The venue wars that had pitted Madison Square Garden against AEG appear to be headed toward a conclusion.
AEG Presents chief executive Jay Marciano tells Billboard his company is no longer block booking the O2 Arena in London and Staples Center in Los Angeles, saying the policy is not needed now that Azoff MSG Entertainment has ended its block booking policy between Madison Square Garden in New York and the Forum in Los Angeles.
“Promoters for artists that want to play the O2 will no longer be required to commit to playing Staples Center,” Marciano tells Billboard. “Going forward, we will only require this commitment if we believed artists were being pressured to play the Forum to gain access to the Garden.”
Irving Azoff, who has denied that he block-booked Madison Square Garden and the Forum, tells Billboard, “It’s a great day for artists when those of us that make a living serving them recognize that artists should have the right to their own decisions, especially regarding choice of venues to play. I applaud Jay Marciano and AEG’s decision to put artists first and of course thanks to Ozzy and Sharon for standing up for everyone.”
Marciano said the decision was based on “feedback from artists, agents and managers that they’re no longer being pressured (to play the Forum). Artists who want to play Staples Center are free to do so, and artists are free to play where they want to play.”
The decision essentially ends a legal fight between Ozzy Osbourne and his wife and manager Sharon Osbourne, who had sued AEG for injunctive relief to end the policy.
“If they are abandoning the policy and this is a real commitment on their behalf, then there is no longer a need for a lawsuit,” said Osbourne’s attorney Dan Wall. “If we can take this at face value, it’s a great development for artists and Sharon and Ozzy will be satisfied.”
The fight started in April 2017 when AEG officials accused Azoff of pressuring artists like Neil Diamond and J. Cole to play the Forum — instead of Staples Center — a charge Azoff denied, but later clarified in a letter to Billboard that “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.”
In response, AEG introduced a block booking policy for Staples Center and the O2, requiring acts who wanted to play the London arena to sign a commitment letter agreeing to play at least one night in Los Angeles if their arena tour was routed through the city. Officials with Live Nation filed a complaint with the UK Competition and Market Authority, but the regulatory agency opted not to review the matter. In March, Sharon Osbourne filed suit against AEG, saying that Ozzy Osbourne was being forced to play at Staples Center as a result of the policy and accused AEG of anti-completive conduct. Last month AEG lost a motion to have the case dismissed.
“We’ve maintained since the beginning that it was necessary for us to bring about a free market where artists have choices,” Marciano says. “In regard to any lawsuits, we are going to remain strong that it’s important to vindicate this policy in the face of what we believe to be meritless claims by our competitors, who are using artists as fronts.” Marciano says, adding that a decision about the future of the lawsuit is the hands of the Osbournes because “they’re the one who sued us.”