Entertainment

Legendary Entertainment in Talks to Sell Stake to Apollo

Legendary Entertainment has sold a $760 million equity stake to Apollo, the companies announced on Monday

The pact gives the investment giant a minority ownership position in the studio behind “Dune” and “Godzilla vs. Kong.” In July, Variety broke the news that Legendary was exploring a possible sale and merger and had abandoned an earlier plan to merge with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Wanda, which bought Legendary in 2016 for $3.5 billion, will continue to have a stake in the company. However, much of the money that Apollo is investing will be used to pay off Wanda, which will move control of the company away from Chinese conglomerate. As part of the deal, Legendary’s management team will gain equity in the company and will have an opportunity to participate in an equity incentive plan.

“It was important to us to find a business partner who believed in our growth story,” Legendary Entertainment CEO Joshua Grode told Variety. “We were also hoping to achieve a configuration that put our management team’s hands more firmly on the steering wheel.”

Legendary is riding high after “Dune” scored with critics, earned awards buzz and put up respectable (for a pandemic) box office results. A sequel is in the works. Other Legendary releases include “Enola Holmes” and “Detective Pikachu.” The company has a follow-up to “Enola Holmes” in the works, and produced such upcoming films as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Fresh,” along with television series such as “Lost in Space” and “Carnival Row.” Apollo manages some $481 billion in assets.

Under Grode, a former partner of the law firm Irell & Manella, Legendary has worked to get its financial house in order. Since he took the reins in 2017 the company has shuttered money-losing operations such as an analytics division, diversified its movie slate beyond a handful of blockbuster hopefuls and moved more aggressively into television. The company is now profitable, which Apollo found attractive.

“The company generates a lot of cash flow and we like companies that throw off a lot of cash,” says Lee Solomon, a partner at Apollo.

Legendary’s leadership team of Grode and worldwide production chief Mary Parent will remain in charge of the creative, strategic and operational direction of the company. As a result of investment by the Apollo Funds, Apollo Partners Aaron Sobel and Solomon will join Legendary’s board of directors.

The dealmaking may not be done when it comes to Legendary. Apollo believes that there are M&A opportunities for the company across the media landscape.

“We did not approach this deal from a valuation perspective,” says Grode. Instead, the goal was to “bring in a thoughtful partner who can position us to go out and acquire larger assets.”

The sale comes as several content creators are attracting interest from potential buyers. Former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs’ Candle Media has recently bought a stake in Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Inc. for $60 million, on top of spending $900 million for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and $3 billion for Moonbug Entertainment, the kids and family company behind streaming powerhouse “CoComelon,” “Blippi” and “Little Baby Bum.” At various points, Legendary, Imagine and A24 have attracted attention from potential buyers, while LeBron James’s SpringHill Company recently sold a minority stake to RedBird Capital Partners, Fenway Sports Group, Nike and Epic Games.

“We believe the strong secular trends and demand for content will benefit companies like Legendary,” says Solomon. “The landscape is wide and there are tons of opportunities to invest in more content companies and back more creators. There are also opportunities to buy other companies that provide synergies and add value.”

LionTree served as financial advisor and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as legal counsel to the Apollo Funds in the transaction. Moelis & Company served as lead financial advisor to Legendary and Paul Weiss and Stroock served as legal counsel. Han Kun Law Firm and KL Gates served as legal counsel for Wanda. Centerview Partners advised on pre-transaction matters.

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