Hamsard May Have Channelfly In The Ointment

MAMA’s name is at the center of a few corporate live music business stories, as the AIM-listed music group has given up on one deal and is rumored to be trying to block another.

Although the 4-year-old music and media company, which owns the management of rapidly emerging U.K. acts including Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs and assets including the Channelfly rock-venue business, has given up courting the beleaguered Sanctuary Music Group, it’s still said to be intent on wrecking Hamsard 2786’s efforts to buy half of the Academy Music Group.

Even before the Competition Commission’s October 2nd publication of the terms of reference into its investigation into Hamsard’s proposed purchase of the AMG shares currently held by investment financiers, MAMA was rumoured to be hiring heavyweight competition lawyers and trying to rally some of the U.K.’s main music organizations to oppose the deal.

Asked on September 26th if the company had approached industry bodies including the Music Managers’ Forum (MMF) and tried to enlist their support, MAMA director Dean James told Pollstar, “Not to my knowledge.”

He said he wasn’t prepared to comment on whether MAMA Group itself – apart from trying to buy Sanctuary – had ever put in an offer or offers for the same AMG shareholding that Hamsard is now trying to buy.

MMF general secretary James Sellar said the managers forum did meet September 5th, but declined to say more on the grounds that the content is a private matter for members only.

The current bid from Hamsard, which is co-owned by Live Nation as well as Denis Desmond’s Dublin-based Gaiety Investments, obviously has the support of the investment bankers at RJD Partners and F & C Private Equity Trust and the other shareholders, which include company chief John Northcote, London-based promoters Metropolis Music, SJM Concerts and Desmond’s own MCD.

The Competition Commission is currently interviewing and gathering information from Hamsard and weighing it against the arguments put forward by any parties that are serious about opposing the deal.

The main thrust of its brief is to look if the merger of the two companies would result in a substantial lessening of competition within the live music markets in the U.K. – particularly in London.

Although AMG has a handful of provincial Academy venues, it is ownership of London’s Brixton Academy and Shepherds Bush Empire that concerns the commission most, obviously in light of the fact it would mean Hamsard would have control of about a dozen of the city’s most popular rooms.

A fortnight before MAMA released a stock exchange statement saying it has withdrawn its interest in buying Sanctuary, James – who had a brief spell as Mean Fiddler chief when Vince Power walked out and then back in again within the space of a week – told Pollstar he saw “a great deal of logic in putting the two businesses together,” but quickly added that it was down to Sanctuary and its shareholders to sort out.

When MAMA first made its move at the end of July, it claimed to have the support of 40 percent of the Sanctuary shareholding, although company chairman Bob Ayling was still confident enough to say he couldn’t recommend the offer to the board because he couldn’t take it seriously.

The decision to pull back from Sanctuary means MAMA is withdrawing the threat of the hostile bid it threatened in a press statement released just after it made what’s believed to be an “all shares” offer.

Although most of the U.K. media had confidently predicted that there would be a hostile bid if Ayling and the Sanctuary board didn’t back the offer, The Guardian, The Times, Daily Express, The Independent and even The Sun were among the papers to report that MAMA was letting matters lie because Sanctuary is “not prepared to engage in any meaningful dialogue.”

The value of the offer hasn’t been revealed but the business pages had it at about £40 million. That’s about 2.5 times MAMA’s capital value, making the deal similar to a reverse buyout.

Since the offer was made, Sanctuary’s agency interests have lost further value, with Emma Banks and Mike Greek quitting Helter Skelter to set up a London office for the Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency.

Although the company’s agencies turn a regular and steady profit, the loss of the revenue produced by such acts as Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Gray, Franz Ferdinand, Jamie Cullum, KT Tunstall, Nelly Furtado, Nickel Creek, Nine Inch Nails, System Of A Down, Kraftwerk, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ray Lamontagne, and Wolfmother might hurt less than seeing so many high-profile clients walk away.

There are also stories of senior execs including Merck Mercuriadis and Rod Smallwood about to jump ship, while Sanctuary seems resigned to toughing out the departures and then building from what’s left at the end of it.

– John Gammon