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Arena Wars 2: too close for comfort

UNITED KINGDOM -
World News
July 10, 2019

A“GRASS roots” campaign opposing the development of the MSG Sphere (cap. 21,000) in Stratford, East London, was in fact a lobbying initiative by AEG, the owner of rival venue The O2 (21,000), according to a report in The Times newspaper.

The campaign calling itself the Newham Action Group (NAG), featured billboard advertising and a now-deleted Twitter account and was designed by Sans Frontieres Associates, founded by PR guru Tim Bell, said the paper. 

It purported to be “by residents, for residents”, a claim which the developer of the new venue, Madison Square Garden Company (MSGC), has contested.

This is the latest episode in a long-running dispute between AEG and MSGC, owner of the iconic Madison Square Garden (18,600) in New York.

The row broke out in 2017 (see Audience issue 210) when MSGC suggested it would restrict dates in New York for artistes who played in AEG’s Staples Center (21,000) in Los Angeles, rather than its own venue, The Forum (17,500). AEG hit back by insisting that acts wishing to play The O2 would need to play the Staples Center, instead of The Forum.

The proposed MSG Sphere – just four miles (6.4 kms) from The O2 – will be 95.6 metres tall and feature an LED “skin” for broadcasting video outdoors, including advertising.

Following The Times article, MSG said in a statement, “We understand the tactics used by the lobbying agency go well beyond simple posters and social media, and include aggressively spreading myths and fear amongst local figures – many of whom have since formed new opposition groups based on these falsehoods.”

The dispute has temporarily eclipsed the concerns of genuine residents’ movement Stop MSG Sphere (SMS), which launched its Facebook campaign and a petition last November. Group member Lindesay Mace insists SMS expresses the views of local people and was launched many months earlier.

“Although MSG says the site is not residential, it is bordered by decades-old houses and flats,” she says. “[Nearby] Windmill Lane goes back to the 19th century and some flats will be 50 metres from the Sphere. It will be covered in advertising which will not be in keeping with the area.” 

An AEG statement says it, “… does not oppose another large music venue in London. But [we] do believe that such a venue should not be located so close to existing venues such as the London Stadium [80,000] and Copper Box [7,500] as well as The O2”.

AEG declined to comment on The Times report but stated that the company had never met Tim Bell.

Meanwhile, MSG has also been canvassing local residents and influencers to contact the local planning authority with their support. An email from The MSG Sphere London Team says, “If approved, MSG Sphere will bring jobs, community investment, and more of the world’s greatest acts to Stratford”.

The new venue is scheduled to open in 2022.

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