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MSG Entertainment, Dolan maintain facial recognition commitment as criticism ramps up

Featured image credit: Seth Hoffman on Unsplash

MSG Entertainment, owner and operator of Madison Square Garden, and its CEO and executive chairman, James Dolan, have doubled down on the controversial utilisation of facial recognition technology at the iconic New York arena.

MSG Entertainment’s use of the technology was first questioned in October when attorney Larry Hutcher, a longtime season ticket holder of the New York Knicks, the NBA basketball franchise which plays at the Garden, was told that his seats had been revoked due to the fact his law firm was representing ticket resellers that were suing MSG.

Hutcher filed a lawsuit in response, while other lawyers have since come forward stating they have received the same treatment whilst attempting to attend events at the venue. The matter escalated on Wednesday as New York Attorney General, Letitia James, sent a letter to MSG Entertainment requesting information from the company and its affiliates regarding its use of facial recognition technology to prohibit legitimate ticketholders from entering their venues.

This, along with the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) reportedly seeking to strip the Garden’s alcohol licence due to the furore, prompted Dolan to issue a strong response in an interview with local broadcaster Fox 5 yesterday (Thursday).

He said: “Well, look, facial recognition, right? It’s just the technology. Right? The real issue that’s going on here is our policy of not letting attorneys who are suing us into our building until they are done suing us. When they’re done, they’re very much welcome back.”

New York state lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this week that would ban sports venues including the Garden from denying entry to perceived enemies of their owners. MSG Entertainment owns and operates several venues in New York, including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Hulu Theater, and the Beacon Theatre.

In recent weeks, reports have alleged that MSG Entertainment has used its facial recognition software to identify all lawyers from firms representing clients engaged in litigation against the company and forbid them from entering their venues. This policy is estimated to impact all lawyers at more than 90 law firms.

In her letter, James raised the concern that preventing individuals from accessing MSG Entertainment venues because of ongoing litigation against the company could violate local, state, and federal human rights laws, including laws prohibiting retaliation. The letter also questioned whether the facial recognition software used by MSG Entertainment is reliable and what safeguards are in place to avoid bias and discrimination.

“MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” said James. “Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect. Anyone with a ticket to an event should not be concerned that they may be wrongfully denied entry based on their appearance, and we’re urging MSG Entertainment to reverse this policy.”

Dolan has also accused the SLA of being “extremely aggressive” in its proclamations. He continued: “They’re saying ‘We’re gonna take away your liquor license.’ So I have a little surprise, right? Because they’re basically doing this for publicity. So we’re gonna give them some publicity.

“What we’re going to do, right is we’re going to pick a night. Maybe a Rangers game, and we’re going to shut down all liquor and alcohol in the building. Now, this isn’t going to bother me, because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.

“But instead, what we’re going to do is where we serve liquor, we’re going to put one of these (signs) up, which says, if you would like to drink at a game, please call Sharif Kabir, (SLA) chief executive officer, or write him an email at this address. And tell him to stick to his knitting, and to what he’s supposed to be doing, and stop grandstanding and trying to get press.”

When asked if he was concerned about the intensifying criticism, Dolan said: “No. I mean, first off, let’s see if they were able to pass that particular legislation, it’s completely illegal. In the United States, there’s a thing called the Bill of Rights.

“In the Bill of Rights, you’re allowed your freedom of religion, your right to own property, etc. This is just about owning property, you know like a bakery or a restaurant. You get to say who you serve, right?”

Following the Fox 5 interview, MSG Entertainment issued a statement reiterating its policy, which it claims has seen facial recognition tech utilised since 2018 to “provide a safe and secure environment for our customers and ourselves”.

MSG Entertainment added: “Attorneys who have filed a lawsuit against MSG Entertainment are not welcome in our venues while litigation is ongoing. When the litigation is resolved, they will be welcomed back.

“This includes attorneys representing ticket scalpers, personal injury claims and class action litigations, but does not include claims related to sexual harassment or employment discrimination.

“MSG Entertainment is a private business, and in full compliance with all applicable laws – it is also within our right to implement and to enforce this policy, which is specific to lawyers pursuing active litigation against the company.”