Charlie Keegan, president and chief executive officer of Main Event Entertainment, will step down on November 24, the company announced late Monday. Keegan will remain available as a consultant for an additional 12 months as Main Event searches for a “suitable successor.”
Main Event is the leading revenue driver for Ardent Leisure, a company known for its Dreamworld-centered theme parks in Australia. The company has said it plans to change its name to Main Event Entertainment in response to its U.S. growth, which accounted for 60 percent of the company’s revenue and a large share of its profit in the past year. It has grappled with sliding sales and controversy lately, including the closing of its Gold Coast theme park for 45 days after the deaths of four people on its Thunder River Rapids ride in October 2016.
Keegan led Main Event since October 2006 when it was sold to Macquarie Leisure Trust Group. He helped grow the brand from a six-unit bowling concept in Texas to a company with 38 restaurants across the U.S.
“Main Event Entertainment has been one of the greatest sources of pride in my life. What we have accomplished together is nothing short of amazing. We have gone from being a locally known bowling alley in Texas to a nationally recognized entertainment brand with industry admiration and global appeal. Our compound annual growth rate the last five years alone is over 30 percent. And we have built an impressive leadership team, with a proven track record of success, to lead Main Event Entertainment into the future,” Keegan said in a message to employees.
Main Event’s rapid rate of growth has been a source of conflict within the company. A recent battle for control of Ardent resulted in the appointment of former Walt Disney executive Randy Garfield. Major shareholder Ariadne has tussled with the company on its need to shake up management in the past. Ariadne’s nominee, shareholder Brad Richmond, was invited to join as U.S.-based director. Gary Weiss, a Ariadne director, was also appointed to Ardent’s board.
Strategy has been the key area of debate.
Ariadne criticized Ardent of clustering Main Event sites and growing too quickly. The company scaled back its progress to five to 10 store openings per year, including five to seven in fiscal 2018. Previously the strategy, from 2018–2020, called for six, eight, and 10 new openings, respectively, and then about 15 per year after that.
Main Event gave no reason for Keegan’s departure, only saying that “a leading global search firm has been engaged to find a suitable successor to lead the business through its next phase of development.”
“It is important to me that I share with all of you what I believe makes Main Event Entertainment such a compelling story. It is our reputation as a place with Noticeably Better People and a Noticeably Distinctive Culture,” Keegan continued in his letter. “It is people like you that our guests identify with, and people like you that make our experience so special. We are unique in the industry because of all the work you do to create compelling offerings, signature branding, excellent service and amazing properties.”
“People want to be us, companies want to be like us, but there is nothing like the original. I'm so proud of the work you have done and it's been an honor working with you. There is more amazing left in Main Event Entertainment and I look forward to watching it unfold.”
Ardent chief executive Simon Kelly told Financial Review “During that time Charlie transformed Main Event Entertainment from a six-center bowling concept in Texas to a leading entertainment company with 38 centers operating across the US. I would like to thank Charlie for his hard work and dedication and I wish him well in his future endeavors."