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Saudi government takes $500m Live Nation stake

The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has taken a 5.7% stake in Live Nation.

According to a document filed today (27 April) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the PIF has bought 12,337,569 shares – valued at just shy of US$500 million at the time of writing – in the world’s largest live entertainment company.

The fund is now reportedly Live Nation’s third-largest shareholder, with Liberty Media still No1 and investment company Vanguard Group second.

Live Nation’s share price rose above $40 for only the third time this month following the SEC disclosure, continuing a rally that began in late March following a sharp fall after its shows were postponed or cancelled globally.

The investment in Live Nation is the latest in the live sector for rapidly liberalising Saudi Arabia, which is pushing hard to grow its domestic events market in order to reduce its reliance on oil revenues.

PIF bought 12,337,569 shares, valued at just shy of US$500 million

Speaking after a BTS show last October, Live Nation Middle East’s president, James Craven, celebrated the growth of live entertainment in Saudi Arabia, saying: “Two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi.

“I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people.”

Following the debut of Jeddah World Fest, the country’s first-ever popular music festival, two months earlier, organiser Robert Quirke was similarly full of praise for the transformation, telling IQ: “There is absolutely no doubt that this is a turning point in Saudi youth culture and live entertainment. The future is incredibly bright and full of hope for the new generation.”

Earlier this month, PIF governor Yassir al-Rumayyan revealed the fund is looking into investment opportunities in “areas such as aviation, oil and gas, and entertainment”, according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia took a stake in Carnival cruise lines shortly before.

 


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Thomas Ovesen joins Saudi Arabia’s DGDA

Experienced promoter Thomas Ovesen, most recently of AEG Ogden/Dubai Arena, has joined Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) as director of entertainment.

Ovesen (pictured) exited Dubai Arena (now Coca-Cola Arena) in January to return to promoting independently. Prior to joining the Dubai Arena project, he was CEO of Dubai-based promoter 117 Live, after jumping ship from rival outfit Done Events in late 2015.

DGDA, an initiative of the increasingly culturally minded Saudi government, aims to redevelop the ruins at Diriyah – the original home of the house of Saud and starting point of the Saudi state, on the outskirts of the current capital, Riyadh – into an “internationally renowned gathering place with world-class experiences and family friendly entertainment”.

It launched in 2017 and hired its first CEO, hospitality industry veteran Jerry Inzerillo, last July.

Ovesen’s responsibilities at DGDA will involve “conceptualising, organising and executing entertainment activities in line with DGDA’s strategic vision”, according to the authority, “leveraging his international expertise to promote local and international talent.”

“I truly believe he is the best person to lead DGDA’s entertainment programming”

Alongside Inzerillo and the rest of the DGDA team, it is hoped Ovesen’s efforts will transform Diriyah into “the Middle East’s newest and most exciting entertainment destination”.

“Thomas brings a wealth of experience to Saudi Arabia from his decades in the entertainment sector working with some of the biggest names in global entertainment,” comments Inzerillo.

“We worked together on the launch of the Atlantis Hotel Palm Dubai, and I truly believe he is the best person to lead DGDA’s entertainment programming, as he brings to life incredible events that will show visitors from all over the world what Diriyah has to offer.”

After decades of concerts being banned as haram, or sinful, in the conservative Islamic kingdom, Saudi Arabia in 2017 launched Vision 2030, an ambitious initiative, spearheaded by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, to develop a domestic media and entertainment industry.

In September 2017, the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) – the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector – announced a US$2.7 billion fund with which it hopes to attract international partners, and said in February 2018 that Saudi Arabia would host 5,000 shows in 2017, including “some of the biggest names in global music”.

“This is a great time to come to the kingdom as it drives new entertainment programming into the capital”

The GEA’s plans were thrown into disarray in October, with World Wrestling Entertainment and several other Western entertainment companies moving to sever their ties with Saudi Arabia following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

However, relations between the kingdom and the West appear to have since largely stabilised, with incoming US ambassador praising the initiative as “breathtaking” and suggesting Iran “needs a Vision 2030”.

Commenting on his move to Saudi Arabia, Ovesen comments: “This is a great time to come to the kingdom as it drives new entertainment programming into the capital. Entertainment is a key component of the experiences that keep a destination exciting, and in Diriyah we will be developing an offering of activities suitable for the whole family, from ticketed live shows to public outdoor experiences.

“I look forward to being part of Diriyah’s emergence as a global gathering place recognised for pioneering lifestyle, culture and live entertainment.”

 


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Saudi entertainment plan falters after Khashoggi murder

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious 20-plus-year plan to develop a domestic live entertainment market is on the rocks following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with a high-profile WWE event on the brink on pulling out and several other Western companies moving to sever their ties with the controversial Arab kingdom.

According to wrestling journalist Robbie Fox, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel event, scheduled for 2 November at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium (25,000-cap.), is in jeopardy, with two major WWE stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, refusing to travel to Saudi Arabia following the death of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident allegedly hacked to death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Four US senators told IJR earlier this month that WWE should rethink its relationship with the kingdom as a result of the murder of Khashoggi, which Saudi Arabia denies. “This is a brazen assault on the freedom of the press and a slap in the face to the United States, if this murder occurred as it seems it did,” said Connecticut senator Chris Murphy.

Tickets for the event are not yet on sale, despite a scheduled onsale of 19 October. New Age Insiders reports Crown Jewel will likely be held in the US instead, probably in Albany, New York.

According to the Post, Khashoggi’s former employer, WWE was expected to make up to US$40 million from two Saudi shows this year, as part of a ten-year deal.

Also extricating itself from a potentially lucrative investment deal with Saudi Arabia is William Morris Agency parent Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG), which stood to make $400m by selling a 5–10% stake in the company to a Saudi investment fund, according to THR.

WWE was expected to make up to US$40 million from two Saudi shows this year

Last Monday Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel said he was “really concerned”, and “monitoring” the situation, but the agency has not yet committed to ending the relationship.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who last week announced a new US music festival, Virgin Fest, has also announced he is cutting ties with the kingdom, declaring on 11 October he is ending his advisory role to two projects connected with Saudi Vision 2030, the project to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil by developing its service sector, including tourism and entertainment.

Major players in business and finance, including Google, Uber, Ford, Viacom, JPMorgan Chase and new NEC group owner Blackstone Group, have also moved to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia by boycotting the Vision 2030-linked Future Investment Initiative (FII), an investment forum (dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’) that began in Riyadh yesterday.

Vision 2030 – spearheaded by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – hopes to develop a media and entertainment industry in the conservative Islamic kingdom. Last September, the General Authority for Entertainment – the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector – announced a US$2.7 billion fund with which it hopes to attract international partners, and said in February Saudi Arabia will host 5,000 shows in 2018, including “some of the biggest names in global music”.

With the exception of Jean-Michel Jarre, who played Riyadh for Saudi National Day on 23 September, said global names have yet to materialise, although a healthy contingent of local Arab acts have performed, mostly in Jeddah, this year. (Concerts were formerly banned as haram, or sinful, from 1988 to 2017.) A roll-out of specialist tourist visas for foreigners wishing to attend concerts and sporting events is scheduled for December.

 


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