It’s hard not to acknowledge, address, or comment in some way about Michael Jackson and his death last week. The suddenness of the event turned the collective global world upside down in so many ways.
Also born in 1958, I remember the numerous twists and turns his life took from a 5-year-old singing “ABC,” to a 40-something who made the moon walk a universal dance.
My opinion of the man: A musical genius, a troubled human and a very poor financial planner.
Despite having the best-selling record of all time (“Thriller” sold more than 104 million copies), he looked like he lived the life of a superstar, but debt ruled his world.
After actually outbidding Paul McCartney in 1985 for a catalog of royalty-rich Beatles songs for $ 47.5 million, Jackson bought ATV Publishing, the company that owned the words and music to 250 Beatles songs.
He then sold a 50% share in the company to Sony (NYSE: SNE) in 1995 and together they operated Sony/ATV.
The actual recordings of the Beatles playing their songs is owned by EMI, one of the four largest music labels, and Apple Corp. (NASDAQ: AAPL), the company that looks after the Beatles' business holdings and rights. At one point, Industry analysts estimated that Sony/ATV Music Publishing was worth at least $1 billion,
Mounting debts eventually forced Jackson to the brink of default on a reported $270 million in loans held by Bank of America (NYSE: BAC).
Bank of America eventually sold off the loan package — a package that secured his stake in Sony/ATV, his Neverland Ranch and a separate music publishing firm that owns the rights to Jackson’s own songs to private equity firm Fortress Investment (NYSE: FIG).
The New York-based private equity firm purchased the $270 million worth of loans that Bank of America had extended to Jackson a few years ago. Then they loaned him hundreds of millions more.
Most recently, Jackson received help from Thomas Barrack, chairman and CEO of the real estate investment firm Colony Capitol. Barrack purchased Jackson's Neverland Ranch for $22 million, just before the fairyland destination would have been sold at an auction to cover Jackson's debt.
At least Barrack has something to show for his $22 million. Fortress's lawyers will likely end up spending many months or years sorting through Jackson's estate, figuring out what’s left and selling off assets to recoup their investments.
With more than $85 million already in the bank from ticket sales for the London shows, Jackson's death could have massive repercussions for producer-promoter, AEG Live. It footed the bill for a $20 million production, and Jackson's take on ticket sales alone was estimated to be north of $50 million.
Premium and VIP packages and secondary market sales were to have boosted the gross to more than $100 million. Merchandise sales could have brought in another $15 million.
AEG's yearly financial results might now depend on the cause of Jackson's death. One entertainment insurance industry insider said, “that if Jackson died from a drug overdose or a pre-existing condition, the producer could be on the hook for any loss.”
Yet another expense in Jackson’s name, the already purchased tickets for the tour sold out on Ticketmaster, of which Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LINTA) is a major stakeholder. It's unclear if fans will want their money back and how they will be paid if they do
Sounds like a mess that involved some pretty big players. Is Sony going down as a result? Hardly. Will Bank of America survive? Of course. Fortress Investments may struggle a bit as will promoter-producer AEG Live.
Bottom line though is that Jackson’s debt and the accompanied stress may have ultimately been his worst enemies. For the corporations he dealt with, business is business.