Is Superfly Productions, the innovative, independent co-producers of Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., ready to listen to new investors?
Comments today at the Billboard Music & Money Symposium indicate that may be the case. “We’re having certain conversations, people are coming to us,” Superfly partner Jonathan Mayers said. “We want to take it to the next level, and that’s through building out the team and reinvesting in ourselves.”
But that could also include a new partner, one “who understands how we operate and maybe comes from a different place and can help us extend beyond where we are,” Mayers said. “We’re a festival business, we’re a marketing company, [but] someone who can elevate us is also why we’re interested.”
Superfly Productions’ evolution from a start-up club promoter to a multi-faceted entertainment company that producers Bonnaroo and other events, and continues to branch into other businesses, was the focus of a case study during the Music & Money event.
Superfly partners Richard Goodstone and Mayers conducted the presentation, moderated by Loeb & Loeb co-chairman John Frankenheimer. Superfly is a Loeb & Loeb client.
“They did this from the ground up. They started from virtually nothing, scratched this together, and built it over the last 12 years,” Frankenheimer said. “It’s interesting to contrast that with some of the comments that were made earlier today on the digital panel, talking about ‘give us this for free because its too hard to get licenses, too hard to get this or that.’ Nothing’s harder than building something like [Superfly], and I get the feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Born as a one-off promoter of shows in New Orleans, the Superfly team had their sights set higher. The business plan for Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., on which Superfly partners with A.C. Entertainment, came together in 2001. Dave Matthews Band manager Coran Capshaw came in as a financial backer and eight years later Bonnaroo is well-established as one of the top live events in the world.
“They were, on the one hand, totally unburdened by historical models,” said Frankenheimer. “They did not have to do things the way that other people did it. They decided to invent this themselves and they did this by putting the customer in the middle.”
With virtually no expectations beyond, as Mayers put it, “a great poster,” Bonnaroo has hosted the biggest acts in the world, sold 95% of its tickets, and won the Top Festival honors at the Billboard Touring Awards four of the past five years.
Superfly’s festivals division also produces Outside Lands in San Francisco, and is finalizing a five-year deal with the city after a successful debut in 2008. The Superfly Marketing Group creates branding and marketing concepts for a wide range of clients, and Superfly’s management division handles Galactic and is a growth target for the company. The Bonnaroo Web site is evolving into a 365-day Web destination for music lovers of all time and will continue to grow in content distribution and fan interaction.
“All of these buckets play off of one another, whether it’s a band that we can play on our festivals and use our reach, whether it’s our marketing group where we’re integrating our advertising or acting as an agency because of our creativity, or creating more festivals or brands,” says Mayers. “They’re all working hand in hand.”
Frankenheimer asked Goodstone and Mayers if they would be willing to take on new partners now that their success has expanded. “You have aspirations to grow on in the international market, and I know people are starting to reach out to you more from the financial community,” he said. “How do you view that? Do you think there’s a place for a business like yours to work with the financial community and get funding, or are you looking at strategists as potential partners going forward?”
Mayers says Superfly’s strategy has always been to grow organically from within. “We’re going to continue grow in a smart way, but we feel like we’re poised to make moves now,” he said. “Everyone’s really worried about this tough economic time, we look at it a great opportunity. Now’s the time, there’s nothing to wait on.
The one-day Billboard Music & Money Symposium is happening today (March 5) at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. For more on upcoming Billboard events, visit billboardevents.com.