AEG Says It Will Continue to Block-Book the O2 and Staples Center

Jay Marciano, COO, Anschutz Entertainment Group; Chairman, AEG Live

Jay Marciano said policy will continue as it awaits ruling from UK regulators

Think the fight between AEG and Irving Azoff is over? Think again.

What started as a brawl over a string of Neil Diamond dates has morphed into an international battle that might require the intervention of British regulators. But until he hears a decision from the regulators looking into the matter, AEG’s COO and chairman Jay Marciano tells Billboard that he won’t change his company’s two-month-old coordinated booking policy between the O2 in London and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

While Azoff tells Billboard there is “no fight between us,” Marciano says the fight is in fact far from over, and believes agreeing to a truce might be considered collusion. If AEG agrees to stop block-booking the O2 and Staples because rival Azoff says he is not doing the same with the Forum in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York, regulators might consider that arrangement similar to price-fixing, Marciano says.

"We're confident in our legal position but, in the meantime we can’t agree to consider changing our policies until the review is completed,” Marciano tells Billboard.

Marciano said AEG's policy was a response to Azoff forcing Neil Diamond’s agent, Marc Geiger at WME, to agree to play the Forum in order to secure a date at the Garden. At the time, Azoff told Billboard "premium MSG nights” go to “loyal friends of the company” and said "playing the Forum -- the obviously better music venue in Los Angeles -- makes you a friend of the company.”

Azoff says he has never had a block-booking policy and tells Billboard, "MSG and The Forum are open buildings. We said it and we mean it.”

But Marciano wants proof before relaxing the new AEG rule.

“I'll believe it when I route [AEG’s] next tour and we don’t get blocked from playing the Garden,” he tells Billboard. Until then, he said, he’s comfortable waiting for a ruling from the U.K.’s Competition and Market Authority, to whom Live Nation U.K. boss Denis Desmond last month filed a complaint about AEG tying the O2 Arena to the Staples Center. “Now that they have filed, there is a process that needs to be followed," Marciano says.

Azoff’s camp says AEG has misrepresented the Garden’s booking policy and says there’s plenty of evidence that its buildings are open to all artists. Since March 2016, 11 acts have played both Staples Center and the Garden, including Justin Bieber, Ellie Goulding, The Who, Adele, Drake and Shawn Mendes, with many playing multiple dates at both facilities.

But AEG says many of those shows were booked months in advance, before the venue wars began. Billboard has learned that superstar band U2 was recently presented with AEG’s requirement that it play Staples Center along with the O2, but the band’s promoter, Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel, says the group hasn’t agreed to the quid pro quo, comparing AEG’s policy to “a little kid taking their toys and leaving the sandbox.”

Azoff says his L.A. building, the Forum, has been able to get more shows because it has more available dates; Staples Center is home to three sports teams. But its teams’ recent early exits from the playoffs have pressured AEG to book more shows at Staples Center and so far, the block-booking policy between Staples Center and the O2 has helped, allowing AEG to secure a Shania Twain concert at Staples, for example. The country superstar agreed to play Staples to secure a date at the London building.

Depending on what British regulators decide, AEG might have to adjust its policy, but Marciano thinks there’s a good chance his company could be allowed to keep its rule in place. If that were to happen, AEG might be able to drive more shows to the Staples Center, though they could face backlash from some in the artist community. Even though such quid-pro-quo arrangements are commonplace in the music industry, in practice executives rarely make such policies explicit.

“The dumbest thing they can do is try and force an artist to play somewhere as part of an agenda for their buildings,” Live Nation’s Fogel tells Billboard. “I can’t even process how someone thinks this is a winning strategy."

Marciano said he wasn’t concerned about Fogel’s comments, telling Billboard, “Where was Arthur Fogel when AEG tours were being blocked from playing the Garden? It’s easy for him to take the high road now when it’s not one of Live Nation’s tours being blocked.”

As for Azoff, he says he can’t believe Marciano keeps going on like this. “We’re just trying to book shows,” he says.