Ozzy Osbourne has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against AEG for its block booking policy requiring artists who want to play the O2 Arena in London to also play Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit is the latest flare-up in the ongoing venue wars between AEG and Madison Square Garden, owners of the Forum in Los Angeles. The suit follows a threat by Ozzy’s wife and manager Sharon Osbourne earlier this year to take AEG to court over its block-booking policy, which AEG CEO Jay Marciano has insisted was in response to block-booking between the Forum and Madison Square Garden. While Azoff MSG Entertainment chairman Irving Azoff has acknowledged the company has utilized a tying agreement in the past, he says both arenas are now open venues.
In his lawsuit against AEG, Osbourne’s attorney Daniel Wall with Latham Watkins accuses AEG of being a “monopolist for arena-sized venues in greater London” that “through management contracts it also controls a number of other large concert venues in greater London in addition to the O2,” including The SSE Arena at Wembley and the summer concerts series at Hyde Park.
The suit says earlier this year, Osborne’s U.K. promoter Live Nation sought to book the O2 for Ozzy’s farewell No More Tours 2, noting Live Nation “requested a date in February 2019, which AEG said was available—but only on the condition that Ozzy be bound by the Staples Center Commitment,” a document that says artists playing the O2 must agree to play Staples Center when performing an indoor concert in Los Angeles for a large arena audience.
“Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife and business manager, publicly complained about having to sign the Staples Center Commitment, but AEG would not relent,” the complaint reads. “Ozzy commences this action (on his own behalf and for all similarly situated artists) to prohibit AEG from enforcing the Staples Center Commitment, an unlawful tying arrangement that unfairly leverages AEG’s dominance in greater London to distort and deter competition in greater Los Angeles.”
The lawsuit is the second legal challenge to AEG’s tying arrangement between O2 and Staples Center. Last year officials with Live Nation UK filed a complaint with England’s Competition and Market Authority, and after several months of deliberation opted not to pursue the complaint.
Officials with AEG said the suit lacked merit and warned “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.”
Osbourne is seeking class-action status in his suit, potentially bringing in other artists who have been asked to sign the Staples Center Commitment letter. The suit argues that the arrangement means artists lose the benefit of “free and open competition” and “loses the
ability to choose the venues they prefer for artistic or other intangible reasons.”
After learning of the policy, Sharon Osbourne sent Marciano an email on Feb. 7 complaining that AEG was “bringing artists into a power struggle that you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation” and said, “Live Nation would never strong-arm an artist into playing a venue they’re not comfortable performing in.”
Marciano responded that same day, arguing “we couldn’t agree with you more — it should always be the artist’s choice. We long for the days when artists and fans came first,” before signing off “The other guys started this first!”
After Osbourne complained, AEG allegedly continued to press forward with its demand that the singer sign the agreement if he wanted to play the O2 and, on March 19, Osbourne directed Live Nation UK to sign the Staples Center Commitment letter.
“But because AEG’s conditions restrict his freedom (and the freedom of many other artists) to play at a venue of their choice, and because those conditions serve only to enrich AEG while restraining competition, Ozzy brings this Complaint to enjoin, nullify, and defeat the Staples Center Commitment on his own behalf and for all other similarly situated persons,” the suit reads.
The former Black Sabbath singer is seeking an injunction to force AEG to abandon the block booking policy and is asking a judge to find that the block booking policy violates U.S. antitrust laws.