Cirque du Soleil has sold itself off to investors in hopes of expanding in China

Cirque du Soleil performs in Taipei in 2011.
Cirque du Soleil performs in Taipei in 2011.
Image: Reuters/Nicky Loh
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Global circus troupe Cirque du Soleil, which started as a group of Québécois street performers, has sold a majority stake to the Texas-based TPG Capital and the Chinese conglomerate Fosun Group in a deal that observers say marks “the end of an era.”

The deal should open the door to the group performing extensively in China. “We think that the market is ready for us,” chief executive Daniel Lamarre said on Monday. Fosun is owned by the Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang, a shrewd investor who has been nicknamed ”China’s Warren Buffet.”

But expanding in China may yet prove to be difficult. The troupe has already had a hard time breaking into Asia, especially in China, which is home to its own long tradition of acrobatics. Circue du Soleil had to cut short a 10-year contract in the Chinese gambling mecca of Macau in 2012, after three and a half years of underwhelming ticket sales.

A Chinese tour a year later also ended embarrassingly. An iconic photo from the 1989 Tiananmen protests—a democracy activist facing off against a Chinese tank—flashed on screens as part of a civil rights montage in the show, shocking the audience. The banned image was subsequently removed from the show.

The TPG-Fosun deal values the recently struggling company at about $1.5 billion and should help its continued transition from an arts troupe to an all-purpose entertainment company. The Canadian firm was forced to make significant layoffs and cost cuts of almost $100 million in 2012. Revenues from its European tours in 2013 fell by 37% to $59 million.

Under the agreement, Fosun will hold 20% of the company, TPG will control 60% and the Canadian pension fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec will hold 10%. Cirque du Soleil’s founder, Guy Laliberté—a former fire-breathing accordion player—will retain a 10% stake.