KAABOO sold to Virgin Fest as original owners exit

Fans surround the Grandview Stage as KAABOO Del Mar. The five-year-old festival was sold to Virgin Fest on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

KAABOO has been sold, only three days after Sunday’s announcement that the festival has entered into a multiyear partnership with the San Diego Padres and changed the event’s name from KAABOO Del Mar to KAABOO San Diego.

Virgin Fest, the music festival arm of Richard Branson’s worldwide Virgin brand, has acquired all of KAABOO’s festival brand assets from KAABOO co-founders Bryan E. Gordon and Seth Wolkov. Gordon and Wolkov are, respectively, the chairman and president of the Madison Companies, LLC, a Denver-based private investment holding company. They launched KAABOO, an upscale music, comedy, art and culinary festival, in 2015 at the Del Mar Racetrack and adjacent fairgrounds.

The final edition of the three-day KAABOO Del Mar festival concluded Sunday, Sept. 15, with a lineup headlined by the Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon and Mumford & Sons. This year’s edition marked the second consecutive year the event sold out in advance, with attendance exceeding 35,000 all three days.

The KAABOO sale was announced Wednesday morning, Sept. 18, and brokered for Virgin Fest by Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins, which bills itself as the world’s second largest law firm. The price for the sale of KAABOO — “a 100 percent asset only acquisition” initiated by Virgin Fest founder and CEO Jason Felts — has not been disclosed.

Felts is also the founder and CEO of Virgin Produced, a Virgin-owned affiliate of the Virgin Fest division he heads. In 2015, he attended the first KAABOO with his parents, who reside in Del Mar. In 2016, he was instrumental in Virgin Produced becoming KAABOO’s “official content partner.” His role in the Del Mar festival increased in each subsequent year, and he is now KAABOO’s managing partner.

No reason was given for the sale.

Madison Companies honcho Gordon did not return email or phone messages Tuesday, Sept. 17. Felts was also unavailable for comment.

However, in a release issued Wednesday morning, Sept. 18, Felts recalled attending the debut edition of KAABOO five years ago.

“Given (that) it was KAABOO’s inaugural year, the attendance was low, however, it became very clear to me that the vision was truly unique,” he said in a written statement.

“It also became clear that KAABOO shared a like-minded approach to Virgin with customer service, while delivering a unique, differentiated, multi-sensory festival product. ... It was on that basis that we first invested and supported this vision in 2016. We look forward to the future of the KAABOO brand and its festival experiences under our ownership.”

In the same statement issued Wednesday, Sept. 18, Gordon and Wolkov said: “We’re thrilled and delighted to have had this unique vision and grateful ... to be validated by this acquisition with such an experienced and progressive team. ... We are appreciative of (Virgin founder) Richard (Branson) and Virgin’s early support of our brand and confident that in Jason and his team’s capable hands, the journey that we started to offer adults (with) a truly differentiated festival experience is sure to live on and grow for many years to come.”

The ownership change did not come as a surprise to the Padres, whose partnership with KAABOO San Diego makes it the first Major League Baseball team to formally be involved in the production of an annual festival of this nature.

“We had advance knowledge that the transaction was gong to take place,” Padres President of Business Operations Erik Greupner told the Union-Tribune Tuesday, Sept. 17

“When we reached the agreement with KAABOO, it was with the understanding they were in the process of finalizing the transfer of business to Virgin Fest, so we knew that at the time. We’re very excited to work with Jason, Virgin Fest and the same group of people who have bee operating KAABOO for some time now.”

The sale comes following a year of both growth and contraction for KAABOO, which this year debuted two new festivals, KAABOO Cayman in March and KABOO Texas in May.

The two-day Cayman event drew a sell-out crowd of 10,000 and a 2020 edition was immediately announced and placed on sale. On Sept. 6, KAABOO announced that the Cayman event was canceled. No reason was given.

The three-day Texas event, held at AT&T Stadium, was so poorly attended that no 2020 edition has been announced. In a recent Union-Tribune interview, Felts said it was unclear if the Texas festival would return.

The “100 percent asset only acquisition” wording in Wednesday’s KAABOO sale announcement suggests that Virgin Fest will not assume any liabilities incurred by KAABOO’s former owners. A request for clarification has not yet been given.

— George Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune