VStar CEO seeks new shows for parent Cirque du Soleil

By Todd Nelson Special to the Star Tribune JULY 28, 2019 — 2:00PM

Eric Grilly, CEO of Fridley-based VStar Entertainment Group, is working to expand the performance portfolio of parent company Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group as executive head of studio alliances for the Montreal-based global live-entertainment brand.

Grilly said he was excited to leverage his industry relationships and experience to pursue partnerships with Hollywood studios and other content license owners for Cirque while focusing on VStar’s children’s stage shows.

“[Cirque] is a creative powerhouse so the sky is the limit relative to what we can do,” Grilly said.

Under Grilly, VStar has struck deals to produce original touring shows for Nickelodeon, under an exclusive five-year partnership, and NBC Universal. Grilly has overseen VStar’s launch of the “PAW Patrol Live!” production, which has sold 3 million tickets around the world and is on a 30-city tour of China.

VStar’s newest show, “Nick Jr. Live!” will make its debut in September, and “Trolls LIVE!” based on the 2016 film “Trolls” in November, Grilly said.

“Eric’s intimate knowledge of third-party partnerships, his industry relationships and his expertise in live entertainment will provide immense value as Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group solidifies itself as the world’s largest creator and producer of live entertainment content,” Jonathan Tétrault, president and chief operating of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, said in a statement.

Grilly joined VStar as CEO in April 2016. His experience includes serving as president of Alli Sports, a division of the NBC Sports Group that created live entertainment experiences for brands looking to reach millennials through action and adventure sports.

With two new shows this year, VStar’s workforce of 300 could increase 20% this year, Grilly said.

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, which has 4,500 employees, acquired VStar in 2018.

Q: What are you looking forward to with your appointment to this additional role?

A: I’m going to get to learn about all the different capabilities that Cirque can bring to bear in these partnerships, so I’m excited about that. I enjoy the global nature of the business and thinking about creating an experience and how we will tour and operate that experience in a global geography. VStar will continue to focus on kids and families, but I’ll be looking at other opportunities across a broader demographic scale as executive head of studio licensing.

Q: Where is the growth potential for live entertainment?

A: In the last 36 to 48 months, the live-entertainment experience has become a priority in [brands’] strategic planning and strategic direction relative to their overall business strategy. Maybe one of the bigger drivers is that families with young children today — and it’s being driven by millennials — are trading things for experiences. That has reprioritized how discretionary income is being spent. So experiences, the unique ones that we create, these memories that we provide, have been prioritized.

Q: What goes into forging licensing deals with studios?

A: Every partnership is unique in terms of the capabilities and the resources that each partner brings to bear. More partnerships are being created where — rather than us simply licensing the rights to a property or licensing the rights to [intellectual property] — we’re finding brands that want to invest in us. I like that, in that it creates philosophical alignment relative to the creation and production of a show when both parties share equally in the risk.

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