Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang, often referred to as China’s own Warren Buffett, has backed a US$1.5 billion takeover of Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus firm known for gravity-defying acrobatics.
Guo, who heads Shanghai-based Fosun Capital Group, will become a minority shareholder in a deal led by TPG, an American private equity firm, according to media reports.
Canada’s second largest pension fund, Caisse de dépôtet placement du Québec, will also take a minority stake.
“After 30 years building the Cirque du Soleil brand, we have now found the right partners in TPG, Fosun and the Caisse to take Cirque du Soleil forward to the next stage in its evolution as a company founded on the conviction that the arts and business, together, can contribute to making a better world,” said Guy Laliberté, chief executive of Cirque and himself a billionaire.
Cirque, which employs 5,000 people around the world, takes in approximately US$1 billion annually from 18 global shows, some of which tour and others of which are based in theaters in Las Vegas, the BBC said.
Hong Kong audiences last saw Cirque in 2013 when the Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour show came to town, following performances in Beijing and Shanghai.
Immortal, the most financially successful Cirque production ever, grossed US$371 million in revenue with ticket sales of 3.7 million from 27 countries.
The Cirque deal is the latest high-profile investment for Guo who built Fosun into China’s largest privately owned conglomerate by revenue, with holdings in pharmaceuticals, mining, property, financial services, tourism and fashion, and annual revenue of nearly US$10 billion.
Early this year, Fosun led a US$1.1 billion takeover of Club Med, a French institution and pioneer of all-inclusive vacations, and followed that by taking stakes in tour operator Thomas Cook and movie production company Studio 8.
Cirque is on the hunt for companies and brands that are either already popular in China and can be expanded further or are likely to resonate with Chinese people, The Telegraph reported.
Club Med has three resorts in China, and Thomas Cook plans to capitalize on the Chinese domestic and international tourism market with an assist from Fosun.
Studio 8 has green-lit “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a wartime drama to be directed by Ang Lee, with co-financing from Bona Film Group, a Chinese film producer-distributor in which Fosun owns a 20 percent equity stake.
The new owners of Cirque du Soleil, which has suffered from falling profits in recent years, plan to expand Cirque’s presence in the Chinese market, The Telegraph said.
It will help that James Cameron, well known in China for shattering box office records there with such films as Titanic, Titanic 3D and Avatar, partnered with Cirque last year to create an Avatar-themed touring show that is expected to open late this year, just before the first of three Avatar sequels hits the screens.
Cirque also has a long tradition of recruited acrobats, jugglers and contortionists from Chinese circus schools for many touring shows.
“The performances of Cirque are very attractive and are a standard bearer for the quality content expected by global citizens,” Fosun chairman Guo said in a statement about conquering new markets.
The announcement comes after days of speculation that Cirque was looking for new owners after a financially difficult period for the acclaimed company, said the Los Angeles Times.
In 2013, Cirque laid off 400 employees, or about 8 percent of its global workforce. Recent shows such as Iris in Los Angeles, Zaia in Macau and Viva Elvis in Las Vegas were box-office disappointments and closed earlier than expected.
Montreal-based Cirque was founded in 1984 when Laliberté, a nomadic fire-breather and accordion player, became the leader of a group of bohemian entertainers who had been performing together in Quebec, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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