Marvel and Toy Biz

Marvel and Toy Biz

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My previous two columns have focused on the story of my short-lived involvement with a group of investors seeking to purchase Marvel Comics in January, 1998. As I related last time, my role in examining the Marvel documents was to analyze the licensing division with an eye as to how much potential revenue we could anticipate from this area. In the end, I had to tell my fellow investors that there really wasn't a whole lot of licensing potential left. Either the rights were hopelessly entangled due to bungling on the part of Marvel's legal staff, or that most of the decent licensing properties had already been sold for many years forward, in exchange for upfront cash payments in previous years.
The one area that held some potential was the possibility of somehow breaking the ToyBiz royalty-free licensing agreement. That license not only gave ToyBiz the rights to produce any and all Marvel toys in perpetuity, but also granted them a zero royalties rate! It seemed quite plausible to me that the bankruptcy court had the discretion to void such an encumbering agreement. That, in fact, was exactly what investor/raider Carl Icahn was seeking in his reorganization plan for Marvel. He was so sure he could have the toy contract terminated that he bet upwards of $200 million of his money, and that of closely allied investors, by purchasing Marvel bonds at distress prices.
It was exactly the prospect of losing their sweetheart agreement which made ToyBiz owners Isaac Perlmutter and Avi Arad passionately committed to purchasing Marvel. ToyBiz was almost completely dependent on its Marvel license for its survival, so there was no way they could give up on this deal. That is why Perlmutter arranged his own financing group, and ultimately bid over $400 million for Marvel.
Returning to our investment group, while I was reading the licensing agreements, the bankers whom I accompanied to the Marvel bankruptcy trustee's office went over the financials. We were originally going to work through the night to establish a criteria under which we could craft a bid for the company, or some part of the company. We stopped for lunch at 1 PM, however, and it quickly became apparent from our conversations that no one in our group thought Marvel was worth anything near what Icahn and Perlmutter were bidding.

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There was some very strong potential in the company, but with all the current financial and legal messes, it would take years before the income streams could be restored to cover even the $20 million per year in interest that a $200 million bid would entail. For Icahn and Perlmutter to be talking numbers over $400 million, was simply irrational except within the context of their own fears. Icahn was terrified he would lose the $200 million he invested, and Perlmutter feared losing ToyBiz.
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