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Coronavirus hits French event giant Comexposium

One of the world’s largest events organisers has filed for bankruptcy protection after being unable to secure government-backed financing.

Paris-based Comexposium, which organises trade shows and exhibitions globally, has placed three of its holding companies in financial protection in France, citing restrictions on mass gatherings both in France and internationally.

The company – which Conference & Meetings World notes was sold to Credit Agricole for over US$700 million last year – is France’s biggest event organiser and the third-largest in the world, with a portfolio of more than 130 B2B and B2C events. In normal times, it welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors to its shows, which include events for the food, agriculture, fashion, security, transport and construction industries.

In a statement, the group says coronavirus restrictions have “prevented Comexposium from being able to play its role, organising events, for over six months. For many months the events sector has seen very little activity, and, as of now, there is uncertainty around when events will fully restart in France and abroad. Therefore, it has become necessary for Comexposium to adapt its financing.”

“I strongly believe in the importance of face-to-face events, and I am confident events will come back”

According to Les Echos, the company has now filed for bankruptcy protection with the commercial court in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris.

The paper notes that the bankruptcy process, valid for six months (and renewable twice), gives the three businesses freedom from creditors and freezes their debts while Comexposium restructures its business. Comexposium, it adds, had applied for a state-guaranteed loan earlier in the year, but its application was rejected.

Despite the extraordinary measures, Comexposium chairman Renaud Hamaide is confident in the company’s future. “Meeting in person is the quickest and strongest way to build relationships. I strongly believe in the importance of face-to-face events, and I am confident events will come back,” he comments.

“Further, it is clear that digital and multi-channelled approaches to creating connection are necessary, and we will continue to develop in this area. The future is being written now, and when this crisis is over, we want to be at the forefront of our industry in bringing people together.”


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Eventim: Barracuda safe amid Austrian banking crisis

Germany’s CTS Eventim, the parent company of Austrian promoter Barracuda Music, has announced that Barracuda’s business is protected against the bankruptcy of Commerzialbank Mattersburg, despite the company holding deposits of some €34 million with the soon-to-be-liquidated bank.

After finding inconsistencies in its accounting, Austria’s Financial Market Authority prohibited Commerzialbank – headquartered in Mattersburg, near the Hungarian border – from trading effective 14 July, and the bank is now in the process of being wound up. It is reportedly over-leveraged to the tune of €528m, with creditors expected to receive up to €490m under Austria’s deposit protection scheme.

According to Eventim, which announced its acquisition of Barracuda in December 2019, adding it to its Eventim Live promoter network, it has put in place a “comprehensive financing plan” that ensures the “activities of the Barracuda Group are well protected, particularly its two flagship festivals, Nova Rock and Frequency.”

Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, CEO of the live entertainment giant, explains: “Even in times of coronavirus, we are pursuing a long-term corporate strategy and are fully aware of Barracuda’s enormous potential. We are therefore pleased that Barracuda, one of most creative concert promoters in Europe, has been a member of our corporate family since early 2020, which also means a significant investment in Austria, a market that is so important to us.

“We are delighted for hundreds of thousands of music fans from Austria and abroad that we are able to carry on our successful work”

“The team around Ewald Tatar, Barracuda’s managing director, can rely on us totally, even in these turbulent times.”

“We are immensely struck by the fast and uncomplicated way that CTS Eventim jumped to our side, and are really very glad to have such a strong and flexible company as our parent,” says Tatar.

“We are delighted for hundreds of thousands of music fans from Austria and abroad that we are able to carry on our successful work and that the future of Nova Rock, Frequency and hundreds of concerts a year is secure.”

Schulenberg adds that Eventim and Barracuda “will take any steps that are necessary to protect our rights in respect of the current situation at Commerzialbank Mattersburg.”

 


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Cirque du Soleil files for bankruptcy protection

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, the world’s largest producer of contemporary circus and other touring entertainment shows, has filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada after more than three months of “zero revenues” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil announced yesterday (29 June) it has applied to restructure its business under Canada’s CCCA (Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act – a process that shields it from creditors, similar to administration in the UK or chapter-11 bankruptcy in the US). Its application will heard today by the Superior Court of Quebec.

The announcement follows a particularly torrid quarter for Cirque, which announced thousands of temporary lay-offs in the early days of the pandemic.

Cirque says it has entered into a court-supervised purchase agreement with shareholders, including Texas-based TPG Capital and China’s Fosun Capital Group, to establish two funds, worth US$20 million, to provide relief to laid-off employees and contractors. (Some 3,480 of the more than 4,500 employees furloughed in March are expected to lose their jobs permanently.)

The ‘sponsors’, which also include state-owned investment company Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund (CDPQ), will additionally inject $300m worth of liquidity in order to restart the restructured business.

“I look forward to rebuilding our operations and coming together once again”

“For the past 36 years, Cirque du Soleil has been a highly successful and profitable organisation. However, with zero revenues since the forced closure of all of our shows due to Covid-19, management had to act decisively to protect the company’s future,” comments Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

Subject to the Superior Court’s approval, the sponsors will also serve as the “stalking horse”, or reserve bidders, in a sale and investment solicitation process (‘SISP’) of Cirque’s assets.

“The purchase agreement and SISP provide a path for Cirque to emerge from CCAA protection as a stronger company. The robust commitment from the sponsors – which includes additional funds to support our impacted employees, contractors and critical partners, all of whom are important to Cirque’s return – reflects our mutual belief in the power and long-term potential of our brand,” continues Lamarre.

“I look forward to rebuilding our operations and coming together to once again create the magical spectacle that is Cirque du Soleil for our millions of fans worldwide.”

 


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Stubagogo: One of the worst-timed acquisitions in history?

“As we sit here today, [coronavirus] has not [affected ticket sales], because most of the live events where we’ve seen cancellations have really been in China, and a few in Taiwan and Singapore. Most important for everyone, we hope that they get it under control, and solve the health crisis – but right now it’s been isolated to Asia specifically, and mostly China.”

(Eric Baker, interview with Squawk Alley, CNBC, 21 February 2020)

Viagogo started last month in typically bullish mood.

In the slipstream of their $4.05bn acquisition of StubHub in mid-February, on March 7th the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a news story suggesting Covid-19 was proving a boon for the secondary ticketing market. While the rest of the live events sector faced impending crisis, listings on Viagogo had apparently risen 45% in the previous week.

According to the report, this was due to “nervous concertgoers and sports fans frantically trying to resell tickets for major events amid the panic around the spread of coronavirus.”

As someone with an interest in this area, I quickly checked viagogo.co.uk.

Strange.

There was no noticeable surge. As per usual, 80–90% of ticket listings were accompanied by star-shaped icons – denoting that the seller is a ‘trader’ rather than a consumer. I contacted the journalist, asking for the evidence to substantiate these claims. (They are yet to return my emails.)

In the month since, events have moved fast.

Despite closing the StubHub acquisition on 13 February – in his CNBC interview, Baker claimed to have paid $2bn in cash and a further $2bn in debt financing – further integration between the two platforms (dubbed ‘Stubagogo’) is being prevented because of an initial enforcement order from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, with the possibility of additional investigation.

Viagogo’s ownership of StubHub doesn’t bring much to the party, aside from a highly toxic reputation

Effectively, this has left StubHub in a state of limbo.

Speaking to Billboard, a StubHub spokesperson stated they are “currently operating as an independent company, no longer under the support of eBay but not yet operated by Viagogo.” Albeit if you search eBay for event tickets, the site still defaults to StubHub and describes StubHub as “an eBay company”.

Again, all quite strange.

And then the full impacts of live music shutdown started to unfold.

On March 25th, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its workforce, swiftly followed by a change in company policy on refunds. Buyers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers in lieu of cash.

Predictably, this has already attracted a $5m class-action lawsuit, on the basis that StubHub brought the crisis on itself as a result of their publicly stated policy of paying out their largest suppliers (such as ‘super tout’ Julien Lavallee) in advance of events.

It sounds like rough times ahead.

But if the future looks bleak for StubHub, it’s arguably bleaker for Viagogo.

Moody’s has downgraded Viagogo’s corporate outlook from “stable” to “negative”

Even before Covid-19, the acquisition of StubHub looked wildly overpriced. $4.05bn is reportedly 25 x StubHub’s EBITDA – an astonishing amount for a relatively mature business operating predominantly in the highly congested US market and facing substantial commercial and regulatory challenges.

Viagogo, meanwhile, is a relative minnow in the US. Its ownership of StubHub doesn’t really bring much to the party, aside from a highly toxic reputation. The acquisition has essentially resulted in a change of ownership – no more, no less – whereas a merger between, say, StubHub and Vivid Seats, would have been genuinely transformative and created a much larger market-dominant platform.

Added to this, outside the US, Viagogo’s long-term viability looks far less secure than it did 2–3 years ago. In the UK, the recent sentencing of Peter Hunter and David Smith, who sold substantial volumes of tickets through Viagogo, has imperilled the business model of large-scale resellers on whom the secondary platforms rely. With more trials to come, Viagogo’s supply chain looks to be under threat.

Meanwhile, the company still faces legal actions in several other territories, all of which are likely to probe and cross-examine Viagogo’s less-than-transparent business practices.

An insight into these can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website, in an illuminating exchange of emails between the CMA, Viagogo’s lawyers at CMS, and the FTC – all of which indicate an almost pathological reluctance by Viagogo to disclose information about key staff, key shareholders, its turnover or its byzantine corporate structures including companies such as Basset Capital LLC, Grover Street Holdings, FJ Labs LLC, Andro Capital Management, IFOT Services Ltd and VGL Services.

This could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history

Earlier this year, the Moody’s rating agency downgraded the corporate family rating of Pugnacious Endeavors (Viagogo’s parent company) to B2, before changing the company’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” – citing both a “lack of public financial disclosure” and “the absence of board independence” for its changed credit profile.

While we wait for the CMA to make further announcements on the merger, the weeks and months ahead will likely be of some consequence.

Viagogo has already put staff at its customer service centre on 30 days’ “protective notice”. Their purchase of Google advertising appears to have stopped dead.

Listings are dormant, not surging.

But above that is the fact that Eric Baker and his investors appear to have paid out $4.05bn for a crippled business that lies, according to some reports, on the verge of bankruptcy.

In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history.

 


Adam Webb is campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.

Report: PledgeMusic funds do not belong to artists

The artists that are owed money by bankrupted direct-to-fan marketplace PledgeMusic are “unlikely” to receive the funds they raised through the platform, a report obtained by Variety has revealed.

PledgeMusic was wound up in August, after suspending operations due to financial difficulties. The company entered liquidation with £7.4 million in debt and under £20,000 in assets.

Following its demise, industry organisations including UK Music, Music Managers’ Forum and the Association of Independent Musicians acted to assess and prevent financial damage to musicians.

However, a document from the official receiver working on the PledgeMusic liquidation has cast further doubt over the likelihood of artists seeing return of the money raised through the site.

“I do not anticipate that I will need to contact you again because there is unlikely to be a payment to creditors in this case,” concludes the report.

“I can’t believe that the artists are left without what is owed to them”

The report also reveals that legal advisors to the PledgeMusic board have indicated that money paid by fans on the platform “were not trust monies”, and that all belongs to PledgeMusic, rather than to the artists.

PledgeMusic co-founder and CEO, Benji Rogers, who returned to the company as an unpaid advisor early this year to try and resurrect it via a partnership or acquisition, told Hypebot the outcome was “devastating for every artist affected”.

“I can’t believe that they are left without what is owed to them. I am so sorry I was not able to do more,” said Rogers.

Enquiries into PledgeMusic’s “failing” are ongoing, states the report, with board members attributing the collapse to “the commission charged being insufficient to meet its expenditure”.

Rogers founded PledgeMusic along with Jayce Varden in 2009. The platform served as a direct-to-fan marketplace for merchandise, tickets, vinyl and CDs. Fans also donated money to cover artists’ recording and release costs via a crowdfunding platform.

 


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Roxodus promoter MF Live files for bankruptcy

MF Live, the company behind cancelled Canadian rock festival Roxodus, has filed for bankruptcy.

The company, whose “sole purpose was to organise the Roxodus Music Fest”, owes over CA$18 million (US$13.8m) to around 200 creditors, including $5m ($3.8m) to ticketing provider Eventbrite and $11.1m ($8.5m) to contractors Taurus Site Services. MF Live’s assets equate to $154,000 ($118,000) in cash.

According to liquidator Grant Thornton Limited, “the event did not generate sufficient ticket sales to cover the expected costs, leaving MF Live Inc. insolvent.”

“We also understand that earlier wet weather posed certain challenges in preparing the site for the event and prevented MF Live Inc. from being able to host a safe event,” reads the document.

“The event did not generate sufficient ticket sales to cover the expected costs, leaving MF Live insolvent”

A statement on the festival’s website blames “rainy weather” for the cancellation of the festival, which was to feature performances from Nickelback, Blondie, Aerosmith and Kid Rock.

Last week, Eventbrite announced it would provide all ticketholders with a refund, while continuing “to aggressively pursue the return of funds from the festival’s creators.”

At the same time, MF Live co-founder Mike Dunphy denied all responsibility for issuing refunds. Dunphy also refuted rumours that he had “stolen monies”.

Dunphy and fellow MF Live founder Fab Loranger parted ways ten days before the festival’s cancellation and are no longer on speaking terms, according to an interview with CTV News.

The first meeting of the creditors is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. on 30 July at the Grant Thornton offices in Toronto.

 


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After Rudd tour cancellations, Wave 365 Media dissolved

Wave 365 Media, the mysterious company behind Phil Rudd’s ill-fated Head Job European tour, has been dissolved with assets of just £14 after failing to file its annual accounts.

Wave 365 Media, led by chairman/president Alan Bellman, agreed a 360 deal with the former AC/DC drummer in late 2016, with a run of UK and European dates for his Phil Rudd Band planned for the following year.

After playing around 30 European shows in early 2017, a run of UK dates, initially scheduled for May 2017, were pushed back to September and then failed to materialise altogether, with Bellman pulling the plug owing to “key technical and logistical issues”, according to Rudd’s agent, Ian Smith.

Another run of European shows was then announced for May and June 2018; these, too, were cancelled, with the blame again pinned on “unforeseen technical and logistical issues”.

Promoters in the UK, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Spain and elsewhere told IQ last year they are each awaiting the return of at least €5,000 for shows which didn’t go ahead, with Wave 365 having held onto their deposits after pulling the plug on the tour.

The dissolution of Wave 365 Media Ltd sees all assets deemed bona vacantia

The dissolution of Wave 365 Media Ltd, announced in the London Gazette, sees all assets, including property owned by the company, deemed bona vacantia (‘vacant goods’) and declared property of the British Crown. According to DueDil, Wave 365 Media Ltd had liabilities of nearly £5,000 and assets of just £14.

Another Wave 365 company, Wave 365 Media (UK) Ltd, of which Bellman is a director (the sole director for Wave 365 Media Ltd is a Renato Volker, though the two companies share a business address), is similarly facing strike-off action for non-filing of accounts. It has current assets of £1,300 and fixed assets of £2,700, and liabilities of £3,900.

A third, Wave 365 Media Productions Ltd, was incorporated in February 2018, again with Bellman as the sole director.

It is unclear which, if any, of the promoters, had been refunded their deposits at the time of the dissolution. Bellman did not return a request for comment.

 


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Creditor RG offers £1.1m for Bestival Group

Richmond Group, a company controlled by British loans tycoon James Benamor, has offered £1.1 million to rescue Bestival and Camp Bestival from administration.

It was revealed earlier this week that Benamor had filed notices at the High Court in London of his intention to appoint administrators to three companies behind the events, Bestival Group Ltd, Bestival Ltd and Camp Bestival Ltd. Another company owned by Benamor, Richmond Debt Capital, extended a £1.6m loan to Bestival and took charge of several festival “assets” in February 2017.

A statement from Richmond Group (RG) announcing the bid confirms the family friendly Camp Bestival 2019, for which tickets are already on sale, will go ahead as planned, although no mention is made of Bestival. IQ has sought clarification as to the future of the flagship event.

“Richmond Group has today made an offer of £1.1m to purchase the brand and assets of Bestival Group, with the intention of running the successful Camp Bestival going forward,” says a spokesperson for the company. “Under this offer, all Camp Bestival 2019 tickets sold so far will be honoured.”

“We have been fans and supporters of Bestival since the beginning. Our children have grown up with wonderful memories of these festivals,” adds Benamor.

“Bestival is an example of Dorset being world class and we are keen to ensure that this fantastic institution goes on to delight families and local businesses, for many years to come.”

This story will be updated.


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Bestival faced with administration over “financial challenges”

The companies behind the UK’s Bestival and Camp Bestival festivals are reportedly heading for collapse, after billionaire creditor James Benamor revealed plans to place them into administration.

Benamor has filed notices at the High Court in London of his intention to appoint administrators to Bestival Group Ltd, Bestival Ltd and Camp Bestival Ltd, reports the Sunday Times. Companies House filings show a company owned by Benamor, Richmond Debt Capital, extended a loan – in the region of £1.6 million, according to the Times – and took charge of several Bestival “assets” in February 2017.

A statement from Bestival Group acknowledges the festivals’ “financial challenges” but says the company is seeking a new partner for Camp Bestival 2019, after the 2018 event was partially cancelled due to severe weather.

“The process we are in allows a new partner to come on board with the financial commitments required”

“We can confirm the Bestival Group has had some financial challenges of late, but the process we are in allows a new partner to come on board with the financial commitments required to deliver Camp Bestival 2019 in its finest form,” it reads. “As we stand currently, there is every intention to make this show happen, and move forward into a new era.”

Camp Bestival, a family friendly version of the flagship festival, has been held at Lulworth Estate in Dorset since 2008. Bestival, which had previously been held on the Isle of Wight, moved to the same site for 2017.

Benamor is the founder of guarantor lender Amigo Loans, and controls around a third of the company through his Richmond Group business. He became a billionaire in July when Amigo floated on the London Stock Exchange.

 


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Court orders liquidation of Active Ticketing

Troubled UK mobile ticketing start-up Active Ticketing is to be wound up on the orders of a high court judge.

IQ revealed in March that a creditor of London-based Active, which is believed to have raised millions through equity investment and bond sales since its launch in 2015, had filed a petition to force the company into liquidation.

Despite founder and CEO Lee Booth reportedly promising to pay creditors back in full – as well as repay investors all interest owed, at 7.6% per annum for two years – at a previous court hearing, court documents reveal “no one appear[ed] on behalf of” Active for the final hearing on 20 June. Catherine Addy, deputy insolvency and companies court judge at the High Court of Justice, then ordered the liquidation of Active Ticketing Ltd.

The 10 June winding-up order is also listed in the London Gazette, the UK’s official journal of record.

London-based Active traces its genesis to Eskimo Media & Technology, which achieved prominence in late 2013 with its NFC-based Samsung Smart Ticket, developed for Samsung’s short-lived Galaxy Studio Live concert series. The technology behind Smart Ticket was later licensed exclusively to Active Ticketing and renamed Stikit, which was pitched to investors as a “mobile technology that removes the need for paper or physical tickets to events, a medium that is expensive to manufacture, costly to monitor, open to fraud and provides next to no cross-sell or up-sell opportunity”.

Despite high-profile partnerships with Mastercard, Ipswich Town FC, the Mobile World Congress, the Force India Formula 1 team and, most recently, ATC Management (Kate Tempest, Frank Carter, the Temperance Movement) – and predictions by founder and CEO Lee Booth the company would generate net revenues of £13 million in 2016 – the company never filed any accounts, with its first set of books overdue as of 3 April 2017.

Active failed to send a representative to a hearing, leading judge Catherine Addy to order its liquidation

Active was incorporated in October 2015 as a public company, with tech entrepreneurs Booth and Scott Boocock as directors. They were joined by Ed Goring, whose family own London’s Goring Hotel, on 3 December, with Boocock, then CCO, leaving in March 2016.

The company originally intended to launch with an initial public offering (IPO) on Nasdaq’s European First North stock exchange in April 2016, although this plan was apparently shelved and Active was re-registered as a private limited company on 1 November 2017.

The company also sold corporate bonds “to be used to fund the final stages of the IPO process”. A source tells IQ that Active raised “millions of pounds in initial equity”, while bondholders are believed to have contributed a similar amount.

Commenting on the potential demise of Active, a person with knowledge of the situation told IQ in March that Stikit’s “key problem” was that, outside of a few trials, it “couldn’t gain adoption in the industry” and therefore lacked a “tangible” long-term business plan.

The legal costs of R4L LLP, the petitioner which filed to wind up the company, will be paid out of the remaining assets of Active.

 


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