Private equity investors are putting their money behind celebrities, betting on their star power and connections to uncover new opportunities and boost early-stage companies in need of exposure.
The latest deal was announced on Tuesday when a $12bn fund controlled by the Milan-based asset manager Azimut Group agreed to buy a 10 per cent stake in BroadLight Holdings, a company with Hollywood ties.
BroadLight’s co-founders include Rick Yorn, a talent agent, and his brother Kevin Yorn, an entertainment lawyer. They collectively represent actors and entertainers including Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Chris Rock.
Their investment thesis is that cultural figures can be effective in identifying new companies while generating publicity for them on their social media accounts or in sponsorship deals. Although BroadLight’s founders say they have made hundreds of introductions between start-up companies and celebrities, their strategy is unproven.
“BroadLight brings a fantastic pipeline of compelling deals from a sizeable roster of A-list stars who will invest alongside Azimut’s clients as well as help accelerate the growth of portfolio companies,” Jeff Brown, chief executive of Azimut Alternative Capital Partners, said in an interview.
“This investment is part of a whole new part of the economy that continues to grow at an amazing clip,” he added.
Two people close to the matter expected that Azimut would invest in about a third of BroadLight’s first institutional fund, which may exceed $300mn in assets.
“We are always interested in finding new talent that can be leveraged in the private markets and particularly private equity,” Brown said. “We are in an industry that has relied on a traditional model of taking new talent out of investment banking, but the talent pool that can make a lot of money in private equity is far more diverse.”
Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity investor, took a similar approach when it invested about $2bn in Candle Media, a film production platform company co-founded by Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, two Hollywood executives.
Candle has since acquired Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, and it bought a $60mn minority stake in Westbrook, Will Smith’s studio.