Image: Elvis Presley
Michael Ochs Archives  /  Getty Images file
The Elvis marketing machine seeks to attract younger consumers without abandoning its core audience of people 45 and above.
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updated 8/12/2010 4:42:47 PM ET 2010-08-12T20:42:47

Elvis Presley is in play.

CKx Inc., owner of the "American Idol" television program and 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises, is mulling at least two offers to buy the company. At the same time, thousands of Elvis fans have descended on Memphis for Elvis Week, the annual commemoration of the American music icon's life and death.

CKx owns rights to the name, image and likeness of Elvis Presley and the operations of Graceland, Presley's Memphis mansion. While the "American Idol" franchise is the company's main money maker, the Elvis brand is still an earner. Elvis, who died in 1977, generated more than $60 million last year in revenue from royalties, licensing and Graceland's operations.

Two faces familiar to CKx have offered to buy it: Robert Sillerman, the company's former CEO, and Simon Fuller, the British media mogul who created the "Idol" franchise before selling his company, 19 Entertainment, to CKx in 2005. Sillerman's offer, made public Wednesday, values the company at between $512 million and $535 million.

In an SEC filing, Sillerman said he plans to offer between $5.50 and $5.75 per share for at least another 30 percent worth of CKx on top of the 21 percent he already holds.

A sale is not expected to significantly affect the Elvis business, which grew 10 percent in 2009 compared with the year before.

"There is upside and growth to Elvis, and I think anybody who would buy it is someone who's going to come in and believe they can take it to the next level," CKx CEO Michael G. Ferrel said.

Elvis Presley Enterprises currently has 260 licensees, including SiriusXM, American Greetings and Mattel. Last year's revenue from licensing and royalties rose 34 percent compared with 2008.

Interest in Elvis remains strong, and the brand is constantly being refreshed. For example, "Viva Elvis," a live Cirque du Soleil show based on the icon's life, has been a hit in Las Vegas since opening in February.

More than 400 theaters nationwide showed the remastered film "Elvis on Tour: 75th Anniversary Celebration" on July 29. Elvis remains highly visible on the Internet, with a Facebook fan page boasting 1 million fans and a website that gets an average of 700,000 unique visitors a month, according to Jack Soden, president and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

The Elvis marketing machine seeks to attract younger consumers without abandoning its core audience of people 45 and above. Marketers are relying on fans who never saw in person the youthful, thin Elvis, or even the older, chubby Elvis to keep interest alive.

Elvis' music is still the cornerstone of his success and the future of the brand. Recently, a Nike soccer advertisement featuring the Elvis ditty "A Little Less Conversation" struck a chord with the 18-to-34 demographic in Britain, a sign that the company's strategy to reach out to younger consumers is working, Ferrel said.

"You don't have to reinvent (Elvis), change him into something that he wasn't, in the belief that he will be more relevant in today's culture," Soden said.

Attendance was 542,728 last year at Graceland, the Memphis tourist attraction that features a tour of Elvis' home and grave. Revenues were down about 2 percent, partly due to lower e-commerce revenue and a slight decrease in per-visitor spending, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So far this year, attendance is down 6 percent compared with 2009, with the Gulf oil disaster discouraging tourists who would have stopped in Memphis on the way to beach destinations or New Orleans, Soden said.

Tough economic conditions in the past two years, including a dearth of financing for construction and development, have delayed a study looking at updating the Graceland attraction.

The review, which Ferrel said is roughly half-done, is looking at modernizing Graceland and redeveloping the area surrounding it without touching the 13 acres where the home and grave sit.

As the future of Graceland is mapped out, CKx is fielding offers.

CKx said in March it was in talks to sell the company after The Wall Street Journal reported CKx was close to selling itself to the private equity firm One Equity Partners.

Then, in May, the company said it received an acquisition offer from a group of investors led by Fuller.

About a month later, CKx said it heard from an undisclosed third party interested in purchasing a minority stake. CKx said the potential investor was in talks with Sillerman, the company's former chief executive, about joining the bid.

In response to that offer, CKx adopted a shareholder rights plan — also known as a "poison pill" — meant to thwart hostile takeovers and protect shareholders.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Rare images of the King

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  1. Elvis in Memphis

    Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock 'n' Roll, died 33 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977. The newly released book "Elvis Presley's Memphis," presented by Elvis Presley Enterprises and The Commercial Appeal, features vintage and rarely seen photographs of the King and the city he loved. This slideshow highlights 21 photos and captions from the book. The images were culled from the archives of Graceland and The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' 169-year-old newspaper.

    This photo shows Elvis on Aug. 5, 1955 at his second appearance at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, Tenn. (Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Relaxing at home

    Taking a break from fans, Elvis relaxed with family on the patio of his home at 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis. Elvis paid $40,000 for the four-bedroom, ranch-style house in 1956, a year before he puchased Graceland. On the same day this photograph was taken -- July 4, 1956 -- Elvis also played a benefit concert at Russwood Park in Memphis. (Alfred Wertheimer / "Elvis Presley's Memphis") Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Back home after tour

    Elvis in the front yard of his home at 1034 Audubon Drive in May 1956. When this photo was taken, Elvis had just returned from touring; the band's instruments were still packed on the roof of his car. His famous pink Cadillac can be seen over his right shoulder. (Phillip Harrington / "Elvis Presley's Memphis") Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Captured backstage

    Elvis pictured backstage at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis on Feb. 6, 1955. Between shows, Col. Tom Parker met with Sam Phillips of Sun Studio, Elvis and Bob Neal, Elvis' manager at the time, to begin negotiations for Parker to represent Elvis. (Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Dancing with his girlfriend

    Elvis danced with Barbara Hearn in the living room of his house at 1034 Audubon Drive on July 4, 1956. Hearn, Elvis' former girlfriend, later recalled that Elvis' bedroom was pink with twin beds. "It looked like a teenage girl's room," Hearn said in "Elvis Presley's Memphis." "His mother just bought what she thought was pretty, and he loved it too. If she did it, he loved it." (Alfred Wertheimer / "Elvis Presley's Memphis") Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Singing with Dewey

    Legendary disc jockey Dewey Phillips joined Elvis on stage at Ellis Auditorium on Feb. 6, 1955. When Phillips first played Elvis' song "That's All Right" on the radio, the phone lines jammed with callers wanting to hear more. (Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Overflow crowds

    Elvis performed at Ellis Auditorium on May 15, 1956, as the headliner for the Memphis Cotton Carnival. The demand to see Elvis was so great that both sides of the auditorium, North and South Halls, were opened to accommodate the overflow. (Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Making radio history

    As the fast-talking host of "Red Hot and Blue" on WHBQ raido throughout the 1950s, Dewey Phillips was considered by many to have been the greatest deejay of the era. His eclectic show -- which mixed blues, country, R&B and dance records seamlessly -- helped prepare Southern audiences for the coming wave of rock 'n' roll. Phillips died on Sept. 28, 1968 at age 42. (The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Joining the Army

    The raised right hand of Elvis Presley meant the singing idol was officially in the U.S. Army. Administering the oath at the Memphis induction center was Maj. Elbert P. Turner. By midnight March 24, 1958, Elvis and 20 other inductees from Memphis were lining up for their first formation at Fort Chaffee, Ark. (Barney Sellers / The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Back in the U.S.A.

    Some 200 fans waited at Union Station to welcome Elvis home from his stint in the U.S. Army on March 7, 1960. He was wearing a non-issue dress blue Army uniform made in Germany. Elvis was discharged with the rank of sergeant, but the tailor had mistakenly given him the stripes of staff sergeant. The formal white shirt was a gift from Frank Sinatra delivered by his daughter, Nancy, on Elvis' first day back in the States. (Charles Nicholas / The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Devoted fans

    A fan shows off her dress at Elvis Presley's concert at Ellis Auditorium on May 15, 1956. More than 7,000 people jammed the auditorium to stomp, shudder, shriek and sigh as a young Elvis writhed his way through a rock 'n' roll repertoire. (Robert Williams / The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A quiet moment

    Elvis Presley in an undated photograph at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, probably 1956-1957. He appears to be wearing the same shoes, socks and ring he wore the night of his May 15, 1956 concert. (The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Down time at Graceland

    Elvis fingered an electric bass inside Graceland in this photograph published on March 7, 1965 in the first issue of Mid-South, the Sunday magazine of The Commercial Appeal. (Charles Nicholas  / The Commercial Appeal) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Charitable efforts

    Elvis was always eager to help charities. Over the years he worked with many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, Memphis Union Mission, Muscular Dystrophy, St. Jude and the March of Dimes. (Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Sweet ride

    Elvis pictured in 1957 with one of his Cadillacs. (Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Calling Memphis home

    Elvis outside Jim's Barber Shop on South Main Street in Memphis in 1956. On March 8, 1960, Elvis was quoted as saying, "Somebody asked me this morning what I missed about Memphis and I said everything." (Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. On the rise

    By the fall of 1955, Elvis had toured the South, including Texas and Florida, performed at the Grand Ole Opry and on "Louisiana Hayride," and recorded all of his Sun Studio songs. (William Speer / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Walking in Memphis

    Main Street was the busiest street in Memphis back in 1951. All the major department stores -- Goldsmith's, Bry's, Lowenstein's and Grant's -- were located there, along with the Chisca, Claridge and Gayoso hotels. Elvis worked as an usher at the Loew's State Theater on the right in 1950. (Memphis Heritage Inc. / Mrs. Don Newman) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Favorite movie venue

    The Memphian theater, built in 1939, was located at 51 S. Cooper in Midtown and became Elvis' favorite place to screen movies. It was not uncommon for him, when he was home from tours, to spend virtually every night at the Memphian. (Courtesy Memphis Archives) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. From Tupelo to the big city

    The Presley family -- Vernon, Gladys and son Elvis -- strapped their few belongings on top of a 1939 Plymouth and drove from Tupelo to Memphis in 1948. This photograph shows an aerial view of downtown Memphis in 1948. (Robert W. Dye / "Elvis Presley's Memphis") Back to slideshow navigation
  21. On stage with the King

    Elvis performed at Russwood Park on July 4, 1956. Photographer Robert W. Dye had access most fans would have died for, watching the show on stage 10 feet from Elvis. Asked once about how he got to be on stage, Dye answered, "It was the only safe place to be. Those girls in the audience would mob you." (Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
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