Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund Acquires $500 Million Stake in Live Nation

Live Nation Logo.  (PRNewsFoto/Live Nation)

UPDATED: The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund, recently purchased a large stake in Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest live-entertainment company, according to SEC filings released Monday.

Public Investment disclosed that it owned a 5.7% stake in the company, a total of 12.3 million shares valued at approximately $500 million. The fund’s stake in Live Nation rose above 5% as of April 16, according to the filing. Public Investment is now Live Nation’s third-largest shareholder; Liberty Media, which owns a 33% stake, is the largest.

Live Nation shares were lifted by the investment news on Monday morning, rising along with the broader market with gains in the 3% range. Shares were hovering around the $39 mark in early trading. Live Nation’s share price is down about 45% for the year to date amid the pandemic-related lockdown that shuttered most of the promotion giant’s business. In mid-February, before the coronavirus crisis began in earnest in the U.S., Live Nation shares were above $75.

Contacted by Variety, a rep for Live Nation had no comment. Public Investment did not immediately respond to requests for comment, however, on Thursday, Yassir al-Rumayyan, head of the fund, said it was looking into investment opportunities once the coronavirus epidemic passes. He singled out out aviation, oil and gas and entertainment, according to Reuters. “There will be economies up and running, we will see a lot of potential,” he said.

Last October, James Craven, president of Live Nation’s Middle East division, raved about the opportunities in the Saudi market for touring artists. “You know two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi. It’s a new story, and we are spending a lot of time explaining what is happening (in Saudi Arabia) and talking about Saudi,” Craven told Arab News. “There is nothing more hospitable than the Saudi people. That’s a reality. We have a big team of people working now and they are from all over the world, including 10 Saudi interns.”

Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino has made aggressive moves in recent weeks to bolster confidence and give support to the industry, ranging from foregoing his $3 million annual salary for 2020 to purchasing $1 million in the company’s stock himself, along with six-figure investments from other top company officers. He has also repeatedly assured the staff on conference calls that there will not be layoffs, although it has been hit with “hiring freezes, reduction in the use of contractors, rent re-negotiations, furloughs, and reduction or elimination of other discretionary spending, including, among other things, travel and entertainment, repairs and maintenance, and marketing,” according to a recent SEC filing. Other top executives reduced their salaries for the year by 50%, including president Joe Berchtold (from $1.3 million to $650,000), chief counsel Michael Rowles (from $800,000 to $400,000), and CFO Kathy Willard (from $950,000 to $475,000).

The live-entertainment business — the primary revenue generator of the music industry — has been hit exceptionally hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with virtually every tour and concert taking place over the next few months postponed or cancelled. While touring-industry trade publication Pollstar projected a $12.2 billion year for the industry based on concert grosses from the first fiscal quarter of 2020 (which was largely unaffected by the coronavirus lockdown), those projections changed virtually overnight: Early this month it lowered that estimate to $9.9 billion if touring resumes in late May, and $3.3 billion if the rest of the year is dark — the latter of which is “a worst-case scenario and certainly not expected,” the report asserts. Still, that worse-case scenario depicts a nearly $9 billion loss for the industry based on ticket sales alone.

Taking investment from companies tied to Saudi investors has become controversial issue for media and entertainment firms in the wake of the October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of the Saudi kingdom, at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. SRMG, a Saudi publishing and media company which is publicly traded, remains a minority investor in PMC, Variety’s parent company.