SUPER MERGER: Allegiant Stadium, site of the 2024 Super Bowl, is one of seven NFL venues run by ASM Global, which is in talks with Legends to potentially merge the two companies. (Getty Images)
Deal would complete Legends’ 360 model in venues biz
Legends is in discussions to acquire ASM Global, multiple sources said, a blockbuster deal potentially that would propel Legends into a major force across all facets of facility development and operations, but ultimately result in fewer options for running sports and entertainment venues.
At this point, it’s unclear where both parties are in the process of a potential merger, whether a deal has been signed and when it would officially be announced, sources said.
Officials with both Legends and ASM Global declined to comment.
ASM Global, a private management firm, runs about 350 arenas, stadiums and convention centers worldwide, including a dozen NFL and NBA venues, some of which are booking deals and other service agreements. The merger would effectively add facility operations as the final piece of Legends’ 360-degree business model and further shrink the industry through consolidation.
ASM Global has reportedly been in play for a while now with efforts accelerating over the past two months to sell the company, sources said.
In early May, Mergermarket, a website covering the financial sector, and which is part of Ion Analytics, posted a story that said Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity firm that owns 50% of ASM Global, had asked Goldman Sachs to oversee a formal sales process for the company.
AEG Facilities owns the remaining 50% of ASM Global after it merged with the old SMG to form a standalone company in 2019. Onex and Goldman Sachs, serving in an advisory role, invited a “limited number of prospective buyers to express interest in ASM,” the site reported.
For Legends, among those suitors, the one piece that’s been missing over the past 15 years is running public assembly venues.
Pending completion of the ASM Global transaction, Legends would immediately become the industry’s biggest third-party facility manager, forging a strong connection to its existing lines of business in feasibility studies and market research; owner’s representation/project management; food service and merchandise; and premium seat and sponsorship sales, including naming rights consultation.
The merger brings back some familiar ties and personnel involved in the Legends-ASM Global agreement.
The deal would reunite Legends CEO Shervin Mirhashemi and AEG in one sense. Mirhashemi spent 12 years with AEG and became the company’s top sales executive and president of AEG Global Partnerships before he departed for Legends in 2013.
In addition, Goldman Sachs was the original investment bank behind Legends at the time it launched in 2008, before selling its stake in 2012 after finance executive Gerry Cardinale left the bank.
Goldman Sachs also advised on the deal for Sixth Street, a private equity firm with $60 billion in assets under management, to purchase a majority stake of 51% in Legends. That transaction was completed in early 2o21.
At that time, the acquisition valued Legends at $1.35 billion, according to Legends’ website. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees remain the other two partners in Legends, which they initially formed to provide food service for AT&T Stadium and Yankee Stadium, two buildings that opened in 2009.
The potential merger between Legends and ASM Global is seen as a counter strike to Oak View Group (owner of VenuesNow and Pollstar magazines), which has quickly grown to become a formidable competitor across the sports and entertainment landscape since its inception in 2015.
Two years ago, OVG, co-owned by Tim Leiweke, former CEO of AEG, and Irving Azoff, among the music industry’s most powerful brokers, acquired Spectra, a provider of facility management, food service and marketing services. The transaction vaulted OVG into position as the second-biggest firm in that space behind ASM Global.
Buying ASM Global enables Legends to keep pace with OVG’s rapid expansion, experts said.
“Shervin wants to get into the venue management biz and he’s a former AEG guy,” said Ed Rubinstein, a veteran arena manager and merchandiser with 50 years of experience. “Legends brings a lot of other business segments to the table that ASM doesn’t really have or excel at; sponsorship and premium sales being two. It makes Legends a major competitor to OVG and Shervin’s former boss, Tim Leiweke.”
The volume and scale of the OVG-Spectra merger, plus the deals OVG has compiled over the past eight years to privately finance the development of multiple big league arenas, coupled with the red-hot market for live entertainment two years after the pandemic, has created a situation where it makes sense for Legends to expand its portfolio and get into more buildings apart from concessions and premium dining, industry experts said.
“They’ve been successful in feasibility studies, project management and ticketing strategies, but their food and beverage unit really hasn’t done much,” said Chris Bigelow, a food service consultant. “In the beginning, they thought it was going to be a slam dunk, but it hasn’t worked out that way. They’ve typically picked up deals, like with Stan Kroenke’s teams, because of some connection (with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones). They haven’t won stuff in an open bidding process.”
“Without knowing what Legends’ vision is long term, it’s hard to comment, but it certainly has the potential of being impactful in numerous ways that would be directly competitive to OVG,” said Mike McGee, a consultant and co-founder of Leisure Management International, which ran big league arenas and stadiums from 1984 to 2000 before he sold the company to SMG. “It sounds like the price of ‘the game’ is going to get more expensive” as the industry shrinks with more consolidation, he said.
Another factor possibly driving the Legends-ASM Global deal is Phil Anschutz, owner of AEG, is now 83 years old. McGee said Anschutz may feel that he needs to start liquidating his assets before he dies, including his company’s stake in ASM Global.
ASM Global does have Savor, its in-house food provider that was originally part of SMG, plus marketing and event promotions and booking services. It’s unclear how those divisions would move forward and whether they would be folded into the proposed Legends merger.
The same question surfaces for Levy, the Chicago concessionaire. Compass Group, the world’s biggest food service provider and Levy’s owner, has a 49% ownership stake in AEG Facilities. Levy and Legends are competitors in running food and merchandise at arenas and stadiums. Legends has also been strong on the retail end as the NFL’s official vendor for Super Bowl, among other accounts.
Bigelow said Legends could potentially integrate Savor, whose primary business is convention centers, into its food operation, while Compass Group gets a nice payout to separate itself from ASM Global.
There’s a lot at stake and a lot to shake out if Legends completes its acquisition of ASM Global, but one thing is certain: An already small world in the public assembly venues biz is about to get a whole lot smaller.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.