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Ozzy Osbourne, AEG Attorneys Trade Fighting Words in Latest Round of L.A. Venue Wars

In the latest salvo in the Los Angeles arena battle pitting Staples Center against the Forum, attorneys for AEG filed a motion to dismiss Ozzy Osbourne’s anti-trust lawsuit challenging the promoter’s block-booking policy, which requires artists playing the London’s O2 Arena to also play Staples Center in Los Angeles — and which AEG claims is in response to a similar policy around the Forum and Madison Square Garden.

AEG lawyer Paul Salvaty says Osbourne doesn’t have legal standing to sue the company over the Staples Center commitment letter at the center of this latest round of the battle because the singer was not a party to the agreement, which Salvaty claims is actually between AEG and rival promoter Live Nation. The commitment letter was publicized with no shortage of outrage by Osbourne’s wife and longtime manager, Sharon. News of the motion was first reported by Billboard.

Speaking with Variety, Osbourne’s attorney Dan Wall said Tuesday, “The lawsuit was originally filed because, as Sharon has said, AEG doesn’t have any right to tell an artist where to play. And in this motion they’re seizing upon very technical language in their letter agreement to say that this isn’t really about the artists at all, it’s about the promoter — but the promoters are obviously working on behalf of the artists, and the agreement explicitly requires a promoter to ensure that the artist plays Staples if the tour goes through Los Angeles, and how can that be done without affecting the artist? Obviously, it can’t. It’s a cynical motion that is really quite deceptive in what it’s saying.”

In response, AEG’s vice chairman and chief legal officer told Variety, “I disagree with assertion that we’re trying to force artists to play Staples; we’re trying to create a level playing field where we can compete and win based on merits rather than Live Nation boycotting our building for reasons that have nothing to do with the fan experience or the economic potential that the venue offers.

“It’s obvious that Ozzy Osbourne is a front for Live Nation; we perceive that the lawsuit is clearly being driven by Live Nation,” he continued. “They don’t like our policy, they complained in the UK and to the Department of Justice and their complaints didn’t go anywhere, so they found an artist to be a straw man. They’re trying to frame this as AEG versus the artist, but the Osbourne suit is a poorly disguised attempt by Live Nation’s attorney to attack our policy in the name of the artist when the dispute is really motivated by his client’s frustration that we have succeeded in countering their questionable business practices that started all this.”

While Live Nation is not a party to the lawsuit — which Osbourne filed in March accusing AEG of violating anti-trust laws — Wall has done substantial work for the company in the past.

AEG CEO Jay Marciano has insisted many times that the company’s policy has insisted was in response to block-booking between the Forum and Madison Square Garden. Osbourne then accused Marciano of “bringing artists into a power struggle that you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation,” to which Marciano replied, “We couldn’t agree with you more — it should always be the artist’s choice. … The other guys started this first!”

Regarding that claim, Wall said, “My understanding is that MSG on a few occasions, when more than one artist wanted a particular date, they gave a preference to artists who were also going to play the Forum; they’ve also said that policy is no longer in place. That’s not even close to what AEG is doing. I think they jumped on the fact that MSG had this loyalty benefit, when the actual motivation is that the Forum has been eating their lunch in LA – you can just look at the show counts. There are a lot fewer shows playing at Staples than before the Forum was renovated [early in 2014], and the base tenants, the Clippers [basketball team] and the Kings [hockey team] aren’t doing very well and thus aren’t bringing in revenue from playoff sports. Staples is struggling and they needed to do something to force more shows into the building.”

In response, Fikre told Variety, “Regarding what they’re basically calling the Forum’s ‘soft loyalty’ preference, we observed first hand that MSG and Live Nation were taking a very heavy-handed approach and had a clear practice of forcing artists to play the Forum against their wishes.

“That was the dynamic that motivated our policy: MSG’s block-booking and Live Nation’s complicitous behavior in boycotting Staples and pushing artists to the Forum. We don’t expect every artist to play our buildings and we’re not looking to force them to. We’re just looking for a level playing field.”

Wall also said that “to our knowledge,” Los Angeles is the only city with a block-booking policy.

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