Cirque du Soleil sells majority stake to U.S., Chinese firms

World Today

(FILE) American private equity firm TPG and China's Fosun have bought a majority stake in Canadian entertainment juggernaut Cirque du Soleil, the company announced April 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)(FILE) American private equity firm TPG and China’s Fosun have bought a majority stake in Canadian entertainment juggernaut Cirque du Soleil, the company announced April 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

Canada’s Cirque de Soleil, the global circus empire, announced Monday that it has sold its majority stake to U.S. and Chinese investment firms for an undisclosed amount that experts estimated valued in excess of 1.3 billion Canadian dollars.

What was once a small troupe of vagabonds has grown to a 4,000-person operation headquartered in Montreal that will now be controlled by the U.S. private equity firm TPG.

Under terms of the agreed deal, Guy Laliberte, founder of the circus empire, has agreed to sell control of Cirque du Soleil to TPG Capital, a Texas-based private equity fund, and China’s Fosun Capital Group, a privately owned fund manager based in Shanghai, ending his 30-year run as the controlling shareholder and chief of the world’s most whimsical and popular circus production company.

“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,” Laliberte said in a statement.

Laliberte “will maintain a stake in the business and will continue to offer strategic and creative input to the company,” it said, adding that Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, one of Canada’s leading institutional fund managers, will also get a minority stake.

Laliberte also said he didn’t want to pass the business on to his five children, ages 7 to 18.

“They have their dreams and as a father I have made the commitment to support them as they chase them,” he said. “I don’t really believe in the idea of the second generation of entrepreneurs. From the outset, I didn’t want to put the pressure of running the circus on their shoulders.”

Cirque du Soleil is known for its cutting-edge shows that feature aerialists, acrobats and contortionists. It shuns the traditional use of animals and instead embraces acrobats, music and dance.

Since beginning in 1984, Cirque has played to some 160 million spectators in more than 330 cities in some 48 countries across the world. Now it has 4,000 employees worldwide, including more than 1, 300 artists.

It has been one of Canada’s major success stories in the business and entertainment worlds, employing more than 1,300 artists.

Laliberte dismissed any suggestions the Cirque is in financial difficulty, saying it is a profitable venture that sells 11 million tickets a year. He has credited the success of Cirque to the marriage of solid business sense and a passion for the surreal.

TPG is the world’s largest casino owner with a stake in Caesar’s Entertainment, while Fosun owns Club Med resorts. TPG said its experience building brands like J. Crew and Neiman Marcus, along with its strong media and entertainment relationships, will provide Cirque with new revenue opportunities.

The new owners plan to expand Cirque’s presence in China. They also want to expand third-party licensing deals, digital media and ticket sales.

The buyers have agreed to terms that will ensure Montreal remains Cirque’s international creative and management headquarters.

Report compiled with information from Xinhua and The Associated Press