Cirque du Soleil, a live entertainment provider well-known for its acrobatic touring and resident shows, has over 4,000 employees, including 1,300 artists from more than 50 different countries. This diverse set of employees has traveled to over 400 cities in over 60 countries around the world. On average, Cirque du Soleil processes 4,000–5,000 work visas each year. In an era in which leaders of countries can overnight bar specific nationalities through a stroke of a pen, Cirque du Soleil artists’ ability to perform are at the mercy of immigration policies.
Artists, which account for nearly half of a Cirque du Soleil show’s 120-150 member cast often possess rare forms of talent that are not only unique to the show they perform on but also in the world. As a result, if even one of Cirque du Soleil’s artists cannot obtain a work permit because of changes in immigration policies, the show would have be modified to a lower quality version of itself. Today’s entertainment landscape is increasingly competitive; therefore, the pressure to deliver ever more thrilling and unique shows is necessary to effectively compete for the consumers’ entertainment spend. Cirque du Soleil needs to be able to liberally reach out to every corner of the world to source the most unique acts as well as the best performers in each discipline in order to remain cutting-edge. Immigration restrictions could be especially detrimental to Cirque du Soleil’s residential show division, which operates permanent shows in US and Mexico and accounts for nearly half of its total ticket sales. Changes to immigration policies because of isolationism could not only threaten Cirque du Soleil’s ability to maximize its revenue in certain markets, but also hinder its long term competitive advantage in producing pioneering acrobatic performances.
Since its acquisition by TPG in 2015, Cirque du Soleil has announced a number of new strategic initiatives that in part, address the risk associated with isolationism and potential tightening of work permit policies. In the short term, the company has resisted attempts to outsource its visa and immigration department and continued to maintain its team in-house. This decision will ensure that its immigration team can invest in developing expertise for countries that are aligned with the tour plan every year. Similarly, it has begun to operate in markets where a majority of its talent is sourced locally. For example, by 2018, Cirque du Soleil expects to open a permanent show in Hangzhou, China, a country that has historically been key in developing artists for acrobatic shows., Furthermore, Cirque du Soleil has also taken steps that fundamentally change its business model and therefore its risk exposure to isolationism. For example, Cirque du Soleil has made a number of acquisitions over the past years, including investing in a visual mapping company (4U2C), a ticketing platform (Outbox), and a performance arts company (Blue Man Group). These recent investments shift Cirque du Soleil’s dependence on unique artistic talent to skills that can be fulfilled by a larger pool of talent. Furthermore, the company has also expanded its product offering to entertainment products that require little to no artists once operational. Its most recent creation includes NFL Experience Time Square, which is a permanent technology-enabled exhibition co-created with the NFL.
There are other additional actions that Cirque du Soleil could engage in to either minimize its dependence on work permits or to counter the possibility of tightening of work permits. For example, it could invest in accelerating its employees’ path to citizenship in regions where Cirque du Soleil operates permanent shows. While this strategy is not effective in securing work permits for future recruits, it will ensure that its existing workforce in permanent shows will be protected. In addition, Cirque du Soleil could also consider creating partnerships with lobbying organizations such as American Immigration Council, which specialize in promoting pro-immigration laws and policies.
Cirque du Soleil, whose core business relies on sourcing the most unique artistic talent from every corner in the world has a lean ten-person team handling all immigration related issues. Is this enough? Should Cirque du Soleil be further building in its immigration services and lobbying efforts? Or will diversification into other entertainment products generate better returns for its investors?
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 Leslie Picker, “Private equity-backed Cirque du Soleil inks deal for Blue Man Group as it looks to expand beyond circus,” CNBC, July 6, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/06/private-equity-backed-cirque-du-soleil-inks-deal-for-blue-man-group.html, accessed November 2017
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