New owners for Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
What now for the biggest theatre in Ireland now that former hoteliers have purchased it?
John and Bernie Gallagher found themsleves with a theatre to their name this week. According to Jack Fagan’s report, the Gallaghers have bought the 2,111 capacity Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin for €28 million, outbidding live music promoters Live Nation, Denis Desmond from MCD Concerts, the UK-based Ambassador Theatre Group (which was acquired last year by US finance house Providence Equity Partners for £350 million), Dublin-based group New Beginning and several private investors in the process. €28 million may seem like a huge hunk of cash to you and me, but when you consider that some €80 million has been spent on developing the venue on its launch in 2010, it’s really a bit of a steal in the property buying and selling game.
The Gallagers are best known, per Fagan’s report, as hoteliers who got out of that game when the going was still good and smartly earned nearly €1 billion in profits from the sale of various property holdings in the proceedings. While they may not have any experience in running a theatre or live venue, they can spot a bargain when they see one. The venue is busy these days, with venue operators Live Nation putting a lot of bums on seats and profits are expected to be around €2 million this year. The naming rights will be up for rebidding in a few years and Bord Gáis paid €4.5 million last time out for the right to have their name above the door on that occasion. If you can listen closely, you can hear the faint buzz of a boom of sorts kicking back in (more traffic on the roads is a better indicator of that for sure rather than any Daft.ie index) so they’re in the right place at the right time.
What’s interesting about the theatre is that there’s not as many live music shows there as might have been expected initially. I think I’ve been to only two live gigs in the theatre since it opened – Bon Iver and Josh Ritter – as well the Offset design convention and TEDx Dublin. For the most part, the theatre specialises in those big touring West End theatre productions, with upcoming events including Shrek the Musical, Blood Brothers, Elf and The Mousetrap. All of these involve long runs which don’t necessarily give much wiggle rooms for one-off live shows, though Damien Rice, Elvis Costello and Jools Holland are due in the coming weeks.
For the most part, acts who’ve grown too large for the Olympia or Vicar Street in the city move right up to the 3arena, using blackout curtains to take the dirty look off the 14,500 capacity venue if sales don’t meet expectations. There’s long been an argument that there’s a need for a 5,000 capacity venue in the city, but it has not stopped promoters and acts putting on gigs elsewhere.
Another argument about the ownership of the theatre was heard a few times during the run-up to the sale, especially from this newspaper’s Fintan O’Toole on a number of occasions. His point was that the theatre should be acquired by some sort of public ownership to ensure “that impulses other than maximising profits just might operate” in the south docklands, especially the given the big disparity between the amount spent on the building and the amount which NAMA was looking for it.
While O’Toole made the point that a Live Nation acquisition would give them a monopoly on large-scale, indoor performance spaces in the city, it’s worth noting that the company may well continue to operate the venue on behalf of the new owners and will still have a huge say on the venue’s programming to maximise profits for all concerned. However, it remains to be seen how the new owners may seek to exert their own influence on their new purchase. Who knows, to quote O’Toole, “prestige and philanthropy could play a part” in what happens next for the Daniel Libeskind-designed pleasuredome.