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Mattel Appears to Have Won Scrabble Over Rights to Game : Leisure: The El Segundo toy maker says its latest counteroffer has been accepted over that of rival Hasbro.


Mattel Inc. has apparently won the battle with rival Hasbro Co. for J.S. Spear & Sons, the British company that owns the overseas rights to the popular Scrabble board game.

El Segundo-based Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, said Monday that it got "irrevocable commitments" for 51% of the British company's shares, following acceptance of Mattel's offer by Spear's board. Mattel said it made a confidential, sweetened bid last Friday of nearly $18 a share, or $90 million, to directors and trustees, who own or control a majority of the shares. Mattel's private bid came just as Hasbro announced it had increased its own, earlier bid.

The acquisition will fill a large gap in Mattel's product lines and give it for the first time a platform from which to challenge Hasbro in the board games arena. Hasbro, a close second to Mattel in annual sales, is the world's leading maker of board games. It owns the rights to Scrabble throughout North America.

Mattel's shares slipped 25 cents to $27.75 in trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mattel made an entry into the games category of the toy industry two years ago when it bought International Games, the maker of the Uno and Skip - Bo card games. Indeed, since 1991, Mattel has been on a buying binge that has helped diversify the company's product lines and wean it from its heavy reliance on Barbie dolls for revenue.

Before Mattel's acquisition of preschool toy maker Fisher-Price last year, the Barbie line accounted for 50% of the company's revenue. However, sales this year are expected to top $2.8 billion, with Barbie bringing in about 35%.

Hasbro already owns about 27% of Spear. Mattel said it hopes Hasbro will accept the offer to sell the shares. Hasbro officials were unavailable for comment Monday.

The bidding war for Spear began in June after Hasbro sought to buy control of the remaining shares for $13.50 each. That bid valued the total company at about $70 million. Hasbro thought it had irrevocable commitments to gain control of the company, but Mattel submitted a rival bid and a London court ruled that the board could consider it. That bid valued Spear at $78 million, and the Spear board appeared inclined to accept it, but left the door open to a higher bid.

That came last Friday, when Hasbro increased its offer to nearly $17 a share, for a total company value of $86 million to $88 million. A Mattel spokesman said a crucial point in Mattel's favor was its commitment to retain current Spear management and keep open the company's production facilities in Enfield, a suburb of London. Hasbro already has game-production facilities and might have sought to consolidate Spear's operations with its own.

Leisure industry analyst Laurie Lively Smith of Seidler Cos. in Los Angeles said that "the company is more valuable to Mattel. . . . For Hasbro, Spear would be another feather in its cap but not a strategic cornerstone. For Mattel, it is more important. It is a strategic cornerstone."

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