American firms AEG and Live Nation dominate London’s live events
A battle between the world’s two biggest live music companies for control of London’s prime venues, including Hyde Park, Wembley Arena and the Olympic Stadium, has prompted an investigation by competition watchdogs concerned about music lovers potentially facing higher ticket prices and less choice of big name acts.
The multibillion-pound live music market is dominated by US groups Live Nation, which in the last year handled tours by Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Rihanna and recently secured the rights to stage gigs at the Olympic stadium complex in east London, and rival AEG.
AEG controls a glittering array of assets including London’s O2 Arena, the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and festivals including Coachella in California, owns David Beckham’s former club LA Galaxy, and is an investor in the LA Lakers basketball team.
The 02 Arena owner, which was put up for sale late last year by billionaire Philip Anschutz with a $10bn (£6.4bn) price tag, ramped up its focus on dominating the London live music scene last summer when it snapped up the Hammersmith Apollo as part of a consortium that took it off the hands of beleaguered retailer HMV. Since then AEG has muscled in on the contract to run events in Hyde Park, replacing Live Nation which had put on gigs such as Live 8 and Hard Rock Calling in the central London venue for more than a decade.
Just before Christmas AEG struck again, seeking to move in on Live Nation’s six year hold on the venue management contract for Wembley Arena in north London, which has hosted performers including Madonna and Elton John.
The Office of Fair Trading has noted AEG’s London expansion and earlier this month launched an investigation into whether the proposed Wembley deal, which has not been signed off, might mean a “substantial lessening of competition” within the live music industry in the capital. The OFT will decide whether to refer the issue of AEG controlling London’s two biggest arenas to the Competition Commission.
In 2007 the regulator ruled that Live Nation and Gaiety Investments needed to sell off Hammersmith Apollo and The Forum before allowing them to buy into Academy Music Group, raising concerns including too much control over ticket pricing.
“IF AEG have control of the management of the two biggest venues there is of course the issue that they could look to impose ticket price increases, and exert more control over the artists and types of events,” said one music industry source.
Live Nation, which also owns Ticketmaster and festivals including Creamfields and Latitude, has been involved in an increasingly acrimonious spat with its rival in the battle for control of London’s music venues.
The company was quick to announce that it had pulled out of the Hyde Park tendering process in the autumn, citing logistical difficulties including having to shut Park Lane and noise control issues.
Last summer the venue made international headlines for the wrong reasons when a duet between Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen had to be cut short mid-song due to the sound curfew.
A spokesman for The Royal Parks Agency, which ran the bid process for Hyde Park, said it was a case of sour grapes and that “Live Nation participated in the tender process from start to finish but was not selected as the preferred bidder”.
Live Nation bounced back this month with the exclusive deal to host gigs at the Olympic Park and stadium in east London this summer, with the Wireless Festival and Hard Rock Calling defecting from Hyde Park.
At least two gigs will be held in the main Olympic stadium.
A source close to Live Nation, which claims to be the biggest provider of live events in the UK, said that the venue grab was not about building a monopolistic position, but delivering on booming demand for live music.
“Live Nation is in favour of anything that promotes competition, choice and access to different music genres for audiences not just in London, but across the UK,” the insider said. “The company is committed to meeting that demand in 2013, including in the Olympic Park.”
Paul Bedford, head of live events at Ingenious, which has developed festivals including Creamfields and Field Day which takes place in Victoria Park, London, said smaller players were vital to keeping the UK music scene vibrant.
“There is a bit of a land grab, they are the big boys butting heads for dominant position and there is competitive tension,” Bedford said.
“It would be a crying shame for everyone if all the parks and key venues put out contracts to just one operator. Smaller, independent players are like indie record labels, fleet of foot [compared] to the major companies and essential for discovering new talent.”
How they line up
Controlled by Philip Anschutz, for sale with $10bn price tag
London O2 Arena, Staples Centre in Los Angeles, Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane
Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, America’s Got Talent tour
Coachella, New Orleans Jazz Festival, RockNess in Scotland
LA Galaxy, LA Lakers, ESPN X Games, Barclays ATP World Tour finals, media partner with owner of Tour de France
Listed company with $2bn valuation
Results for 3 months to end of September
Adjusted operating income: $202.4m
Attendance at concerts outside US: Up 29% yr-on-yr to 4.27m
Biggest ticketing artists of 2012 (in order)
Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Coldplay, Jay Z, Westlife, Metallica
Wireless, Hard Rock Calling, Creamfields, Latitude, Download