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Ali's Name Value Put at $50 Million

New York company pays for licensing rights to the likeness of the former champion.

April 12, 2006|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Muhammad Ali, thought by many to be the greatest athlete of his generation, rung up a $50-million purse Tuesday without having to step into the ring.

CKX Inc., a New York company that last year paid $100 million for the right to market the name and likeness of Elvis Presley, on Tuesday said it had paid $50 million in cash for commercial rights to the name and likeness of the former boxer who used his stunning physical skills and engaging personality to become one of the world's most recognized figures.

Presley's image and name now adorn everything from American Greetings Corp. cards to Zippo Manufacturing cigarette lighters. But CKX said it would move slowly and selectively on deals involving Ali, a Muslim who, for starters, won't lend his name or image to products such as alcohol and industries such as gambling.

Given Presley's rock 'n' roll essence, "it made sense to associate him with a broad array of opportunities," CKX Chairman Robert F.X. Sillerman said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "But that's not what Muhammad Ali is about. Could we sell a coffee cup with a picture of Ali on it? Sure. Is it likely? Not at all."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 14, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Boxing: In Wednesday's Sports section, an article about Muhammad Ali said the largest purse he had earned was $2.5 million. He earned bigger purses in a number of fights. Among them: $8 million against Larry Holmes in Las Vegas in 1980; $6 million against Joe Frazier in Manila in 1975; and $5.45 million against George Foreman in what was then Zaire, in 1974.

Though slowed in recent years by Parkinson's disease, the 64-year-old Ali has remained in the public eye, in part through his role as a United Nations "Messenger of Peace." Two years ago, Ali appeared in an IBM commercial that encouraged people to "shake up the world." Late in 2005 he accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Bush during a White House ceremony and oversaw the opening of the nonprofit Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky.

Ali, an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and a three-time world heavyweight champion, retired from boxing in 1981. The man who first boxed as Cassius Clay remains one of the world's best known and most respected athletes.

"He's definitely got shelf life," said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., a Manhasset, N.Y.-based company that measures the familiarity and appeal of personalities. "He's one of those rare breeds that comes along once or twice in a lifetime."

In recent years, Ali's licensing business generated as much as $7 million in annual revenue. Though more than the largest purse ($2.5 million) Ali earned while boxing, the figure is dwarfed by the $51.5 million in revenue that CKX generated in 2005 from its Presley business. CKX also owns the lucrative franchise that created "American Idol."

According to terms of the deal announced Tuesday, CKX acquired an 80% stake in GOAT LLC -- shorthand for Ali's trademarked "Greatest of All Time" slogan. Ali and his wife will retain a 20% share in the company, but Sillerman said CKX will have creative control.

In a statement, Ali said that the deal "will help guarantee that, for generations to come, people of all nations will understand my beliefs and my purpose." Craig Bankey, a spokesman for Ali, declined to comment.

It is uncertain what impact CKX's deal will have on nonprofit organizations with existing ties to Ali.

"CKX has enjoyed marketing successes that any nonprofit would relish the opportunity to benefit from," said Michael Fox, president of the Muhammad Ali Center that opened in November in Louisville. "I'm looking forward to this privilege of finding mutually beneficial ways to help extend Muhammad's legacy."

CKX shares fell by 41 cents, or 2.95%, to $13.48 in Nasdaq trading. The company's share price has tumbled by 44% in the last year.

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