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Live entertainment giant AEG Presents to require proof of vaccination; COVID test won’t do

AEG Presents, one of the biggest companies in the live entertainment business, announced Thursday that it will require proof of vaccination at its venues, shows and festivals starting Oct. 1. Any application in Alabama likely will be prevented by state law, however.

AEG Presents is a major player — some of its best-known ventures include the Coachella festival, the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival and Alabama’s Hangout Music Fest — and its stance is stronger than most, since it doesn’t include a provision allowing patrons to present a fresh COVID test result. A company statement released Thursday made clear that that is deliberate.

“The vaccination policy, limited only as required by law, will be in full effect nationwide no later than October 1, 2021,” said the statement. “Several venues have already been following local government vaccination mandates, with others anticipated to come in the weeks leading up to October 1. The date was chosen specifically to allow time for any eligible unvaccinated ticketholders and staff to reach fully vaccinated status should they choose to do so. Leading up to October 1, AEG Presents will be implementing a policy of showing proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of show date where permitted.”

“We have come to the conclusion that, as a market leader, it was up to us to take a real stand on vaccination status,” said Jay Marciano, COO of parent company AEG and Chairman and CEO of AEG Presents. “Just a few weeks ago, we were optimistic about where our business, and country, were heading. The Delta variant, combined with vaccine hesitancy, is pushing us in the wrong direction again. We realize that some people might look at this as a dramatic step, but it’s the right one. We also are aware that there might be some initial pushback, but I’m confident and hopeful that, at the end of the day, we will be on the right side of history and doing what’s best for artists, fans, and live event workers.”

“Our hope is that our pro-active stance encourages people to do the right thing and get vaccinated,” Marciano said in the statement. “We’ve already had to deliver bad news about JazzFest this week; I think everyone can agree that we don’t want concerts to go away again, and this is the best way to keep that from happening.”

“Limited only as required by law” and “where permitted” might be the key phrases, where Alabama is concerned. “Certain states’ regulations may override our mandate, or a few artists may not want to immediately get on board with the plan, but we know that using our platform to take a strong position on vaccinations can make an impact,” said Shawn Trell, COO and General Counsel of AEG Presents. “The message we want to send is simple and clear: the only way to be as safe as possible is to require everyone to be vaccinated. And we’re confident that others who haven’t been ready to make this full commitment yet will follow our lead.”

AEG Presents doesn’t appear to own any venues in Alabama. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do business in the state.

In Mobile, ASM Global manages three city-owned facilities: The Mobile Civic Center, the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center and the Mobile Saenger Theatre. ASM Global’s general manager in Mobile is Kendall Wall, who said the situation is complex and rapidly evolving.

ASM Global was founded by a merger involving a branch of the AEG empire that was known as AEG Facilities. But ASM is a completely separate company from AEG, not a sister company to AEG Live, Wall said. That means that AEG’s new policy isn’t an ASM Global policy, therefore he’s under no obligation to try to implement it in Mobile.

However, Wall said, an ASM-managed facility such as the Mobile Saenger Theatre could book a show promoted by AEG Presents, and in that case the presumption would be that the new policy would apply — if permitted. And in Alabama, it isn’t.

Last spring the Alabama legislature passed a bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, intended to block any use of “vaccine passports” or any attempt by businesses to refuse service to people based on their immunization status. Attorney General Steve Marshall issued an opinion in late July summarizing the state of the law. “No government, school, or business in Alabama may demand that a constituent, student, or customer, respectively, be vaccinated for COVID-19 or show proof of his or her vaccination for COVID-19,” wrote Marshall.

The law has yet to be tested in court. It also specifies no penalties for violations. At least one educational institution has implemented an apparent workaround, implementing a COVID testing fee for students that can be waived for those who are vaccinated.

Nationally, the live entertainment industry is embroiled in a struggle to adapt to the current surge in COVID-19 prevalence. As to whether a consensus on COVID policies can be reached or what it will be, “we don’t know yet,” said Wall.

“It seems like where the industry is heading, the artists themselves will make the decisions,” Wall said, referring to Jason Isbell and Widespread Panic as examples. Isbell recently made waves by saying proof of vaccination or of a recent clean COVID test would be required at shows, and Widespread Panic has taken a similar approach to appearances in August.

But Isbell went so far as to say that he would require proof of vaccination or a negative test at all his shows, indoor or outdoor, and that if venues won’t allow that he won’t play. He has four Alabama appearances scheduled, in Montgomery, Mobile, Pelham and Florence.

Wall said his best guess is that most of the industry will follow the “proof of vaccine or negative test result” rather than AEG Presents’ vaccine-only path. “I think you’ll see more and more artists go that way,” he said. What happens when state or local governments thwart that approach remains to be seen.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, Wall said, an artist’s wishes aren’t the only factor. Venue owners, cities and states also can set policies or limits. Rules might be different for indoor and outdoor venues. And the spread of COVID-19 is worse in some parts of the country than others.

“I think we’re literally going to have to go show to show, artist to artist, to see how it goes,” said Wall. “We’re going to be having multiple, multiple conversations about this.”

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