Gaylord Keeps Grand Ole Opry / Changes Name to Ryman Hospitality

Tuesday morning (9-25-12), Gaylord Entertainment shareholders approved a $210 million dollar deal to have Marriott International buy the company and take over management of certain Gaylord assets. The vote also sets in motion Gaylord’s plan to covert the company into an REIT, or Real Estate Investment Trust. Shareholders voted at an 85 percent rate in favor of the deal according to The Tennessean.

As part of the SEC filing, Gaylord also revealed plans to change the name of the company to Ryman Hospitality Properties, the “Ryman” being from The Ryman Auditorium; the “Country Music Mother Church” and the first major home of the Grand Ole Opry. The name change also solidifies the company’s hold on The Grand Ole Opry and it’s assets, which includes The Ryman and radio station WSM-AM. According to The Nashville Post, then name change is part of the company’s “plans to have the Ryman brand, along with the Grand Ole Opry and WSM-AM, play a prominent role in their future operations.”

Whether The Grand Ole Opry assets would be part of the deal was called into question when large Gaylord investor Gabelli Funds LLC suggested Gaylord spin off the Opry assets, believing they would thrive better outside of Gaylord’s new structure that will be focused on real estate instead of entertainment, but Gabelli did not hold enough stock to thwart the deal. Gabelli’s Gaylord holdings are near 15%, but it is unclear if he comprised the 15% that opposed the deal. A call to Gabelli by Saving Country Music was not immediately returned. The largest Gaylord stockholder, TRT holdings, also opposed the deal before being bought out by Gaylord to allow the deal to go through.

“Nothing will change at these iconic assets,” said Gaylord CEO Collin Reed last week. “And we look forward to continuing to offer the same level of world-class entertainment that has made them such prominent music institutions.”

Though Marriott International is the new umbrella organization Ryman Hospitality will reside under, Ryman Hospitality will continue to own its assets and manage its resort hotels and the Grand Ole Opry. Marriott will take over management of other Gaylord assets, including Nashville’s General Jackson Showboat and Wildhorse Saloon.

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The sale and ownership change at The Grand Ole Opry represented a unique opportunity for the institution to break free of from corporate control for the first time since 1982, and refocus its assets on the business of music. With the name change, Gaylord’s mark on the Grand Ole Opry now becomes indelible, and the possibility of Opry autonomy unlikely.