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Magic Johnson takes stake in Vibe Holdings

Johnson and investing partner Yucaipa Cos. aim to revitalize Vibe Holdings, which owns Vibe magazine and the 'Soul Train' TV show.

February 10, 2011|Stephen Ceasar

With a multimillion-dollar investment, Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is set to become chairman of a New York-based magazine and television company that he says is poised to tap into a coveted urban audience.

Johnson, 51, will be chairman of Vibe Holdings, the parent company of Vibe magazine and owner of the music-and-dance TV show "Soul Train," including its star-studded performance library. No financial details of the deal were disclosed, although a Johnson spokeswoman described it as "an eight-figure investment."

Johnson made the deal in partnership with the Yucaipa Cos., a Los Angeles-based investment firm headed by billionaire Ron Burkle. It is the first step of a process aimed at revitalizing Vibe Holdings and making it the center of influence for an urban audience he has reached with other businesses in the past, Johnson said.

"We know where they are and we know how to reach them," Johnson said. "They are loyal to our brands."

Vibe Holdings is also the parent company of magazine publisher Uptown Media and more than 25 websites. Vibe magazine is published six times a year and is currently found only on newsstands.

The company's brands, particularly Vibe magazine and Soul Train, have an especially loyal fan base in the African American market but have historically reached beyond it, making them attractive to advertisers as a "tastemaker for overall culture," said Peter Kern, a managing partner at New York-based InterMedia Partners, which owns a stake in the company.

Johnson said the company planned to bring the show back to television and begin licensing content. The company owns about 300,000 photos and about 1,100 hours of video of performances by music legends including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5.

Controlling the Soul Train brand also gives the company an opportunity to rejuvenate the influence the show had on popular culture during its heyday, Johnson said. "I learned how to dance watching 'Soul Train.' We're going to make it hip and young again."

As chairman, Johnson said, he would be involved in business strategy and engaging advertisers but would leave day-to-day operations to the current leadership. The company will also attempt to acquire other media that complement its strategy, he said.

"We're open for more business," Johnson said. "We have an opportunity to take this to a whole other level."

In October, Johnson sold his 4.5% stake in the Lakers to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong and sold 105 Starbucks coffeehouse franchises back to the company for a reported $75 million.

Johnson has also expressed interest in one day becoming a majority owner of a professional sports team and has been involved in the push to bring a National Football League team back to Los Angeles.

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stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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