Elvis Week in Memphis
Mario Tama  /  Getty Images file
Revenue for Elvis Presley Enterprises, the for-profit business owned by the King's daughter Lisa, is $40 million so far this year, reports Forbes.com's Lisa DiCarlo.
updated 10/29/2004 4:27:03 PM ET 2004-10-29T20:27:03

When Elvis Presley died in August 1977, The Washington Post wrote, "Part of his attraction was that the '50s teenagers viewed him as epitomizing everything they thought their parents feared they would become — cocky, slick, brash, tough, black-leather-clad, motorcycle straddling, stiletto-shoed."

Those 1950s teenagers are now eligible for AARP membership, so the company responsible for selling his legacy must appeal to younger customers, er, fans. This year, revenue for Elvis Presley Enterprises, the for-profit business owned by the King's daughter Lisa, is flat at $40 million. While that's an astounding figure for a musician who has been dead for 27 years, growth would be nice. EPE's recent and forthcoming ventures show its efforts to expose a younger crowd to Elvis.

"We've been aware of the aging challenge since we opened Graceland in '82," says Jack Soden, president and chief executive of Memphis-based EPE.

It's hard to know the demographic of Elvis fans overall but Soden claims that half of the 600,000 annual visitors to Graceland are under 35. But Graceland is only one piece of the Elvis empire.

EPE and its first master licensee will launch a line of clothing and apparel in 2005. The line, designed by Paul Guez, the founder of Sasson Jeans, will be geared toward young, contemporary men and women. EPE has given CBS, a unit of Viacom, the green light for two Elvis specials next year, one of which is a biopic. It authorized Broadway producer Jonathan Pollard to do "All Shook Up," a musical based on Elvis' music, next year. This past summer, EPE let Miller Brewing feature an Elvis cover from "Rolling Stone" magazine on millions of beer cans.

"We want to introduce Elvis to new fans without reinventing him," says Soden.

One of the ways to introduce Elvis is to license his name and image. While only 2 percent of proposals lead to a licensing deal, there is no shortage of merchandise: EPE has over 100 licensees who invoke Elvis to sell everything from American Greetings cards to Zippo lighters.

David Neale, 55, a member of two European Elvis fan clubs, says the endless stream of sometimes cheesy merchandising cheapens the King's legacy. But Soden says it's a matter of survival.

"The fact is, if we don't participate, we'll cede the market to infringement because the demand [for Elvis merchandise] is there." He says that when EPE pulls back on its merchandising programs, it sees a corresponding increase in bootleg merchandise. EPE helped establish a "rights to publicity" statute in Tennessee, now being adopted elsewhere in the U.S., that give a person, entity or organization the right to all publicity surrounding a celebrity.

"I don't feel defensive about our licensing," he says, "because we risk being ripped off if we don't do it ourselves."

Sometimes EPE gets lucky, as when The Walt Disney Company wanted to use Elvis songs and Elvis' picture in the 2002 hit kiddie film "Lilo & Stitch." In it, the extraterrestrial Stitch is a huge Elvis fan, and carries his picture. Disney paid an upfront licensing fee, but EPE didn't push for a slice of the film's profits. "If we started holding out for a cut of profits, they would have turned the girl into a Don Ho fan," says Soden of Lilo, the little Hawaiian girl character.

Fortune also smiled on the fashion runways recently. High-end design house Dolce & Gabbana held an Elvis-themed fashion show in Milan, attended by his ex-wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa and granddaughter Riley. Soden says such highbrow events help elevate the image, and that's important because, "you don't have to go far to find some snob who thinks Elvis is a blue-collar phenomenon," he says.

Will EPE's efforts bring in a new, younger audience? Maybe. But the merchandising hoopla often drowns out the fact that Elvis was a musician. But while his music helped launch rock and roll, it isn't associated with so-called classic rock and isn't played on classic rock radio stations. Sirius Satellite Radio, however, has launched an all-Elvis station.

At the end of the day, Elvis fans will buy whatever they can get their hands on. And that, after all, is the point of EPE. Says Shelby Singleton Jr., the president of Sun Entertainment Holding, whose Sun Records label discovered Elvis, "They're not a charity."

© 2012 Forbes.com


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%
Source: Bankrate.com