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British private equity firms table bids for Cirque du Soleil: report

A trio of British private equity firms have set their sights on Canadian live performance company Cirque du Soleil, according to a report from U.K. media outlet Sky News.

BC Partners, CVC Capital Partners and Permira are among a number of investors that have recently made indicative offers for the Montréal-based company, the report said.

The news comes on the heels of reports in late 2014 that Cirque du Soleil had hired investment bank Goldman Sachs Group to help it find a strategic partner.

Sources told Reuters the company is exploring all of its options, including the sale of a majority interest. Sources said Cirque du Soleil is prepared to entertain bids from both private equity firms and large media companies.

Other PE firms said to have expressed an interest in the company include Apollo Capital ManagementThe Carlyle Group and TPG. Several potential strategic buyers have also been identified.

In December, Cirque du Soleil’s founder and controlling shareholder Guy Laliberté told The Wall Street Journal he was seeking to sell up to 30 percent of the business and was aiming for a deal that would value it at anywhere from US$1.5 billion to US$2.5 billion. The report suggested he was motivated by declining profits, which Laliberté believes can be addressed through restructuring and a re-balancing of revenue sources.

In the past, Cirque du Soleil has partnered with minority investors to help fund specific projects and growth initiatives. They include the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Constellation Growth Capital, which together invested in the company in 2011. Istithmar World Capital and Nakheel, affiliates of sovereign wealth fund Dubai World, also acquired a 20 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil in 2008.

Since its founding in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has achieved international fame for its live shows, which reflect a mix of circus theatre and acrobatics. It got its start during Québec’s 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada, when Laliberté convinced organizers to stage a tour of performers, the company’s website said.

Today, Cirque du Soleil is often described as one of Canada’s largest cultural exports. The company estimates that close to 150 million people in more than 300 cities have seen its shows since inception. That includes 15 million spectators in 2014 alone, Cirque du Soleil’s website said.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Luke MacGregor