if his money has previously gone towards working against LGBT rights.

“Sexuality is among the most personal of issues, and it has never been my intent to weigh in on people’s private lives,”Anschutz (pictured) says in a statement to Variety. “I support the rights of all people and oppose discrimination and intolerance against the LGBTQ community.

“I see this as a matter of basic human rights”

“I see this as a matter of basic human rights. Our foundation supports a broad range of philanthropic causes. I regret if any money given to a charity for other purposes may have indirectly worked against these values. That was not my intention, it does not reflect my beliefs and I am committed to making sure our internal processes are strengthened so that it does not happen again.”

“The donation by Phil to EJAF is in keeping with the special connection and consistently supportive, collaborative relationship I have developed with AEG for more than a decade,” adds Sir Elton. “We will put his donation to work to ensure that vulnerable groups are not left behind in the fight against HIV/Aids.

“This funding will help our programmes provide life-saving work for LGBT communities around the world, starting with the LGBT fund in Sub-Saharan Africa.”


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Past, present and future: The O2 at 10

When, back in 2001, AEG founder Phil Anschutz brokered a deal with the British government to turn the much-maligned Millennium Dome into his company’s flagship London venue, many were, understandably, sceptical.

The Dome was, after all, widely ridiculed as an £850 million vanity project for then-prime minister Tony Blair: a “great, frayed tent by the Thames” that very nearly finished off the political careers of cabinet ministers Peter Mandelson and John Prescott.

It’s a credit to Anschutz’s vision, then, that, 16 years later, a once-derelict site on the Greenwich peninsula polluted by toxic waste from a nearby gasworks is now home to the world’s busiest music venue – a far cry from the unoccupied white elephant that came to epitomise what many saw as the blind optimism of the early New Labour era.

What is now The O2 Arena – the 21,000-capacity centrepiece of The O2 entertainment complex – opened its doors on 24 June 2007, with a concert for staff featuring Tom Jones, Snow Patrol, Basement Jaxx and Snow Patrol. Its first major show, by Bon Jovi, followed the next evening.

It took just a year for the new venue to leapfrog New York’s Madison Square Garden and the UK’s MEN Arena (now Manchester Arena) to become the world’s top arena for ticket sales – 1,806,447 in 2008 – a position it has held ever since.

As The O2 celebrates double figures by signing another decade-long deal with naming partner O2 and hosting a series of big-name tenth-birthday shows (with more dates to be added later in the year), IQ catches up with The O2’s general manager, John Langford, and programming director, Emma Bownes, to find out what the future holds for the world’s most successful arena…


IQ: How have the tenth-birthday concerts been so far?
Emma Bownes:
 Really great. We started with alt-J on Friday [16 June], then we had Celine Dion [on 20–21 June] and Ed Sheeran [on 22 June]. It’s had a real party atmosphere – we even had an impromptu conga line in one of the bars!

Plus, thanks to the guys at O2, we’ve had the huge birthday present [a 6x6m installation housing a game show hosted by Vernon Kay], life-sized cakes of Ed Sheeran, Celine Dion and Jamiroquai, a marching band out the front, lots of free activities… it’s been like having our own festival.

Was it difficult to persuade the acts involved to come and play? All three are mid-way through tours…
John Langford:
Two things helped: Firstly, we went out chased artists who are currently playing festivals – we thought it might make sense for them play a few arena shows in between festival dates.

Secondly, we had massive marketing support from O2, which put up huge billboards across London. There’s a really brilliant picture Jay Kay [of Jamiroquai, whose planned O2 shows have been cancelled owing to the singer’s back problems] posted in front of his ad.

What have been your highlights of your time at The O2?
EB: Definitely Monty Pythonfarewell gigs [in 2014]. Muse’s Drones tour was amazing, and Adele was fantastic – she’s such an endearing individual.

JL: I’ve really enjoyed some of the sport –the David Haye vs Tony Bellew fight was amazing. I’m a bit of a production geek, so I also loved the lighting ‘balls’ at Red Hot Chili Peppers in December.

John, what made you make the jump from The SSE Hydro?
JL: Well, when you’re at the UK’s number-two venue there’s only one place to go!

What’s the secret to The O2’s success?
JL: It was the right venue at the right time in the right city. London is the pinnacle of the live music market, and it was under-served prior to The O2’s opening, which filled a gap in the market.

AEG really had incredible insight to understand that – they always knew it was going to be a winner, when lots of us didn’t.

EB: The design of The O2 lends itself to intimacy. When you get a lot of people in a venue, you get a lot of energy, but some venues let all that out – The O2 is big but it’s intimate.

“Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years. Expectations are much higher than they used to be”

How has the security situation changed over the past ten years?
JL: From an AEG perspective, it’s always been high on the agenda. But the Bataclan – that’s when things really changed.

AEG has always been on the forefront of responding to these things: for example, The O2 was the first venue of its size to have full search and scan on the doors.

Did you see a drop-off in attendance after the Manchester Arena bombing?
JL: No, there was no drop-off – in fact, we had Iron Maiden here the week after the attack.

Bruce Dickinson put it well when he said, “When we’re all together like this, it sends a message of love, of peace, of joy…”
JL: We all have a role to play to ensure the industry stays healthy and vibrant. We can’t let them change our lifestyles.

EB: The fans, too: At Ed Sheeran we had people wearing Manchester T-shirts, which was great.

Emma, what are you booking most of at the moment?
EB: From the programming side, comedy is definitely on the rise again. We’ve got 12 nights with Micky Flanagan coming up, all sold out. Rock shows are still big, and we’re doing more sports – as well as our own festivals, which we’re trying to schedule for quieter periods.

“It was the right venue at the right time in the right city”

How about esports?
We haven’t had any esports at The O2 yet, but watch this space. I’m also programming director for The SSE Arena, Wembley, where we have League of Legends events. Last time we had 6,000 people per day for four days.

It feels a lot like a gig – the crowd are really excited. If I watched it I wouldn’t understand what was going on, but they know the games so they can appreciate the strategy.

Finally, what’s your goal for The O2’s next ten years?
: To ensure we’re meeting needs of fans. Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years, and expectations are much higher than they used to be.

It’s really about focusing on the fan experience. Content is obviously an integral part of that, but it’s also about matching what you’d get in the centre of London: cold beer, decent food, hospitality…

Are you finding fans like the ‘entertainment district’ model of having everything in one place?
JL: Definitely. It’s what consumers want. We’ve got our designer outlet coming in September next year, we’re expanding our cinema concept – people want 24/7 entertainment, and these sorts of facilities should be integrated into entertainment complexes when they can.

Not every venue has the capacity – but the advantage for us is that we’ve got the space to do it.


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Irving Azoff, AEG in LA ‘booking war’

Irving Azoff has responded to reports of a bad-tempered Los Angeles ‘booking war’ between AEG and MSG Azoff Entertainment, saying the alleged offering of incentives to artists to play the rival companies’ respective venues is “good, tough business”.

Former Ticketmaster/Live Nation chairman Azoff (picture) issued the statement after Billboard reported that LA booking agents are being told by MSG Azoff – a joint venture between Azoff and the Madison Square Garden Company – their acts cannot play Madison Square Garden (in New York) unless they also play MSG’s the Forum in Inglewood, Los Angeles.

AEG is also alleged to be pushing artists to play its Staples Center venue or risk losing the chance to play at other AEG arenas, including The O2 in London and Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg.

After chiding AEG COO Jay Marciano, Staples Center president Lee Zeidman and WME’s Marc Geiger – whose client Neil Diamond had pulled out of playing the Staples Center after reportedly being told he could not also play Madison Square Garden, earning the ire of Marciano, who accused Geiger of “caving” to Azoff – for “hid[ing] behind anonymity”, Azoff suggests offering such deals to those who want to perform at the over-subscribed Garden simply makes business sense.

“While I realise that Phil may not be happy with Los Angeles being a competitive market, that’s the American way”

“They [AEG] offer huge rebates at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, London’s The O2 Arena, Germany’s Barclaycard Arena and a residency on the moon to secure an act to play Staples Center,” he tells Billboard. “They know, of course, that it is unlikely they will deliver the Staples date, but they work for a hard-nosed businessman [Phil Anschutz].

With regards to Madison Square Garden, he continues, “we have far fewer nights available than requests by artists to play there. And of course, the premium MSG nights are going to loyal friends of the company.

“Playing the Forum – the obviously better music venue in Los Angeles – makes you a friend of the company. I only wish we could accommodate everyone with dates in Manhattan, but it’s simple supply and demand. Besides, unlike London and Germany, there are now four arenas in the New York area, so if an act can’t play the Garden, they can go elsewhere.

Azoff is also co-founder, with ex-AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, of Oak View Group – which is bidding against AEG on Seattle’s KeyArena. He concludes: “While I realise that Phil may not be happy with Los Angeles being a competitive market, that’s the American way.”


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