SFX Entertainment has added five new companies to its portfolio, including Voodoo Experience and ID&T — the largest dance-event promoter in the world — according to its president Robert F.X. Sillerman. The moves automatically give SFX a significant foothold in the North American festival market – and not just in EDM.
UPDATE: While our initial report stated that SFX had acquired the Hangout Festival, SFX actually acquired Huka Entertainment, a company that promotes and provides services to the festival but does not have equity in it. The Hangout Music Festival continues to be owned and operated by founder Shaul Zislin.
Sillerman announced in June that he would spend $1 billion acquiring EDM entities, starting with regional promoter Disco Donnie Presents and paintball party-throwers Life in Color. Acquisitions had stalled since then, but now, Sillerman says, “the pace is picking up quite a bit.” He expects to announce as many as seven additional pick-ups by February 1.
For those expecting pure EDM plays, the news of multi-genre Voodoo Experience (New Orleans) and might come as a surprise.
“They’re not specifically EDM, but they’re great festivals,” says Sillerman. “Voodoo has been operated on as a sole practitioner on relatively small level, and we think it has upside not just in New Orleans but elsewhere. It’s a fabulous name, amongst other things, so we think we’ll be able to help Steve [Rehage], the owner and operator, take that to other markets.”
The deal with ID&T, the largest promoter of dance events in the world, leapfrogs Live Nation, which hosted the first North American edition of Sensation, the Dutch company’s white party, at the Barclays Center this October.
As a joint venture (for North America only), “[ID&T people] stay involved,” says Sillerman. “Several have moved to the U.S. and are actively running this.”
In addition to Sensation, the deal also includes hardstyle brand Q-Dance, and Tomorrowland, a three-day camp-out festival that resembles an EDM Woodstock.
While recent chatter has hinted that Insomniac Events, the producer of Electric Daisy Carnival, would imminently announce a sale to Sillerman, the ID&T news might make that less likely. The two companies host similar, potentially competitive events, which could push Insomniac closer to its other suitor, Live Nation. Sillerman, however, would not count out an Insomniac deal.
“We never comment on stuff like that, but it’s fair to say that we’ve been talking to everybody,” he says. “Pasquale [Rotella, Insomniac president] is in his own way a genius, and has accomplished things that no one else has come close to. So with that level of respect, you can draw your own conclusion.”
SFX also acquired two Miami nightlife companies, giving it control of most of the city’s EDM-focused nightclubs: Miami Marketing Group, which operates LIV at the Fontainebleau Hotel; and Opium Group, which owns and operates five venues including Mansion and Set.
“The two great club markets are Miami and Las Vegas. Miami is much more authentic and international, and consequently it’s a breeding ground for future talent,” says Sillerman. “We’ve got great facilities, great venues, and terrific management.”
Sillerman also announced the appointment of Chris Stephenson, former CMO of Interscope and CEO of U.K. superclub Ministry of Sound, to the position of SFX CMO (he also served as President of Sillerman’s social TV watching app Viggle). But he emphasized a smaller corporate structure to the company overall.
“Contrary to what some people might be afraid of, this industry cannot be operated with a centralized corporate function,” he says. “It must be decentralized with full power invested in the entrepreneurs who have made these businesses.”
This latest move from Sillerman will have a deja-vu impact for those around when he consolidated the live business in the 1990s, creating what is now Live Nation. At that time, announcements of the latest acquisitions came in rapid-fire fashion, with SFX frequently paying hefty multiples of companies’ annual earnings. Sillerman frequently bought competitors like PACE and Cellar Door, with a common denominator generally — but not always — being real estate holdings in the form of amphitheaters. At that time, Sillerman had no real competitors in vying for these companies, although a few made a run at it, including House Of Blues Entertainment, now part of Live Nation.
Today, Sillerman not only has to compete in his shopping spree with the company he created in Live Nation, but a wealth of other deep-pocketed investors from within and outside of the entertainment business. Sillerman’s expertise in in this game is undeniable, as SFX eventually ended up spending about $2 billion in acquiring the live entertainment firms and sold to Clear Channel for more than $4 billion in 2000. And while he permanently changed the business through his activities in the ’90s, it’s worth noting that the SFX company line throughout that period was that the intention was never to flip. The question this time is, has the leopard changed his spots?
Additional reporting by Ray Waddell