After several years of fierce battle, AEG Presents is ending the “block-booking” policy whereby artists who perform at the company’s O2 Arena in London would be bound to play its Staples Center in Los Angeles instead of the Forum, the main competing venue in the city.
While claims conflict, AEG says it began the policy due to a similar one by competitor Azoff-MSG Entertainment connecting the Forum with New York’s Madison Square Garden. Azoff-MSG recently denied that such a policy was in place.
“Going forward promoters for artists who want to play the O2 will no longer to be required to commit to playing Staples,” AEG Presents CEO Jay Marciano told Variety on Wednesday. “We would only require that commitment if we had reason to believe that artists were being somehow pressured to play the Forum in order to have access to the Garden. But we’ve had a lot of feedback from artists and agents and managers that they’re no longer [feeling that pressure]. We’re pleased that this is the end result.”
Several months ago, AEG’s policy led to a lawsuit from Ozzy Osbourne and his manager Sharon. While the official status of that lawsuit was unclear at press time.
Dan Wall, an attorney for the Osbournes, told Variety that he had not heard directly about AEG’s policy change but said, “If that’s true, it’s great news for Ozzy and the dozens of other affected artists. The lawsuit exists only to remove this block booking requirement, and if that’s gone, there is no further need for litigation.”
Irving Azoff said in a statement: “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.”
Asked about the status of the lawsuit, Marciano told Variety, “They sued us, so you’ll have to ask them, but we believed it was important to vindicate our policy and in the face of what we believe are meritless claims brought about by competitors [Azoff-MSG and AEG competitor Live Nation], using an artist as a front. We’re very happy that artists will be able to choose, which is what we were fighting for in the first place.”
Azoff-MSG insisted several months ago that it had no block-booking policy in place for the Forum and the Garden. Marciano said Wednesday, “I think they said that but we wanted to wait and see. We wanted to be sure that MSG and others were going to follow through with [that] commitment. All of the major agencies have given us that assurance. We set out on this policy to bring about a free market that respects the artists’ choice and I think we’ve accomplished that. It’s a victory for artists.”
A number of ancillary legal tussles, also involving Live Nation, have resulted from AEG’s policy, which officially went into effect on July 1, 2017. AEG and Live Nation have been at odds since AEG Live moved most of its venues from Ticketmaster to AXS Ticketing in the wake of the 2009 Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger.
The MSG-Staples standoff affected several artists — including Chance the Rapper, Tom Petty, and Hall & Oates — and largely saw AEG acts performing major New York shows at the approximately 16,000-capacity Forest Hills Stadium instead of the 20,000-plus-sized Garden, although there were many exceptions. The venue sizes in New York and Los Angeles are roughly comparable: Staples holds 21,000 and The Forum 17,500.
The O2, which is operated by AEG, is the only venue of its category — 20,000 capacity — in the city, although earlier this year Azoff-MSG announced plans to open a similarly sized venue called MSG Sphere in the city (as well as Las Vegas) in the coming years.