AMG To Take LN’s Oxford Place?

Academy Music Group appears likely to buy the New Theatre lease from Live Nation and turn the Oxford building into more of a music venue.

The city centre building is one of 20 theatres LN runs in the U.K., and its business partner believes it could be put to better use. LN is a major shareholder in AMG.

AMG already owns and operates the O2 Academy Oxford and is looking to develop the New Theatre as an standing-only live music venue but retain the option for its seated theatre configuration.

“Since opening Academy Oxford just over a year ago, the venue has gone from strength to strength and is without doubt one of the busiest in the group,” says Academy Music Group chief exec John Northcote.

With a building capacity of 1,350, O2 Academy Oxford has three separate performance spaces and can operate in various formats and rooms. It runs about 300 gigs per year and stages about 150 club nights, which brought in 210,000 people in the year ending September.

The problem is the main room holds just more than 1,000 people and has recently hosted sellout shows by Duffy, Vampire Weekend and Paul Weller. Northcote believes the city could support a 2,000-capacity venue.

“We’re looking at the option of developing another venue in the city, where we could potentially host live gigs for up to 2,000 people by converting the New Theatre to a standing gig, thus attracting larger shows to the city and even greater diversity in the theatre’s programming and events,” Northcote said.

Paul Latham, president of both AMG and Live Nation U.K., appears keen on the idea, maybe partly because he began his career in the New Theatre in 1984, starting out as assistant manager.

In those days, the venue was run in much the way that Northcote now suggests. During his time at the theatre, Latham saw several major acts come through, including Style Council and Spandau Ballet.

Northcote grew up in Oxford, where he developed the Music Market retail chain, before eventually moving on to the McKenzie Group. He led the £35.5 million company buyout in 2004 that turned it into Academy Music Group.

Two years later, LN-Gaiety, then Hamsard 2786 Ltd., the joint-venture between Live Nation and Irish promoter Denis Desmond, bought out the investment houses that helped fund the deal.

The New Theatre hosts a variety of shows from musicals to stand-up comedy.

Latham said selling to AMG is an easy deal to do if it means both parties get more out of the building. He said any needed structural changes could be dealt with in time to stage shows by the middle of the summer. He’s already carried out a feasibility study.

Northcote said he believes major promoters Metropolis Music and SJM Concerts, both AMG shareholders, would make good use of the venue and fill several nights over the course of a year.

Metropolis chief Bob Angus told Pollstar the city could support a 2,000-capacity ballroom-style venue, and it could mean Oxford will become a regular stop for acts that wouldn’t otherwise play there.

Having re-branded the former Carling Academy venues as O2 Academies, AMG is also changing its tipple.

Carling will no longer be the venue chain’s official beer. As of Jan. 1, the Academies will serve Tuborg.

The Danish brewer is already a keen sponsor of live music throughout Europe, sponsoring festivals including the local Roskilde Festival and Serbia’s Exit Festival.

It also sponsors a number of special events, usually organised by Tim Dowdall from Live Nation’s Budapest office and promoted under the brewer’s “Greenfest” banner.

It’s involved in three shows on next spring’s Depeche Mode tour. All three are billed as Greenfests and scheduled for Sofia, Bulgaria (May 18), Belgrade, Serbia (May 20), and Zagreb, Croatia (May 21).

Tuborg is one of the fastest-growing beers worldwide. It’s the No. 1 beer in Denmark and is the leading premium beer in several Eastern European countries and in Russia.