Update: An Azoff MSG spokesperson told Amplify “This is a problem between Neil Portnow and Dana Tomarken, a disgruntled former employee. Neil booked MSG and Radio City Music Hall. If his head of MusiCares disagreed, that is an internal issue.”
A fiery letter from a whistleblower who was fired last month from MusiCares has unleashed a torrent of finger-pointing as the dust begins to settle on what could be the Grammy’s second major scandal in the span of a few months.
“You lost your privileges,” was the response Amplify received from one of the players close to the the scandal that follows former MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken’s scathing letter when asked some basic accounting questions about MusiCare’s annual Person of the Year event, whose move from Barclays Center to Radio City Music Hall allegedly cost the foundation millions of dollars. The scandal follows recent criticism of Portnow ‘s “step up” comments about women in the music industry which set off a torrent of criticism after this year’s Grammys saw only one female win a major award.
The unfolding fight highlights increasing anxiety about Tomarken’s allegations, that claim Recording Academy chairman and president Neil Portnow misallocated money away from the organization’s MusiCares charity in order to fund a deficit from this year’s Grammy telecast.
Both sides are now bracing for a bruising legal fight than could begin with the filing of a wrongful termination suit and quickly morph into an ugly courtroom battle. Tomarken sent the letter to board members Monday (May 21), alleging that Irving Azoff had pushed to move the annual charity event held each year on the night before the Grammys to Radio City from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which had promised to underwrite large portions of the evening’s expenses and offer a reduced rent.
Another portion of the letter alleges that Tomarken had “became aware of an existing agreement that had been crafted by Neil and Oak View Group (Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff’s partnership),” alleging that “Oak View had agreed to sell GRAMMY Week packages that included tickets to the telecast as well as Person of the Year, designed to raise $1.5 million for MusiCares.”
Late last year, Tomarken writes “I discovered in follow-up conversations with Oak View, to determine how many of these packages had been sold, that Neil had subsequently approved dropping MusiCares from the package revenue stream in favor of funding the telecast deficit,” she wrote.
OVG officials would not comment on the sale, although Pollstar, which is owned by Leiweke and is part of Oak View Group, avoided covering the story, frustrating career journalists who would have picked up the story prior to the company being purchased last year by OVG.
In her 4,500-word letter, Tomarken claimed that Portnow secretly negotiated a deal to hold MusiCares’ annual Person of the Year event at Radio City Music Hall as part of larger negotiations to secure the telecast of the Grammys at Madison Square Garden, which owns Radio City.
The move allegedly resulted in a loss in fundraising, dropping from $5 million in 2017 to only $1 million in 2018. She also alleges that some of the money raised by MusiCares was steered toward the Grammys to cover a funding shortfall tied to the telecast, an allegation a Recording Academy spokesperson denies.
The Grammys will return to Los Angeles in 2019 after one of the most expensive award shows in Grammy’s history. The move to New York for the first time in 15 years cost $6 million to $8 million more to produce at New York’s Madison Square Garden than in Los Angeles at Staples Center, Billboard reported.
The fight comes as Staples Center parent company is locked in the bitter Venue Wars with Madison Square Garden, although both sides were quick to point out the battle for the MusiCares event didn’t fit neatly within the Venue Wars narrative. While Barclays does contract some limited services with AEG, the facility regularly plays host to Live Nation tours and is considered an open and independent building.
If anything, the fight over the MusiCares event represents a separate venue fight — an ongoing battle between Barclay Centers and Madison Square Garden for shows in the New York market. After a hard fought battle to win control of Nassau Coliseum on Long Island (a fight that ultimately went to Barclays), OVG is now backing a plan to build a new, competing arena and home for Nassau’s former tenant the New York Islanders in the Belmont area of New York.