NEP Group CEO Rabbitt discusses decision to postpone IPO

Last week NEP Group, the largest global outsourced provider of live and broadcast production services and technologies, announced that it was postponing its initial public offering. Ken Kerschbaumer, SVG Executive Director, Editorial Services, was at NEP Group headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA, on the day of the announcement and NEP Group CEO Kevin Rabbit sat down with SVG to discuss the decision and the next steps for the company that plays such a key role in sports and live TV production around the world.

Kerschbaumer: So where do you guys go from here?

Rabbitt: That’s a simple answer. We’ve always looked at an IPO as one strategic alternative for us but not the only way that we could continue to execute our strategy. So it is business as usual and nothing changes. We already have a strong and healthy business and a great growth plan in front of us with a lot of tr

Kevin Rabbit, NEP Group CEO

Kevin Rabbit, NEP Group CEO

action and we have a great financial investor supporting us. And that is what has always been interesting about this. It’s not something we had to do but something we saw as a strategic alternative for us. And it still may be one for us in the future. But when you look at what is happening in the broader public markets today it just wasn’t the right time to do it.

Like what has been going on with the China market and elsewhere?

There were a few things going on. You have the headlines like Greece, China, or whether the Fed is going to raise interest rates. And at the same time there is a lot of volatility in public announcements of earnings across different sectors and then media stocks, which we were following very closely when we started our road show. They are down five percent. And that is certainly not indicative of the quality of those businesses but it is indicative of the uncertainty of the broader market.

So when you were meeting with people what was there perception of the sports production industry? It has always been a very mom and pop industry and those sort of relationships. Did they get what the industry is about?

I’m not allowed to comment specifically on our overall investor discussions but I will say that there is a lot of respect for the clients in the industry as they are unbelievable world leading media companies, whether U.S., Australian, or European clients. There is a lot of knowledge about who they are and the great content that is being produced, both in the sports and unscripted entertainment side. So there is a huge affinity and respect for that and that in and of itself lends credence to the broader industry that we are all a part of and that there are a of strong companies out there like NEP that provide services to these clients.

Recently NEP has been doing a lot of acquisitions of companies and talent, especially in Europe. So how do you move forward with harmonising those acquisitions?

In the 30-year history of the company there have been acquisitions done the entire time. So while there is a lot of discussion about what we have done recently if you look back at NEP over the 30-year life of the company it has been acquisitions that have added to the overall strength and scale of the business. A lot of that was focused on the U.S. over the first 25 years of the company. And the recent efforts have been to expand the NEP worldwide network to a much broader worldwide footprint with a lot of focus on the European countries but also in terms of Australia. And then we always have had, and continue to have, an interest in the Asian and South American markets. And we see that as a way to support our clients as they continue to globalise and we see it as a way to be stronger as one overall network than any of the companies in and of itself.

So how do you see those companies working together as there are obviously cultural differences in the way people work and of course languages. So do you look to keep things pretty stable as far as their current relationships?

Well the way we’ve always done these acquisitions, and the last two years are a great example of that, is we are looking for industry leaders that have great management teams and strong client relationships in a market that would be a great addition to our overall network. And what we have done is kept those management teams and keep running their business like we do here in the U.S. And then we try and get the ability to support clients across the overall network and also supporting each other from the standpoint of technical talent and technical solutions.

If you look at what we will be doing moving forward for the Olympics we will have clients from three different continents, personnel from six or seven different countries, and technical facilities from those six or seven different countries as well. And that is a pretty good example of a large international event, supporting multiple clients, and the power of having a worldwide network.

But also it seems that much more content is being delivered globally, like the EPL over here in the U.S. and the U.S. sports over in Europe. Does that work to your advantage when it comes to building awareness of your global presence?

Our strategy, and I can’t say this enough, is global-centric and what is good for our clients is good for us. And so we work very hard to make sure we have fantastic teams and fantastic solutions in place for our clients on all of the local levels. And then thinking about their needs as they continue to globalize and if you pick any major broadcaster around the globe you can see all the places they are delivering content. And so having the ability to be their consistent partner is a great way to support them.

So obviously when people look at the IPO and they see you guys doing it and then it doesn’t happen the logical thing is to say it was a failure. So how do you change that perception?

Well everyone at NEP internally has heard from me that this is not something that we have ever had to do as we have had financial sponsors dating back 20 years. And every time there has been a financial sponsor change someone in the industry has wanted to say that it is a bad thing for NEP. But ultimately it has been a good thing for the company and the clients. And we look at our ownership structure as secondary to what our strategy is which is to support clients and continue to grow the business and allow people to grow their careers. There are multiple ways to have a financial structure to support that and fortunately we have a great financial structure now. And I can tell you that everyone at our company knows we are a healthy company, a great place to work, and with a 100% focus on supporting clients.

So nothing changes. We were never doing acquisitions to eventually do an IPO; that’s a reverse logic. We were doing acquisitions to grow our worldwide network and to support our clients. And that doesn’t change.

And what I can tell is not one person as we were looking at the IPO was exiting their ownership positions; not our financial sponsor, not our management team. This is not something that was being done because we wanted to exit. We were looking at it because we saw it a next logical step on our growth path. And that still could be the case in that structure but there are plenty of other structures.

So an IPO is something that could be considered again if you see the markets bouncing back?

It certainly could be considered in the future and that could be in the next few months or the next few years. But in terms of our focus today it is exactly what is was during the process, and that is supporting our clients.

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