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Blackstone confirms NEC Group acquisition

US private-equity giant the Blackstone Group has acquired the "iconic" UK venue operator in a deal believed to be worth in excess of £800m

By IQ on 15 Oct 2018

National Exhibition Centre (NEC)

image © N-allen/Wikimedia Commons

The Blackstone Group, a US investment firm that manages around US$440bn worth of assets, has acquired the UK’s NEC Group in a deal reportedly worth more than £800 million.

Founded in 1976 and most recently owned by the private-equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, NEC Group’s portfolio includes Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, International Convention Centre, Genting Arena and Arena Birmingham, as well as ticket agency the Ticket Factory and caterer Amadeus.

It recently posted a strong set of results for the financial year ending 31 March 2018, its third since being acquired by LBC from Birmingham City Council.

Paul Thandi, NEC Group chief executive, comments: “Blackstone’s track record in scaling companies, sector knowledge and unrivalled real estate capabilities make them the ideal new partner for NEC Group to realise the next phase of our ambitious growth strategy.

“All of our teams and partners look forward to working closely with the world-class team as we embark on becoming the definitive name in events and exhibitions, while continuing to focus on innovations and new customer experience offerings for all our customer groups.”

Blackstone used its managed private-equity funds for the acquisition, which was first reported by Sky News late on Friday. Other Blackstone investments include Versace, Leica Camera, UK exhibition organiser Clarion and US copyright collection society Sesac.

“NEC Group is iconic and we are excited about our new partnership”

Some 7m people a year pass through the 611-acre NEC site, on which Thandi has previously spoken of wish to build “Disneyland in Birmingham”.

Attendance at the group’s two arenas, Genting Arena (soon to be renamed Resorts World Arena) and Arena Birmingham, grew 17% in 2017–18, to over 1.6m, bolstered by performances by Drake, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, Mickey Flanagan, John Bishop, Disney on Ice and Strictly Come Dancing.

Rival arena operator SMG is similarly private equity-owned, having been bought by a $5.7bn fund managed by Canadian firm Onex Corporation last December.

“Under the leadership of Paul Thandi, a best-in-class management team and the support of LDC, the NEC has transformed its main site into a leading leisure, entertainment and business destination, which continues to benefit from a diverse customer base,” says Lionel Assant, European head of private equity at Blackstone.

“We have tremendous respect for what has been achieved. NEC Group is iconic and we are excited about our new partnership as we look to leverage our firm’s capabilities in support of the team.”


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