Whether it’s Disney’s smash-hit musical The Lion King, West End sensation Wicked, or spine-chiller The Woman in Black, the Ambassador Theatre Group is home to some of Britain’s biggest box office successes. The Woking-based business is the world’s largest live-theatre group, with 39 venues, including the Lyceum and Apollo Victoria in London. Ambassador’s co-productions include The Ruling Class, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Richard III, Jersey Boys and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Its ticketing division issues more than 11m tickets a year. Yet, international success is a recent phenomenon.
Founded in 1992 by Sir Howard Panter, 66, and his wife Rosemary Squire, 59, the company owns 38 British theatres, including 16 bought from rival Live Nation for £90m in 2009, funded by private-equity firm Exponent. Greg Dyke, 68, former director-general of the BBC, became chairman after the buyout. The group opened a base in New York in 2007 and Sydney in 2012, but the pivotal moment in its international expansion was in May 2013, when it bought Broadway’s biggest theatre for a reported £40m. Foxwoods Theatre, now known as The Lyric, was the first auditorium Ambassador owned in America. Its success prompted private-equity house Providence Equity Partners to acquire a majority stake in October 2013, valuing Ambassador at £350m.
America now accounts for 85% of international sales, which reached £16.9m last year, up an average of 338% a year since 2012. The rest is mainly generated in Australia. Continental Europe is now a target market after Ambassador bought a majority stake in BB Group, a German entertainment producer, in April. BB specialises in musicals and dance shows in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. With plans to open or acquire other international venues, the stage is set for an award-winning performance.
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