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Live Nation challenges Royal Parks decision to renew AEG’s Hyde Park deal

By | Published on Tuesday 1 October 2019

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Live Nation has reportedly formally challenged the Royal Parks organisation over its decision to renew its deal with AEG regarding the rights to stage concerts in London’s Hyde Park. According to Billboard, Live Nation has raised various issues with the bidding process employed by Royal Parks, it having also bid for the Hyde Park rights earlier this year.

AEG originally won the rights to stage a series of summer shows in the central London park back in 2012, presenting its first British Summer Time programme there the following year. Prior to that Live Nation produced concerts and festivals in Hyde Park, including the Wireless and Calling festivals, and an assortment of other shows.

In the latter years of Live Nation organising the Hyde Park concerts there were increasing complaints from local residents regarding noise levels, crowd sizes and the number and kind of shows being presented. Ultimately Live Nation pulled out of talks to renew its agreement with Royal Parks in 2012, saying that increased licensing limitations and a “flawed” tendering process made staging shows there unattractive and ultimately unfeasible.

In an interview at the time, Live Nation’s then COO John Probyn said: “Royal Parks has ignored everything else and gone for the money and we’re really good at walking away when something makes no sense. Hyde Park is the most expensive venue in the country and the stakeholders just don’t want events in there. I’ve kept saying that it’s a fantastic site, and in its heyday it was, but for the last four years it’s been a nightmare. We have no desire to be involved with a loss-leading project, or to work with someone who doesn’t understand what we’re doing”.

AEG subsequently took on the site, investing heavily in a new set up that sought to tackle the concerns of local residents but without hindering the experience of those in the audience. Billboard reckons that those investments made the British Summer Time project an expensive and loss-making endeavour in the earlier years, despite Barclaycard’s headline sponsorship. However, the venture has bedded in and become more stable for AEG.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, the number of summer festivals has increased over the years, with Victoria Park, Finsbury Park, Brockwell Park and Gunnersbury Park all now used for such events. Having lost access to its original Hyde Park home, Live Nation’s Wireless ultimately ended up at Finsbury Park, resulting in a repeated back and forth with local resident groups who oppose having the event in their neighbourhood.

Local residents have objected to any increase in the numbers of festivals being staged elsewhere too, meaning securing city centre locations for such events has become ever more tricky. And AEG again made it even trickier for its rivals when it did a deal to launch All Points East in Victoria Park, forcing Broadwick Live’s Field Day and the Lovebox event promoted by Live Nation’s MAMA to find new locations.

This year Field Day moved to The Drumsheds, a new complex in North London operated by its owner Broadwick Live, while Lovebox last year went west to Gunnersbury Park. But moving events risks losing audience, especially if ticket sales have traditionally been topped up by locals, or if new sites are in less familiar locations away from the capital’s more efficient tube and train lines. Plus promoters invest in bespoke infrastructure for each new site, meaning new production costs are incurred with every move.

That might be why Live Nation was interested in regaining control of the festival programme in Hyde Park when the Royal Parks organisation but the summer events contract back up for tender in March, despite all the issues the company raised in the years running up to 2012. Quite how its pitch compared to AEG’s “pretty much more of the same” proposal obviously isn’t known, but – Billboard’s sources say – Live Nation believes that the Royal Park’s procurement process was again flawed, hence the legal action.

Neither Live Nation nor AEG has commented on any of this, but a spokesperson for the Royal Parks told Billboard: “We are confident we have run the procurement process in accordance with the law. It would be inappropriate to comment while matters are ongoing”.