A Happy Birthday for the Michael Jackson Business
With a Broadway musical on the way and a guest spot on one of the year's biggest albums, the King of Pop's legacy is proving lasting -- and lucrative.
When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, the executors of his estate, John McClain and John Branca, felt that their No. 1 job “was to generate revenue, pay off debt and enhance Michael’s legacy as an artist, not the tabloid sensation,” says Branca.
As the estate gears up to stage Michael Jackson’s Diamond Celebration in Las Vegas on Aug. 29, the day the King of Pop would have turned 60, Branca says that a series of recent deals both large and small are easily taking care of business. This summer, the estate picked up $287.5 million on what sources say was a $50,000 investment as part of the consortium that bought EMI Music Publishing in 2012. With that catalog now worth $4.75 billion, Sony, which owned nearly 30 percent of EMI, agreed to buy out the estate’s 10 percent. Since Jackson put up about $17.5 million in equity and $30 million in debt to buy the ATV catalog for $47.5 million in 1985, the estate, aided by its investment bank Shot Tower Capital, has earned nearly $1.6 billion on that investment, Billboard estimates.
Also, given that the estate owns Jackson’s master recordings as well as his publishing rights, Billboard calculates that it earns about $10 million in annual royalties from his recordings in the United States alone, not including synch deals or bonuses that may have been in his recording contracts. Worldwide, the estate earns an estimated $20 million to $25 million a year on the recordings.
Helping protect his legacy are initiatives such as the “On the Wall” exhibit at the National Gallery in London that recently opened. “Not everything we do is meant to pull in millions of dollars,” says Branca, without commenting specifically on the exhibit. “Sometimes we do things because they are interesting and cool.”
As for ventures that can accomplish both, a Broadway musical is in the works with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and renowned ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon directing the production. (Cirque du Soleil’s The Immortal world tour and the Michael Jackson ONE tribute in Las Vegas are ongoing.) The estate is also gearing up to release limited-edition sneakers, after a Michael Jackson collection from skateboard brand Supreme immediately sold out earlier in 2018, according to sources. Jackson is also currently on the charts as a featured artist on Drake’s “Don’t Matter to Me,” which counts 107 million on-demand streams as part of the rapper’s blockbuster Scorpion album, according to Nielsen Music.
All told, the estate’s executors have brought in over $2 billion since Jackson’s death, leaving the estate debt free and all paid up on taxes — though a decision in a case prompted by an IRS lawsuit over the valuation ascribed to Jackson’s image and likeness is pending, sources say. For now, says Branca, “we’re trying to do things that are smart and tasteful.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of Billboard.