Hoosier carnival pro buys back big amusement operation on the cheap

Indiana resident Danny Huston likely feels more exuberant than a kid riding a roller coaster.

This week, a company that Huston owns bought North American Midway Entertainment LLC from a Connecticut-based media company for $23.5 million. NAME provides midway rides, games and concessions to fairs and expositions across North America.

Here's the twist: Huston was part of a group that sold NAME to the same Connecticut firm in 2015 for $75.5 million.

That's a $52 million difference. But the company’s financial loss last year might make Huston a bit queasy.

Connecticut-based Townsquare Media Inc. announced Thursday it has sold NAME to Huston’s North American Fairs LLC for $23.5 million, plus a 15 percent cut if North American Fairs turns around and sells NAME within the next 10 years.

North American Fairs is located in Farmland, a small town about 15 miles east of Muncie.

According to company officials, NAME is North America’s largest mobile amusement company, entertaining approximately 16 million people a year as the owner and operator of amusement attractions at approximately 150 fairs across the U.S. and Canada. 

In August, 2015, Townsquare acquired NAME for $75.5 million from a company headed by Huston. Huston stayed with the company after it was acquired by Townsquare in 2015 to help run it.

These two transactions aren’t the only times that Huston, who did not immediately return a phone call for comment on Friday morning, has been involved in buying and selling NAME. 

Huston got into the small-time amusement park business out of high school and gradually expanded until he and his business partner, Jeff Blomsness, purchased Mid America Shows from his wife’s brothers in 2000.

They sold the business in 2005 to a New York-based private equity fund, The Cypress Group, becoming the smallest of a passel of middling companies the firm combined and rechristened North American Midway Entertainment. Blomsness and Huston led NAME under Cypress’ ownership, and when the private equity firm decided to sell it in 2010, they stepped up and bought it, transferring the company’s headquarters from Ridgeland, Mississippi, to Farmland. 

Under the terms of the purchase agreement announced this week, Huston’s North American Fairs LLC will acquire all of the issued and outstanding membership interests of NAME's parent company, Heartland Group, LLC, from Townsquare Media.

Taking over ownership won't be an easy ride. For the year ended Dec. 31, NAME lost $33.7 million on $92.2 million in revenue.

In 2017, Townsquare, a multifaceted media and entertainment firm, began a strategic review of its entertainment segment, which included NAME. It reportedly is interested in using the proceeds from the NAME sale to buy radio stations.

Townsquare is principally focused on small and mid-sized markets across the United States. It owns 317 radio stations and more than 325 websites in 67 U.S. markets; a digital marketing solutions company serving approximately 12,800 small to medium-sized businesses; a proprietary digital programmatic advertising platform; and approximately 200 live events with over 1 million attendees each year, according to the company. 

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