TPG, which is the world's largest casino owner will hold the majority stake in Cirque du Soleil. As it turn out Cirque has seen a decline in show success, not in all shows, but a few since 2012.
Ian Austen of the Wall Street Journal wrote the following.
OTTAWA — Like many a Vegas act, Cirque du Soleil had become a bit flabby and passé. But a group of investors is betting that China — and more important, its growing demand for Western entertainment — may be an answer to the circus troupe’s midlife ennui.
On Monday, a consortium of private equity investors led by TPG agreed to buy Cirque du Soleil for 1.5 billion Canadian dollars, a purchase that will pave the way for the company to expand into China.
One of the buyers, Fosun of China, is heavily invested in entertainment and travel businesses, including the recent purchase of Club Med. The plan is to open a Cirque office in China.
Investors and companies around the globe are trying to capitalize on the swelling leisure spending by China’s growing middle class. The Walt Disney Company is building a $5.5 billion theme park resort in Shanghai. Several American movie studies, including Lionsgate, Studio 8 at Sony Pictures and STX Entertainment, have formed joint ventures with Chinese players. On Sunday, Dick Cook, a former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, announced the formation of a movie company in partnership with the Chinese conglomerate Citic Guoan Group.
“We’re looking at an entertainment boom in China,” said Robert Cain, a film producer from Los Angeles who has done business there for about 25 years. “It’s really underdeveloped.”
Cirque — which merges elements of dance, performance art and high-technology stagecraft with traditional circus acrobatics — has struggled to break into the fast-growing Chinese market.
In 2012, a lavish Cirque production in Macau closed prematurely because of poor attendance. Chinese gamblers, unlike their counterparts in Las Vegas, where Cirque has eight permanent shows running, don’t have much interest in entertainment.
L. Patrick Leroux, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal who founded an academic group that researches circuses, said that shorter-run Cirque shows presented in other Chinese cities have also struggled. Part of the problem, he said, is that the Cirque’s traditional formula is just not to Chinese tastes.
He says that Cirque usually focuses heavily on New Age narratives, often about the plight of a common man or woman. Instead, the Chinese tend to prefer shows that feature large numbers of performers, where the acrobatics “are choreographed and very precise.” Several Chinese circuses, Mr. Leroux said, have combined those elements with Cirque’s style to create successful shows.
The investors did not offer many specifics about their plans in China, instead speaking to their global ambitions. “We are excited about the opportunity to bring our global platform of resources and know-how to propel the growth of Cirque’s unique brand, content and capabilities around the world,” David Trujillo, a partner at TPG, said in a statement.
Joshua B. Grode, a lawyer with Irell & Manella in Los Angeles who has been involved in movie deals in China, said that TPG and Fosun were most likely attracted by both Cirque’s high brand recognition in the West as well as the prospect of a China expansion. “You have a growing middle class and that middle class starts to have the beginnings of disposable income, how do you capture that?” he said. “One approach is to bring in recognized brands and have them do what they do without having to learn it.”
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story The sale will be politically sensitive in Quebec, where Cirque is based and where it is a major employer. In a less prominent case in 2012, the province effectively blocked a deal for Lowe’s to buy a Quebec-based home repair company.
By including Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the provincial pension and investment fund, as a minority partner, the new owners hope to block that kind of problem. The founder, Guy Laliberté, will also maintain a stake. The deal will include guarantees that the business headquarters and “center for creative and artistic services” remain in Montreal. Mr. Laliberté, who started in the business as a busker and fire breather, opened Cirque three decades ago with a grant from the provincial government. The company now has 17 elaborate productions playing in North and South America as well as Europe. And in recent years it has become as closely associated with Las Vegas as Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. once were.
Last year, Cirque established a theatrical division to develop shows for Broadway. That division is now teaming with NBC on a live musical broadcast of “The Wiz,” and hopes that broadcast will transfer to the stage.
The path to a sale started more than eight years ago as the global economy started to stumble.
In 2008, Cirque sold a stake to a group of Dubai investors. The investors, the real estate company Nakheel and Istithmar World Capital, would provide the funds to further Cirque’s international expansion.
At the same time, Mr. Laliberté stepped back from daily management of Cirque to spend time with his family and focus on personal endeavors including a spaceflight aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.
When the global financial crisis hit, and the Dubai investors failed to come up with the necessary funds, Mr. Laliberté bought back their 20 percent stake.
Cirque struggled, as some new shows failed. “For the first time, after 25 years of constant growth, we went through a crisis,” Mr. Laliberté said.
A closing forced by the 2011 tsunami in Japan eventually led to the shutdown of a major production there. Other shows around the world did not attract sufficient audiences, or were so costly that profits were minimal. Its New York efforts have largely faltered; the 2010 production of “Banana Shpeel” at the Beacon Theater was a flop, and then a production of “Zarkana,” at Radio City Music Hall, ran only two summers, instead of the anticipated five.
In 2012, Mr. Laliberté returned to active management, and ordered a strategic review. The company cut roughly $100 million in annual costs, including laying off 400 employees.
During the news conference, Cirque’s new chairman, Mitch Garber, a Quebec businessman with close ties to TPG and Mr. Laliberté, described the company as “very profitable.” Last year, Mr. Laliberté said Cirque had annual revenues of 850 million Canadian dollars.
“This is by no means a rebuilding acquisition,” Mr. Garber said.
Correction: April 21, 2015 An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of a lawyer who has been involved in movie deals in China. He is Joshua B. Grode, not Grod.
Brooks Barnes contributed reporting from Los Angeles and Michael Paulson from New York.