The war between two of the world’s largest venue operators, Azoff-MSG Entertainment and AEG Live, has been waged in different ways over recent years. Most directly, there’s a straight-forward turf war, which recently saw AEG Live gobble up dozens of venues in New York City. Now, the battlefield has stretched across the Atlantic Ocean as AEG and MSG attempt to block each other in the pettiest of ways.
A new policy from AEG went into affect earlier this month barring artists from playing their O2 Arena in London if they booked MSG’s The Forum in Los Angeles, according to Variety. The move is actually a response to MSG reportedly not booking acts at New York’s Madison Square Garden if the played AEG’s Staples Center instead of The Forum. The difference here is that the O2 Arena is the only venue of its roughly 20,000-capacity size in London, with the next closest being the 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena.
The MSG-Staples issue has been affecting artists’ bookings for several months already, with one source telling Variety that acts like Chance the Rapper, Hall and Oates, Tom Petty, and Roger Waters have recently played Queen’s Forest Hills Stadium instead of the Garden because they also performed at Staples. Apparently, artists have even been told they’d be prevented from booking Garden shows on future tours. (For reference, Staples holds 21,000, The Forum 17,500, Forest Hills 16,000, and the Garden can house over 20,000.)
Concert promoter Live Nation has threatened action against AEG’s latest move regarding the O2 Arena, arguing it violates antitrust laws because of the dearth of London venues with a similar capacity. Live Nation actually took a similar stance when AEG tried to force J. Cole to book both Staples and The O2, a move which led to the venue operator eventually backing down. However, this time around, AEG is confident in the legality of their policy even as Live Nation warns of lawsuits and pulling their bookings from AEG venues worldwide.
An AEG rep gave a statement to Variety defending the company’s actions:
“AEG always places artists and fans first and believes that artists should be free to play whatever venue they choose. However, MSG Entertainment’s aggressive practice of requiring artists to perform at the LA Forum in order to secure dates at Madison Square Garden is eliminating that choice, which serves neither the interests of artists nor fans. After exhausting all avenues, our hand has been forced by MSG’s actions and AEG will now coordinate bookings between The O2 arena and Staples Center to level the playing field for all. We believe that AEG’s offering of venues will provide artists the greatest financial potential and fans the best experience. While this coordinated booking strategy seeks to defend our business interests, our ultimate objective remains protecting and restoring choice for artists. Our policy is not intended in any way to deny Live Nation, or any other promoter, access to The O2 arena. To the contrary, we desire to bring as much content as possible to all of our venues and we will continue to actively seek concert bookings at The O2 from all promoters, including Live Nation.”
Live Nation’s threat of antitrust action in response to our booking policy is the height of hypocrisy coming from a company that publicly boasts about its control of content and distribution as the world’s largest concert promoter and ticketing company and one of the world’s leading artist management companies. Given its asserted market dominance, we find it astounding that Live Nation would have the audacity to complain merely because it finds itself agitated by a competitor’s business response to heavy-handed tactics in which Live Nation has participated. Notwithstanding Live Nation’s recent threats to pursue legal action and deprive AEG venues of shows, we fully intend to proceed with our new booking policy. We are highly confident of the legality of our booking policy and will vigorously defend any attempts by Live Nation to use the courts or the regulatory system to combat a practice they have aggressively pursued and benefitted from elsewhere.”
The other companies involved either declined to or were unavailable for comment. In previous statements, AEG Live CEO Jay Marciano called the feud damaging to artists, while MSG partner Irving Azoff called it “good, tough business.” Azoff and AEG have been at odds since he, as CEO of Ticketmaster, oversaw the 2009 Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger after AEG founder Philip Anschutz rejected negotiations to bring MSG, Ticketmaster, and AEG together. Since then, AEG has largely switched from Ticketmaster to AXS Ticketing.
Tl;dr: A bunch of businessmen are playing a game of keep away with artists out of spite and greed.