Norwegian Buys Sixthman Productions

| Thursday, 26 Jul. 2012

Talk about one of the most understated major developments in cruising ever barely announced... Norwegian Cruise Line fully acquired Atlanta-based music cruise producers Sixthman Productions last February 21 - but they never formally announced the acquisition.

The news of the buyout came in an industry newsletter called "Cruise week" which usually goes just to travel agents and media. And oddly, it was not treated with the level of surprise I personally feel about this turn of events.

I emailed NCL to ask if it was true and the response I received from one of the company's public relations representatives said "I can confirm that the relationship we announced in February was in fact a purchase of the company. We are also very excited. All of the details remain the same as they were in the original release, which I have reattached for your reference."

Here is that press release: ncl.com/nclweb/pressroom/pressRelease.html?storyCode=PR_022112

It appears as if the Sixthman team in Atlanta will remain largely the same and the strategy they follow will continue. The only difference is that I predeict most events will transition to NCL ships.

The fact that Norwegian is now officially the owner of Sixthman Productions was never even discussed by either company beyond that somewhat stealthy press release. "Building upon its leadership position of bringing new forms of entertainment to cruisers, Norwegian Cruise Line today announced that it has formed a strategic relationship with Sixthman to work closely developing and delivering high quality music experiences at sea."

Sixthman is the leading creator of music-based theme cruises in the world, and in the past has used cruise lines as diverse as Carnival, Holland America, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and, of course, Norwegian Cruise Lines. They currently have 14 different theme cruises scheduled, most of them regular annual events.

Have you ever tried a music cruise - and do you think this is a good strategy for Norwegian? Norwegian Cruise Line forum.

In the early years the company started with music cruises that were more like music festivals at sea. For example, The Rock Boat is now in its 13th year and will be sailing from Miami on February 24th, on Norwegian Pearl. This cruise has been hosted by the band Sister Hazel for years but also features some 19 acts all together.

One of the most popular cruises the Sixthman produces year after years is "The Simple Man" cruise featuring the very popular Lynyrd Skynyrd. This year the cruise also features the Doobie Brothers, the Outlaws, Blackberry Smoke, Preacher Stone and about 16 acts all together. This cruise is now in its sixth year and is usually fully booked at least a year in advance. It will sail on Norwegian Pearl October 27 from Miami to Key West and the NCL private island.

Cayamo is a song-writers' love fest with some of the most gifted minstrels in the business. Next January 13 the Norwegian Pearl will sail from Miami on a seven day cruise featuring Lyle Lovett - Richard Thompson - Brandi Carlile - The Civil Wars - Buddy Miller - Keb' Mo' - Rodney Crowell - Shawn Mullins - Jason Isbell - Edwin McCain and some twenty more artists.

Now - since Sixthman has used other cruise lines more commonly in the past, there are still some cruises scheduled to take place on Carnival and Holland America, but I believe most of their cruises will transition to Norwegian's ships within a year or two. Why do I say this?

NCL president and CEO Kevin Sheehan was quoted in an article by industry newsletter "Cruise Week" as saying "Late fall and early spring in particular are a challenge with pricing. If you just take one particular ship out of the population [with a charter] for a week, say between the middle of January and the third week of March, it strengthens all the surrounding sailings..."

In other words, when you fill a ship with a special event then your regular cruisers have to fill up your remaining sail dates, so not only do you make money on the charter cruise, but you also build your regular business.

Pretty smart strategy, one of the boldest and most original moves I have seen Kevin Sheehan make since becoming the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. I have always thought of NCL as being scrappy, especially since it is indisputably the smallest of the mainstream cruise lines. Their moves have tended to be bold, and either hugely successful, or the opposite, in the past decade.

But I was wondering why Norwegian kept this particular move so quiet until now, and that quote is the key, in my opinion. Sheehan saw how much charters not only fill one cruise, but also boost business for surrounding cruises by off-loading demand to different sail dates. Right now Sheehan claims he is not interested in buying any more theme cruise vendors, but are there other company similar to Sixthman that would be good prospects for an acquisition?

I can think of one very prolific theme cruise company, The Cruise-Authority books many political cruises that feature well-known pundits (both liberal and conservative). These cruises are wildly popular, especially this year since it is an election year. The question is whether NCL ships would appeal to this older and more cerebral crowd. They usually use Holland America ships, and so does SmoothJazzCruise Ltd.

Have you ever tried a music cruise - and do you think this is a good strategy for Norwegian? Norwegian Cruise Line forum.

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