?A federal judge rejected arguments today filed by concert promoter and arena operator AEG, defending its policy requiring acts that want to play the O2 Arena in London to sign an agreement promising to play Staples Center when they are in Los Angeles.
In a succinct four-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer rejected dozens of pages of legal arguments from AEG attorneys who argued that Ozzy Osbourne? wasn’t a party to the agreement between his promoter Live Nation and AEG and therefore didn’t have standing to sue over the Staples Center Commitment Letter, paving the way for the case to move forward and potentially go to trial in Los Angeles.
Fischer called AEG’s argument “unpersuasive,” rejecting claims that Osbourne lacked standing in the case, saying “because Ozzy’s only reasonable choice of venue in London is the O2 Arena, he is explicitly coerced by a contract that says he must play the Staples Center” and argued “Ozzy personally suffers damage in a fairly direct and non-speculative way by not being able to play in his preferred venues.”
The legal fight is the latest flashpoint in a wide-ranging venue war between Live Nation and Madison Square Garden on one side and AEG and its venue network on the other. After alleging that Azoff MSG Chairman Irving Azoff had told acts like Neil Diamond and Roger Waters that in order to secure a booking at Madison Square Garden they had to promise to play the Forum, AEG retaliated with a similar tying arrangement between Staples Center and the O2 Arena, requiring acts that play the London arena (one of the top grossing venues in the world according to Billboard Boxscore) sign a letter promising to play at least one show at Staples Center when performing in LA. After a regulatory agency in the UK opted not to investigate the arrangement, Osbourne and his manager and wife Sharon Osbourne filed suit earlier this year.
Fischer said that even though a Live Nation representative was the one who signed the Staples Center Commitment Letter, Osbourne was affected by the outcome and rejected AEG’s argument that Osbourne could have simply changed promoters in Los Angeles to avoid harm.
“Presumably, Ozzy chose to promote his concerts through Live Nation for an economically valid reason, just as he has chosen to play London and Los Angeles for a reason,” Fischer wrote. “That Ozzy might have another possible way out of the tie besides not playing London or Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily make AEG’s conduct non-coercive.”
Osbourne’s attorney Dan Wall tells Billboard that AEG’s attorneys “we’re basically trying to say ‘there is no coercion’ by chipping away at the argument and saying ‘we haven’t taken away all your freedom, you still have some options’ but (Judge Fischer) was just not buying any of it.”
As for the Fischer’s short response to AEG’s lengthy legal argument, Wall commented that the judge “gave this about as much attention as it deserved.”
AEG’s chief legal and development officer Ted Fikre says the loss was “not a particularly big deal” and tells Billboard the decision was simply “a procedural matter that has nothing to do with the central elements of this case.”
“This case has little to do with Ozzy Osbourne, who is a surrogate for Live Nation and MSG,” he explains. “Our intention is to continue to compete aggressively and not make any chances to our policy,” saying the company would only drop the Staples Center Commitment Letter if “business conditions necessitated a change.”