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Live Nation acquires control of Bestival and Camp Bestival

22 November 2018

A JOINT-venture between LN-Gaiety (LNG) and SJM Concerts has brought two more major festivals into the realm of Live Nation Entertainment, which already owns the majority of the country’s biggest music events.

LNG, a 50/50 partnership between Live Nation and a company owned by its non-executive chairman Denis Desmond and wife Caroline, and SJM have acquired Bestival (cap. 40,000) and Camp Bestival (26,000), founded and previously owned by Robert Gorham (aka Rob da Bank) and wife Josie.

There has been no mention of the two Common People (30,000 each) festivals in Oxford and Southampton, also headed by da Bank, although it has been Gorham, to LIVE UK that all four events have ceased to be members of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), an organisation Gorham helped establish.

Bestival and Camp Bestival were forced into administration by major creditor The Richmond Group (TRG), which then purchased the assets for £1.1 million (see LIVE UK issue 225) through a newly-formed company, Safe Festivals Group.

TRG founder James Benamore tells LIVE UK his intention was never to make a profit from the transaction, and he sold the company on for the same sum.

“We just wanted to support the festivals and see them succeed,” he says. “It’s great that Rob and Josie are back in control.”

A Camp Bestival Twitter statement says, “Josie and Rob da Bank are thrilled to finally announce that they are back in control of Camp Bestival – the magical family festival they created 11 years ago. With the help of Live Nation-Gaiety and SJM we will really be able to bring more of our creative vision to life with the support structure needed going forward Rob and Josie.”

The takeover also means that ticket-holders due Camp Bestival refunds for this year, when the last day was cancelled due to extreme weather, and those who have already bought tickets for next year’s event, will not lose out.

“The insurance money available to refund 2018 ticket-holders, and money from 2019 ticket sales, was entirely lost in the administration,” says da Bank in a statement. “This is unfair to you, our fans. The new owners, LN-Gaiety and SJM, understand how unfair this feels and as a result have agreed to fund discounts and refunds for 2018 ticket holders, and will honour all existing 2019 tickets.”

Documents filed by administrator Begbie Traynor show that TRG was a secured creditor to the tune of £2.14m, with debentures over nine limited companies involved in running da Bank’s festivals. The business and assets of Bestival Group Ltd, Bestival Ltd and Camp Bestival Ltd were sold to Safe Festivals Group on 1 October for £958,824.

Then, on 15 October a controlling 75 per cent of Safe Festivals’ shares were transferred to Live Nation subsidiary MAMA Festivals, with Desmond appointed a director. Companies House records show no mention of SJM or LNG involvement in that arrangement.

The three companies unsecured debts were estimated at £1.18m, including an advance from Ticketmaster UK of £1.2m in July. The administrator estimates that TRG lost £1.2m as a result of the administration.

As for Common People, the most recent set of accounts filed by Common People Festival Ltd in 2016 show a profit of £68,918.

Live Nation, SJM and da Bank declined to comment on the terms or scope of the joint venture takeover, the future of Bestival or  whether ownership of the Common People events had also changed.

The loss of four major festivals impacts heavily on AIF, especially as Rob da Bank and Bestival were leading founder members.

Last year the association expressed its concerns over Live Nation’s dominance in the festival market and asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate.

AIF CEO Paul Reed says, “While many will have hoped for a solution to Camp Bestival’s situation that could have seen the company remain independent and prevent further market consolidation, we wish everyone there all the best for the future.

“The team were facing a unique set of challenges and, overall, the independent sector remains healthy and buoyant.”

Among the headliners at Bestival this year were London Grammar, MIA and Grace Jones, while Camp Bestival featured Simple Minds, Rick Astley and Clean Bandit, and Common People was headlined by James and The Jacksons.

LN Gaiety also owns Festival Republic, promoter of events such as Reading (90,000), Leeds (80,000) and Latitude (35,000).

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