It appears not. Or at least not yet. Ambassador Theatre Group – the UK’s largest theatre operator, with an expanding US operation – was reported as being up for sale by the Sunday Times over the weekend.
The article ‘Curtain up for £500m sale of Ambassador Theatre Group’ detailed how the company was “rehearsing for a sale”. But a few things didn’t quite seem right.
Indeed, Mark Cornell, ATG’s chief executive, is adamant the story was not true. He told me: “The Sunday Times published a completely inaccurate story – without contacting us – and has since removed it,” he said. True enough, the story appears to have gone.
So, what to make of all this? Cornell was clear that the group is not currently up for sale. But it is owned by a private equity company, Providence, which means it will be sold at some point to realise a profit. Exponent, which sold its majority share to Providence in 2013, had only owned the company since 2009.
My understanding is that a more likely time for the sale is the first half of next year, but preparations have not yet started. If that did happen, you’d expect there to be a number of interested parties and I cannot believe that ATG would accept an offer of £500 million.
Whatever ATG’s genuine worth, Providence values it well above that – possibly as high as £1 billion. It will also believe ATG’s value has increased since the 2018 purchase of Theatre Royal Haymarket for £45 million, which set a new benchmark in the West End.
Leonard Blavatnik, who bought the Haymarket, is likely to be one of the interested parties. And Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire – the founders of ATG who now run Trafalgar Entertainment Group with financial backing from Barings – have indicated they would consider bidding.
I also think that at least two overseas groups make obvious potential buyers: John Gore, a Brit who made a sudden prominent appearance in the Sunday Times Rich List this year, might be manoeuvring himself into a position to unite ATG with his group of regional US theatres Broadway Across America; and Stage Entertainment, now owned by Condé Nast parent company Advance, might look to do something similar with its European venues. Other potential bidders include CVS Eventim and Vivendi.
There is another scenario: Providence could sell ATG to itself. This would see ATG sold by one of Providence’s funds to another.
But for now, these are all hypothetical situations and we’ll have to wait to find out what happens when the group is actually, at last, put up for sale.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith