Bidding groups led by two of the world's largest private equity funds are expected to submit bids by a Thursday deadline for control of Quebec's Cirque du Soleil.
According to people familiar with the discussions, one group is led by CVC Capital Partners, a British-based private equity investor with investments in a broad range of global technology, travel and consumer products companies. Joining CVC Capital's group is Providence Equity Partners, a Rhode Island-based private equity firm with interests in a variety of telecommunications and entertainment companies including the world's largest theatre and ticket sales company Ambassador Theatre Group.
A competing bid is expected from U.S.-based private equity giant TPG, formerly known as Texas Pacific Group, whose portfolio includes the global talent agency Creative Artists Agency. It is believed TPG's buying group includes an overseas financial investor that is seeking to expand the struggling circus producer's business in South East Asia.
Spokespersons for CVC Capital, TPG and Providence declined to comment.
Cirque du Soleil's founder and majority shareholder, Guy Laliberté, hired Goldman Sachs late last year to search for a minority investor in a company that has struggled financially in recent years. A number of interested buyers pulled out of negotiations after confidential financial data revealed its profits were being eroded by rising production costs and slumping box office revenues outside its core Las Vegas market.
Sources said the small circle of remaining bidders declined to invest in the company unless they could acquire control. Mr. Laliberté has indicated that he was willing to sell all but 10 per cent of his 90-per-cent stake in the company, according to these sources.
Renée-Claude Ménard, a spokeswoman for Cirque du Soleil said: "The process is still ongoing and Guy Laliberté still has to review his options."
The prospect of a sale of one of Quebec's most prominent companies has already been met with opposition from provincial politicians seeking to preserve its Montreal head office. Quebec's pension fund manager, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Quebec, could play the role of a political peace maker by joining the winning bidding group as a minority investor. Sources said the Caisse has made overtures to possible bidders that it is an interested investor.
It is understood that Mr. Laliberté and his advisers are seeking commitments from buyers to preserve the company's Montreal headquarters and its local staff of about 1,600. Such undertakings have become common place for foreign buyers acquiring Quebec companies. Cirque employs close to 4,000 people worldwide.
Montreal entrepreneur Mitch Garber is a friend of Mr. Laliberté's who was involved in the bidding early on and could still remain in the process with TPG Group. Asked about his involvement Sunday on Radio Canada's popular TV talk show Tout le monde en parle, Mr. Garber said he's convinced that the Cirque's headquarters will remain in Montreal. He also addressed the view that in selling the company, Mr. Laliberté is sending a bad sign.
"It's not a bad thing to sell something you built," Mr. Garber said. "It's maybe being seen as a bad thing but it's not. You've built something from nothing with your hands. And at some point, it's time to say goodbye."