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Private equity & live music: Who owns what?

Amid the recent Superstruct sale rumours, IQ charts the increasingly close links between the international touring industry and private equity

By James Hanley on 09 May 2024

Hungary's Sziget festival is owned by Superstruct Entertainment

Hungary's Sziget festival is owned by Superstruct

It was recently reported that Providence Equity Partners-backed live giant Superstruct Entertainment was being readied for a sale, with a formal auction process set to be launched within weeks.

Providence was said to be working alongside banks Liontree and HSBC to gauge interest after planning the sale last summer, with Blackstone and CVC highlighted as potential bidders.

The report once again brought the international touring industry’s relationship with private equity (PE) into focus, with a number of the world’s biggest companies now wedded to that world. Ticketing guru Tim Chambers tackled the increasingly hot topic in a recent op-ed for IQ.

“The corporatisation of the live music industry to form a series of vertically aligned international conglomerates has attracted the attention of a growing number of private equity and capital investment groups, all, it seems, subscribers to the notion of perpetual sector growth,” he said.

“PE investments are made in the belief that they will lead to a profitable return, rather than any abstract concerns such as great art or a vibrant and diverse live music ecosystem.”

Providence expanded its music portfolio in 2022 with a strategic investment in agency giant Wasserman

Superstruct, the second-largest festival promoter on the planet after Live Nation, was founded in 2017 by Creamfields founder and ex-Live Nation president of electronic music James Barton and Roderik Schlosser while at Providence Equity Partners.

Providence expanded its music portfolio in 2022 with a strategic investment in agency giant Wasserman, and also backs Ambassador Theatre Group and Tait (Towers). In addition, it bought into Sweetwater, the leading US retailer of musical instruments and audio equipment, in 2021.

Last year meanwhile, it acquired audio specialist d&b Group along with a minority stake in Populous, an architectural and design firm for sports and entertainment venues, whose portfolio spans 3,000 projects including London’s Wembley Stadium and the Las Vegas Sphere.

Sixth Street-backed premium experiences specialist Legends revealed an agreement to purchase venue management giant ASM Global in November last year. The reputed $2.4 billion deal is planned to lead to the creation of a premium global live events company.

Silicon Valley-based PE firm Silver Lake announced last month it is to acquire all outstanding shares WME parent company Endeavor. Silver Lake made its initial investment in WME in 2012 and bought fashion and sports-focused talent agency IMG for $2.4 billion in late 2013, rolling up both acquisitions into WME-IMG. The mega-agency was rebranded as Endeavor in 2017.

Furthermore, Silver Lake acquired Australian live entertainment behemoth TEG from another investment company, Affinity Equity Partners, in 2019, in a reputed A$1.3bn deal, and also owns shares in Oak View Group and invested in sports merchandise company Fanatics.

“Arguably, only other PE-backed entities have the means to undertake such large-scale acquisitions, and so the concentration of ownership within the sector will inevitably continue”

Global investment firm Blackstone got in on the act in 2018, snapping up the UK’s NEC Group in a deal reportedly worth more than £800 million and looks poised to acquire song management company Hipgnosis Songs Fund.

In 2018, Netherlands-based multinational investment firm Waterland Private Equity acquired six leading Scandinavian promoters and agencies – ICO Concerts and ICO Management and Touring (Denmark), Friction and Atomic Soul Booking (Norway) and Blixten & Co and Maloney Concerts (Sweden), bringing them together as All Things Live.

Elsewhere, Artémis, an investment firm led by billionaire French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, acquired TPG’s majority stake in Creative Artists Agency (CAA) last year. PE company TPG had upped its 35% stake in CAA to 53% for a reported $225 million in 2014. The previous year, “purpose-driven global investment organisation” EQT entered the global touring business to become the largest outside shareholder in United Talent Agency (UTA).

US businessman Ron Burkle’s private equity firm Yucaipa Companies invested in booking agency Day After Day Productions in 2022, adding to existing live music interests such as  booking agencies Artist Group International, X-ray Touring, APA and K2Primavera Sound and Primavera Pro, and promoter Danny Wimmer Presents. APA and AGI merged to form Independent Artist Group (IAG) last year.

Plus, Chicago-based PE company GTCR made a “strategic investment” in American ticket exchange Vivid Seats back in 2017, and South by Southwest’s newly announced SXSW London spin-off will be produced under licence from SXSW LLC by Panarise, a live entertainment company established and owned by private investment vehicle Panarae. According to documents obtained by CMU, Panarae is associated with Ali Munir, an investor and director of SXSW’s majority owner, Penske Media Corporation.

In conclusion, Chambers, who serves as a ticketing advisor, consultant, and non-executive for various live entertainment operators, pondered whether the marriage between private equity and live entertainment had become too big to fail.

“In short, the PE strategy is to increase the volume of events by extending the territorial reach, improving the physical environment where events occur, and by then extracting more from audiences via value-add bundles, packages, and surge-pricing,” he said. “The consolidation of the live entertainment sector by a diminishing number of ever larger congloms has therefore been both a cause and effect of the influx of new capital.

“After the economic impact of layers of (vertical) consolidation and (horizontal) aggregation, the squeezing of costs, and the surge-pricing of audiences, to whom can PE-owned live music congloms sell as part of their exit strategies? Arguably, only other PE-backed entities have the means to undertake such large-scale acquisitions, and so the concentration of ownership within the sector will inevitably continue.”


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