A group of private equity firms including Fort Worth’s TPG Capital agreed Monday to buy Cirque du Soleil, the popular circus troupe from Montreal known for its lavish acrobatic productions.
TPG has agreed to buy a majority stake, while Fosun of China and the Quebec pension fund management firm Caisse de depot will take minority positions. The deal is reportedly worth about $1.23 billion, according to The New York Times and the Globe and Mail of Toronto.
The transaction was announced by Cirque’s billionaire founder Guy Laliberte, who said he will maintain a 10 percent stake in the business and continue to provide strategic and creative input to the company.
“I want to set other creative challenges for myself,” said Laliberte, 55.
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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 and contortionists. It shuns the traditional use of animals and instead embraces acrobats, music and dance. Its major Las Vegas productions include O at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino and Michael Jackson: One at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Laliberte started out as a street performer. Since he founded his own circus company in 1984 with $1.5 million in funding from Quebec’s provincial government, Cirque has played to almost 160 million spectators in more than 330 cities in 48 countries.
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, one of the world’s leading buyout companies, was launched in 1992 by David Bonderman, a one-time adviser to Fort Worth investor Robert Bass. TPG is among the world’s largest casino owners with a stake in Caesar’s Entertainment, while Fosun owns Club Med resorts. Among TPG’s many major deals was Dallas-based Neiman Marcus and the former TXU Corp., now known as Energy Future Holdings, which ended in bankruptcy.
Originally known as Texas Pacific Group, it also maintains offices in San Francisco.
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.
“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,” said David Trujillo, a partner at TPG, in a statement.
During the news conference, Mitch Garber, a Quebec businessman with close ties to TPG who will become chairman, described the company as “very profitable.”
“This is by no means a rebuilding acquisition,” Garber said.
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.
Cirque de Soleil has 4,000 employees worldwide, including 1,500 employees at its Montreal headquarters.
This report includes material from The Associated Press, The New York Times, Bloomberg News and the Star-Telegram archives.