Blackstone leads bidders for £800m Crufts host


The world’s biggest property investor is leading a pack of bidders vying for control of the NEC Group, the Birmingham entertainment and exhibitions complex which plays host to Crufts.

Sky News has learnt that Blackstone, which has amassed a vast global real estate portfolio, tabled an offer for NEC ahead of a deadline on Thursday.

Other suitors for the company are said to include rival private equity firms TDR Capital, Charterhouse and Onex.

Blackstone’s expertise as a property investor as well as its ownership of Clarion Events, an events and exhibitions group, have led it to be regarded as the favourite to buy the NEC.

The NEC auction is expected to be one of the most hotly contested in the UK this year, with prospective buyers drawn to a business which has seen revenue and profit surge since it was sold by Birmingham City Council in 2015.

‎Sources say the company, which was bought by LDC, the buyout arm of Lloyds Banking Group, for just £307m, could now change hands for well over £800m.

Such a sale price would put the executives who run LDC in line for a collective windfall running to more than £100m.

The NEC is one of Britain’s biggest live events and exhibitions operators, and counts Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, the International Convention Centre and the Genting Arena among its assets.

Paul Thandi, its chief executive, has expressed an ambition “to build Disneyland in Birmingham”.

The prospective jackpot for LDC executives will prompt renewed questions‎ about the deal which saw it buy the NEC.

The group’s venues stage ‎popular events such as Crufts, the world’s most famous show for pedigree dogs, last summer’s Dinosaurs in the Wild exhibition and musicians including Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.

It is also due to stage parts of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

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An LDC spokesman said recently: “Revenue and profit [at the NEC Group under LDC’s ownership]have increased significantly thanks to a number of transformational changes, new agreements with leisure operators, new sites and new exhibitions, and the business is well positioned for further growth.

“Like all private equity firms, our team invests in the companies we back, alongside our funding partner Lloyds Banking Group and the management teams we support.”

LDC has sought to play down comparisons between the business it bought in 2015 and the NEC as it is today, with tens of millions of pounds spent on capital expenditure projects since then.

It has also established partnerships with leisure groups such as Merlin Entertainments, the owner of Legoland, in a successful effort to boost revenues and visitor numbers.

NEC Group’s transformation under LDC’s ownership was underlined during the summer when it reported a 2.8% rise in sales to £162.1m for the year to March, with profits in the same period up 9.8% to £54.7m.

As well as its live events venues, NEC owns The Ticket Factory, a ticketing agency, and Amadeus, a catering business.

The group has also expanded geographically, securing the contract to operate the refurbished Bradford Odeon as a major live events venue in the north of England.

A person close to LDC said it had also invested in the group’s customer data analytics operation, which had helped to double footfall across its venues over the last three years.

In total, the group has more than 2,000 employees and boasts 7m visitors to its sites annually.

The NEC auction is being handled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Blackstone declined to comment.

From – SkyNews


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