AEG has prevailed in the latest round of its venue battle with Live Nation and Azoff MSG Entertainment after British regulators told company officials they would not be investigating AEG’s policy of block booking the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the O2 Arena in London.
In September, AEG’s COO and chairman Jay Marciano told Billboard the company would continue to require acts seeking to play O2 Arena in London to also play Staples Center when routing through Los Angeles, and not play the Forum controlled by rivals Irving Azoff and James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Inglewood arena.
The move was a response to the alleged tying of Madison Square Garden and the Forum in July for several Roger Waters and Neil Diamond dates. At the time Azoff explained that “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.” He has since walked back those statements, telling Billboard on several occasions that there is no block-booking between the Garden and the Forum.
“A show can play (AEG’s) Staples Center and still play the Garden,” he told Billboard in August. “You might have to route around basketball and hockey, but you can still play the Garden no matter where you’ve played before.”
Marciano has told Billboard he is skeptical of those claims and earlier this month during an interview at Billboard Touring Conference in Los Angeles (Nov. 14-15) said he will continue the practice until there is “a comfort level” and he feels “it is believable [that MSG is not block booking]. We have to see it through actions moving forward.”
The decision to force acts that play Staples Center to also play O2 (AEG owns both buildings) was challenged by Live Nation U.K. chairman Denis Desmond, who confirmed to Billboard in August he had filed a complaint with the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) about the arrangement, which he said violated British competition and anti-trust laws.
Last week, CMA officials contacted AEG and Live Nation and said they did not plan to investigate the matter, saying the dispute began in Los Angeles and should be settled in California.
“Following their consideration of Live Nation’s complaint regarding our joint booking policy, we can confirm that the UK Competition Authority (the Competition and Markets Authority), has decided not to open an investigation,” a statement from AEG reads. “We are pleased with the CMA’s decision — it is the conclusion we always expected them to reach.”
Billboard reached out to Azoff and did not receive a comment for this article, but insiders say Live Nation and MSG are weighing their options, which could include asking the U.S. Department of Justice or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the matter. There’s also the possibility of a private lawsuit or a challenge to the legality of any pairing contract.
What would it take to repeal the policy? Namely, proof that MSG and the Forum aren’t block-booking, Marciano says. “I’ll believe it when I route [AEG’s] next tour and we don’t get blocked from playing the Garden,” he told Billboard in September.