As previously tipped (See The Goss, 24 Jun 2009), the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) has purchased Live Nation’s UK theatre portfolio of 16 venues nationwide. The £90 million acquisition makes the 17-year-old ATG the country’s biggest theatre owner (and producer), with a total of 39 venues (and soon to be 40) and a combined business value of some £150 million.

Live Nation’s portfolio includes West End musical houses the Apollo Victoria and the Lyceum, homes to long-runners Wicked and The Lion King respectively. Its one-third stake in the Dominion, where We Will Rock You resides, is not part of the deal. The sell-off – which has been anticipated since Live Nation’s organisational restructure four years ago (See News, 15 Dec 2005) - follows the $90 million sale of US theatres in 2007, as the company continues to focus efforts on its live music and ticketing operations. Its various music arenas in this country were not put up for sale.

For ATG, the purchase represents the most significant development in the history of the company, which was co-founded by husband-and-wife team Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire in 1992. Coinciding with the expansion, former BBC director general Greg Dyke will join ATG in the new role of executive chairman; Sir Eddie Kulukundus OBE remains as Life President.

Howard Panter, ATG’s joint CEO and creative director said today: “Live Nation Theatres is a very successful company, with first-class staff and significant customer loyalty. It is also blessed with some of the world’s best producers and productions. Our aim is to help maintain the shows and theatres as vibrant successes. It will be a privilege to operate this additional group of historic venues.”

The complete list of Live Nation theatres being acquired are: the Edinburgh Playhouse; the Auditorium, Grimsby; Liverpool Empire; Bristol Hippodrome; The Palace Theatre and The Opera House, Manchester; Southport Theatre; Sunderland Empire; Grand Opera House, York; Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham; Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone; the New Theatre and the Old Fire Station, Oxford; the Princess Theatre, Torquay and the Lyceum and Apollo Victoria Theatre, London.

ATG’s existing West End portfolio comprises: the Comedy, Donmar Warehouse, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy (both co-ownership and management of) and Trafalgar Studios. Its current regional theatres include the Ambassadors Woking; Theatre Royal Brighton; the Regent Theatre and the Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent; Milton Keynes Theatre; Churchill Theatre Bromley; Richmond Theatre, Surrey; the King’s Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow; and New Wimbledon Theatre. ATG has also recently won a tender to operate the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, which is due to open in 2010 and will bring its expanded portfolio to 40 theatres in total.

On the production side, ATG presents work across the UK, in the West End and internationally. Its high-profile offerings include The Misanthrope, starring Damian Lewis and Keira Knightley and opening in the West End in December, and Exit the King, recently seen on Broadway with Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon. ATG also has a wholly owned subsidiary company, Sonia Friedman Productions, whose current and upcoming co-productions include Othello starring Lenny Henry, La Cage aux Folles and the West End premiere of Broadway import Legally Blonde. And it now also attains sole ownership of leading pantomime producers, First Family Entertainment.

Greg Dyke commented: “I am delighted to be joining ATG as Executive Chairman. I’ve known the Group for many years and seen it grow from its early years in Woking to become one of the biggest theatre operators in the UK. ATG is a great British success story and the acquisition of the Live Nation Theatres will make the Group even more successful, and I’m looking forward to being part of its future.”