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M&A: New Faces, Same Places

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Penske Media Corp. (PMC) purchases the last remaining 49% stake in Rolling Stone from BandLab Technologies, giving it full ownership over the magazine brand, including all event and licensing rights, as well as the parallel entity Rolling Stone Intl. Other PMC properties available for licensing include Variety, Deadline Hollywood, WWD, Robb Report, IndieWire, Hollywood Life, Spy, Gold Derby, and TVLine.

Hearst’s King Features Syndicate is expanding its global licensing reach this year and actively looking for new IP.

The Oneida Group sells most of its tabletop foodservice division, which markets flatware, dinnerware, and barware, to Crown Brands. The company recently brought the Oneida retail flatware business back into the fold, ending a licensing arrangement with Robinson Home Products that existed since 2009.

The Zippo Manufacturing Co. acquires substantially all of the assets of Northern Lights Enterprises, a designer of luxury candles and artisan-made accessories sold across the U.S.

Walmart signs a deal with Fanatics to bring licensed sports apparel and merchandise to the chain’s online platform. Fan Shop by Fanatics will sell hundreds of thousands of items featuring professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

United Talent Agency (UTA) acquires influencer firm Digital Brand Architects (DBA), bringing DBA’s roster of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle clients into its fold. Included in the deal are DBA’s subsidiary Digital Brand Products, which makes and markets licensed products for DBA’s clients, and Dear Media, DBA’s female-forward podcast studio. DBA will continue to operate as an independent company under CEO Raina Penchansky, Partner & EVP Brand Partnerships Reesa Lake, and Partner & EVP Talent Management Vanessa Flaherty who lead a team of more than 50 employees.

Ithaca Holdings, a media holding company led by SB Projects founder Scooter Braun who counts Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Zac Brown Band, Dan & Shay and Tori Kelly as clients, acquires Richard Stumpf’s Atlas Music Publishing, home to songs by artists Ed Sheeran, Drake, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, and Van Halen, among others.

Former Sears Holdings Chairman Eddie Lampert emerges as the final owner of the embattled retailer. An affiliate of his hedge fund, ESL Investments, acquired for $5.2 billion substantially all go-forward assets including 223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores along with the Kenmore, DieHard, and Craftsman brands and the Sears Home Services, Sears Auto Centers, and Innovel businesses. The new Sears has roughly $400 million in excess funds that it will use to pay off liabilities, invest in small store formats, and foster new partnerships among other things. The company is looking for a CEO; in the meantime, the operation is being led by a management team that includes CFO Robert Riecker, Chief Digital Officer Leena Munjal, and President Softlines Greg Ladley.

Former Toys”R”Us executives are reviving the toy chain. Former TRU chief merchant Richard Barry is the President & CEO of a new firm called Tru Kids Inc., which holds ownership rights to the Toys”R”Us, Babies”R”Us, and Geoffrey the Giraffe marks, as well as over 20 (formerly private label) consumer brands. The company is now wholesaling brands like Imaginarium, Journey Girls, Avigo, Koala Baby, Fast Lane, True Heroes, Animal Zone, You & Me, Bruin, and Just Like Home. Toys”R”Us and Babies”R”Us generated over $3 billion in global retail sales in 2018 through more than 900 stores and ecommerce businesses across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The intellectual property is properly owned by a group of hedge funds, including Solus Alternative Asset Management and Angelo Gordon, who hung onto the marks throughout TRU’s bankruptcy proceedings. An auction was held in October to sell the brands, which served as collateral on their loans to the bankrupted retailer, but at least two groups of bidders got rejected.

While the chain’s stores liquidated nationwide last summer, a team of ex-TRU execs has been quietly collecting licensing fees and servicing the company’s overseas stores. Tru Kids will continue doing so, as well as service the Geoffrey line of private label toys and Geoffrey’s Toy Box kiosks (launched inside Kroger supermarkets during the holidays). The team is seeking additional partnership opportunities, including more pop-up shops. The leadership team includes former legal counsel James Young (EVP Global Licensing & General Counsel) as well as other merchandising and financial executives including Yehuda Shmidman (Vice Chairman), Matt Finnegan (CFO & Treasurer), Jean-Daniel Gatignol (SVP “R” Consumer Brands), and Rich Ryan.


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