From his rented mansion on Carolwood Drive, Michael Jackson sketched out ideas for the merchandise he planned to sell in conjunction with his "This Is It" concert series at London's O2 Arena, including a varsity jacket and a red handbag with a diagonal black stripe that evoked his costumes from the "Thriller" music video.
The May brainstorming session resulted in designs for more than 300 items, including jigsaw puzzles and games for children and rhinestone dog tags. The collection will go on sale as soon as this week at such retailers as Hot Topic, Target, JCPenney and Spencer's.
That a veteran performer would be intimately involved in the development of such concert-related items is not unusual. What is notable is that Universal Music Group -- not Jackson's label, Sony Music Entertainment -- developed the product line and marketing plan through its merchandise division, Bravado. As CD sales decline, all the major labels are seeking nontraditional sources of revenue.
Sony retains rights to most of Jackson's recordings and music videos, while Universal owns the Motown catalog, including music from the star's childhood career as part of the Jackson 5 and as a soloist.
The merchandising plan enables Universal to capitalize on the resurgent popularity of the King of Pop beyond the sale of such CD compilations as "Jackson 5 the Ultimate Collection" or "The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Jackson 5."
Bravado is unveiling the line in a partnership with Jackson's concert promoter AEG Live, which holds merchandising rights associated with the scheduled 50 London concerts, according to one person familiar with the deal terms.
Typically, artists can earn 5% to 10% of their income from merchandise, although that percentage can be greater for major acts or those that are touring in support of a new release, according to music industry managers.
Bravado said its revenue has doubled over the last 18 months.
Other major music companies, including Warner Music Group and EMI, are pursuing a similar strategy. EMI reached a landmark deal with British pop singer Robbie Williams in 2002 in which it participated in revenues from touring, merchandise sales, endorsements, book publishing and DVDs. Over the last 12 months, more than 90% of the new artists signed to EMI have reached contracts that extend beyond recorded music. Warner Music also has struck similar so-called 360 deals with its artists.
Universal Music took control of Bravado with the purchase of Sanctuary Group in 2007, as part of the company's strategy to expand its business beyond the ailing compact disc. Bravado has offices on virtually every continent, and it is developing a range of products for popular artists, including a line of sunglasses for Kanye West, handbags for Beyonce, and intimate apparel for Katy Perry.
Tom Bennett, Bravado's chief executive, said he emphasized the company's global reach in initial meetings in May with Jackson's manager, Frank Dileo, and AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips and, on the following day, in a session with Jackson. "He explained to me what he thought and how he wanted things to be done," Bennett said of his conversation with Jackson. "He was very specific. He had a very deep grasp of merchandising and worldwide marketing."
Bennett said Jackson insisted on going beyond the traditional concert T-shirt by developing a fashionable line that even acknowledged the concert venue with a tea set.
Bennett said he had a subsequent two-hour meeting with Dileo, Phillips and Jackson on June 4, three weeks before the pop star's death, where he presented designs and prototypes of the tour merchandise.
"He got so excited, so enthusiastic, he did a little dance move at the end," Bennett said. After the singer's death, Bravado finalized terms with AEG. The promoter signed the contract Monday, but Bravado withheld an announcement until Jackson's memorial services ended Tuesday in Los Angeles. AEG is believed to have notified the family as a courtesy. The firm did not return calls.
It is unclear whether the Jackson estate will share in the proceeds. Bravado executives declined to project sales for the new line.
The greatest challenge, Bennett said, is to combat the proliferation of bootleg merchandise.