In February, Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy Osbourne’s manager, threatened in a public letter to sue AEG over its policy requiring artists who want to play the O2 Arena in London to also play at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — and on Wednesday she followed through on that threat, filing a strongly worded lawsuit against AEG seeking to end the block-booking policy.
The lawsuit brings into the open a long-running turf battle between AEG and Azoff-MSG, which owns the Forum, Staples’ main competitor in the Los Angeles area. For several years the two companies have been embroiled in a bitter venue war in Los Angeles that pits AEG’s 21,000-capacity Staples Center against Azoff-MSG’s 17,500-capacity Forum. AEG chief Jay Marciano claims that the policy was implemented in response to a similar policy connection Madison Square Garden and the Forum; Irving Azoff has said that such a policy is no longer in place at his company’s venues.
In his lawsuit, Osbourne’s attorney Daniel Wall of Latham Watkins accuses AEG of “blatant, anticompetitive conduct—specifically, tying—by Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc. (“AEG”) and certain subsidiary and affiliated entities,” and of being a “clear monopolist for arena-sized venues in greater London” that “through management contracts it also controls a number of other large concert venues in greater London in addition to the O2,” which it notes is the only indoor arena in London with the capacity to host major concerts.”
Marciano said in a statement: “This suit is without merit and we will vigorously fight it. We welcome a closer look at the global live entertainment market and, specifically, our practices and the practices of our competition. AEG has always worked hard to put artists first. At the same time, we must respond to the actions of those we compete with, specifically Live Nation and Madison Square Garden. Fighting for a level playing field is fair competition at its core.”
The conflict came about when Osbourne’s promoter attempted to book the singer’s “No More Tours 2” tour into the O2 and were confronted with the Staples requirement. Claiming that AEG “would not relent” after the situation was made public via Osbourne’s letter, the complaint says that “Ozzy commences this action (on his own behalf and for all similarly situated artists) to prohibit AEG from enforcing the Staples Center Commitment, an unlawful tying arrangement that unfairly leverages AEG’s dominance in greater London to distort and deter competition in greater Los Angeles.” He seeks class-action status for the suit, which opens the possibility of incorporating other artists who have been asked to take part the O2-Staples Center commitment.
In her letter, Sharon Osboune said, “Shame on AEG for bringing artists into a power struggle you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation. I can assure you that Live Nation would never strong-arm an artist into playing a venue they’re not comfortable performing in.”
Marciano responded, saying: “Please understand this dispute is between The Forum and Staples Center and we couldn’t agree with you more — it should always be the artist’s choice. We long for the days when artists and fans came first,” adding, “PS — The other guys started this!”
In response to Marciano’s February letter, Irving Azoff said:
“Dearest Jay – This is a pack of lies. I’ve put artists first my entire career, name one time you’ve put an aritst above your own self-interest. Why do they continue to do business with you? We do not block book Madison Square Garden and The Forum, it is well-established. You guys continue to use lies to validate your anti-artist, anti-industry behavior. Love, Irving. PS – Sharon, you rock. You’re welcome at The Forum any time.”
Sources tell Variety that AEG’s O2/Staples requirement came about in response to a challenge from MSG that, according to sources, found the company refusing to book acts into Madison Square Garden if they played at AEG’s Staples Center in Los Angeles instead of the MSG-operated Forum. In response, sources say, AEG informed agents and promoters that acts who perform at The Forum instead of Staples will not be booked at London’s O2 Arena. The O2 is operated by AEG and is the only venue of its category — 20,000 capacity — in the city. The policy went into effect in July 2017.
The MSG-Staples standoff has affected several artists — including Chance the Rapper, Tom Petty, and Hall & Oates — who played their major New York shows at the approximately 16,000-capacity Forest Hills Stadium instead of the 20,000-plus-sized Garden, amid reports of threats that they would be prevented from playing at the Garden on future tours as well.