Ryman Hospitality Acquires ACL Live Ahead of Its 48th Season
The brand known for owning Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry recently purchased Block 21, home to ACL Live, 3Ten, Urban Outfitters and more
By Bryan C. Parker
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
Austin and Nashville have always shared a love of live music, but the pair will have a more substantial shared interest thanks to a new deal between Ryman Hospitality, the group that owns the Grand Ole Opry, and Stratus Properties, the company that owns and operates ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
The $260 million sale includes all of Block 21, home to not only ACL Live but also its smaller sister venue 3Ten, Urban Outfitters, a Starbucks and the W Hotel and Residences, along with additional commercial and retail space.
Ryman originally made public their intention to purchase the property in December 2019, but the deal fell through in May of last year due to uncertainties stemming from the ongoing pandemic. However, last October, Ryman again made clear their goal to purchase the property, and the deal appears all but done, save a few final formalities.
The agreement unites two of the nation’s preeminent music cities, and could help the Austin City Limits brand reach an even wider audience.
“You look at what Ryman Hospitality has done with the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry — these are brands like Austin City Limits, that have a lot of history and a lot of integrity,” says Tom Gimbel, General Manager of Austin City Limits. There is perhaps no name more associated with country music than the Grand Ole Opry, which takes place as a two-hour stage show that is simultaneously broadcast via radio. The performance and broadcast were founded in 1925 and have run consecutively for almost a hundred years. In short, there’s likely not an entity on the planet better suited than Ryman Hospitality to serve as the new brand ambassador for Austin City Limits.
“We’re thrilled they’re the ones coming in to take over the building,” Gimbel said. “We can tell based on their track record that they really get it — they honor and respect what Austin City Limits is.”
Among the new benefits to the brand is Ryman Hospitality’s access to the music industry infrastructure long associated with Nashville. One joint venture of Ryman and its subsidiary Opry Entertainment Group is the Circle Network — a television channel that plays country music around the clock. Although no deals have been inked just yet, that outlet might prove enormously advantageous to both the ACL brand and Ryman.
“We’re already talking about how to take some ACL classic country episodes — people like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and others — these episodes that have been sitting in our vault for decades now will be able to be seen and enjoyed by fans.”
Austin City Limits as a television program operates roughly 20 nights in any given year and is distinct from ACL Live as a venue. But venue Vice President Ed Bailey echoed Gimbel’s sentiments.
“Ryman offers all kinds of strategic opportunities to make the experience more than even what it is today,” Bailey says. In his estimation, that means more shows, collaborating on booking and making it more of a natural destination for music tourism. “The Ryman is a magic fit,” Bailey says.
Though Gimbel says Ryman may look to improve the facility itself, he expects little to change from a fan’s perspective, as booking will still be handled by the same team that has managed the brand for the last four-plus decades. The program is currently planning for its 48th season, which Gimbel says will continue to build the stalwart legacy of the show. Some of Gimbel’s personal favorites over the years include Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Radiohead and Arcade Fire.
“The quality of talent this year that we’re going to feature may rival some of the best seasons we’ve ever had,” Gimbel says. However, the bookings — which he calls “superstar talent” — are under wraps until the first tapings are announced later this spring. Gimbel says many of music’s most notable acts laid low during the pandemic, and he predicts a return to the road for some beloved icons. Gimbel also said that the program expects to welcome back full-capacity in-person audiences for the first time in two seasons, and stressed that the highest level safety protocols would be encouraged for guests and artists.
For fans, that means ACL TV’s practice of giving away a bounty of tickets for free is back in action after a temporary hiatus. Austin music lovers will want to keep a close eye on the show’s website for taping and giveaway announcements as the start of the new season approaches.