Hello Sanjay, New Owner of VEE
With purchase of VEE Corp., Blue Star Media LLC plans huge and quick growth
- by Linda Deckard
- Published: April 7, 2015
Sanjay Syal, CEO of Blue Star Media LLC, is the new face of VEE LLC now.
Sanjay Syal has deep pockets and big plans to expand Blue Star Media LLC well beyond his April 1 acquisition of VEE Corp. He told Venues Today his goal is to increase revenue 25-50 percent and he has two new family sports shows in production which will be announced in two months. The combined companies produce Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival, Sesame Street Live and Discover the Dinosaurs, with additional production and costume divisions in both camps.
“Between VEE and I, there isn’t a venue we haven’t played in the country,” said Syal, CEO of Blue Star Media LLC. “It’s a very small world. Pretty much every venue knows Sanjay. They’ve known me for 20-plus years.” Syal noted that SMG, AEG and Global Spectrum manage convention centers and arenas, so the crossover is simpler.
Vince E. Egan, who founded VEE Corporation, has announced his retirement from the business, though he will consult with Blue Star Media as long as necessary. Besides his original Sesame Street Live stage shows and Hello Kitty property, VEE Corporation’s production and scenery division produces mascot costumes for several National Basketball Association and college teams and, some years, produces the NBA Jam, as well as scenery for other shows.
Syal was excited about the future of the production studios as well as the live shows, noting it will also be used in production for Blue Star Media shows, which had partially been outsourced to China. At the same time, some VEE business will be outsourced now. “Now we can do more in-house and introduce VEE to overseas production where it makes sense.”
Syal envisions a mix of the two companies into a much larger whole. He also intends to blend the staffs, resulting in a 200-person corporation producing 400 live shows annually. Blue Star Media was the larger of the two companies, Syal said, noting their Discover the Dinosaurs walk-through exhibition, which plays convention centers and some fairs, has drawn two-million attendance since it opened in 2012.
According to Syal, key staff for the blended firms will include himself as CEO; David Modica, VEE COO; James Andacht, Blue Star COO; Jim Waters, VEE SVP of Production and Producer; Anthony Flaminio, Blue Star CFO; Kevin Kulas, VEE SVP of Booking and Promotions; and Peter Englehart, Blue Star Executive Producer.
Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival opens at Target Center in Minneapolis on May 29.
Syal is particularly excited about the new Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival in the VEE portfolio. The show debuts at Target Center in Minneapolis May 29 and is already booked at arenas and convention centers through the first year, Syal said. The new VEE production is in partnership with Sanrio and is a very interactive event versus a stage show.
SOCIAL MEDIA MEETS LIVE EVENTS
Blue Star Media is interested in “lifestyle events,” like the new Hello Kitty live show, Syal said. “We are working on software that enhances the experience for guests. We’re creating an entire experience — before, during and after the event.” Dinosaurs has 100,000 Facebook followers. “We want to be engaged with those customers beyond the event day. We want to keep customers engaged throughout the year.”
It’s synergistic that Blue Star headquarters are in Shoreview, Minn., 10-15 miles from VEE’s downtown Minneapolis offices. The production studios in Saint Paul complete the triangle.
But acquisition of VEE was not a result of that close proximity. Syal has been on this journey since June of 2014 when he brought in a partner, AUA Private Equity Investment out of New York.
His original company, Blue Star Productions, has produced trade shows for 20-plus years. Discover the Dinosaurs grew so rapidly after he first launched it in December of 2011 that he closed out the other trade and consumer shows as contracts expired and concentrated on the exhibition. He also started looking for an international partner and ended up selling part of the business to AUA Private Equity.
“After that transition took place, we started looking for a key management to help grow the business which led us to one of the staff members at VEE,” Syal said. “One conversation led to another.” Told that Egan was looking at an exit strategy after 35 years in the business, the conversation started, which was October or November of last year. “In a very short period we had signed an LOI and started doing our due diligence.”
“We dealt with them directly. We’re in the convention center business; they’re in the theater and arena business. In today’s entertainment world, kids are looking for something besides sitting and watching or seeing something. VEE saw that when launching Hello Kitty. It’s a combination of stage production as well as interactive entertainment. Their strength in theaters and venues will go a long way for our Dinosaur show and our experience in how to do stuff in convention centers will go a long way with VEE.”
Blue Star will also add stage shows to its Discover the Dinosaurs and is already expanding its play beyond convention centers. Last year, they booked the New York State Fair, Syracuse, and the California State Fair, Sacramento, with the tented version of Dinosaurs. Syal said they did six percent of total attendance in New York and nine percent in California, which is good for an additional-charge ($5-$6) event at a fair. In convention centers, Dinosaur tickets run in the $12-$30 range, depending on what is there. Sometimes it includes a new Ice Age exhibit, which was introduced in December of last year and travels to a bigger city
Future acquisitions for Blue Star are a possibility, Syal said. “Organic growth is the best way to grow, but if you find a complementary business, that’s an opportunity I now have because I have a partner.”
The two yet-to-be-announced shows are a result of organic growth, he added, saying they will launch in September or October, are in the sports field, are for all ages and use an interactive format.
Everything will stay under Blue Star Media LLC and eventually the VEE LLC name will be phased out, he said. Though VEE is older, Blue Star Media generates more revenue, he said. “The big company bought the small company.”
Syal doesn’t see much new in family entertaiment in the last few years, until Dinosaurs and Hello Kitty came along. “That’s what excited AUA when they purchased us and excited us when we purchased VEE — the chance to come up with new stuff the industry is missing."
Interviewed for this story: Sanjay Syal, (651) 766-2800
- by Linda Deckard
- Published: April 7, 2015