Feb 23, 2024 - Business

Ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner sells off last of his Topps empire

Photo illustration of Michael Eisner on a Topps brand baseball card next to a stick of gum

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage via Getty Images

In 2007, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner read that a small activist investor was targeting Topps, the famed maker of baseball cards and chewing gum.

The big picture: Eisner tells Axios that he viewed the situation as somewhat akin to Disney decades earlier, setting in motion a series of transactions that just wrapped up this week.

Backstory: Topps was a company under attack by shareholders, whose brand had lost its vibrancy but not the emotional affinity forged with consumers at a very young age.

  • So Eisner partnered with private equity firm Madison Dearborn to take Topps private for around $385 million, gaining 50.2% shareholder approval only after ringing a grade-school friend who he realized was invested.

Fast forward: Eisner and MDP yesterday sold the last remaining part of Topps, a gift card unit called TDS, to digital media and marketing firm Ziff Davis.

  • No financial terms were disclosed, and Eisner declined to comment on deal details, but a source familiar with the situation puts the price tag at around $170 million.
  • This follows prior sales of Topps' trading cards and collectibles business to Fanatics for around $500 million, and of its candy unit to Apax Partners for around $700 million.
  • That's a grand total of $1.37 billion, or a 3.55x multiple on the original investment. It's also richer than the implied value of a SPAC deal that collapsed after Topps lost its exclusive licensing deal with Major League Baseball.

What he's saying: "Sometimes in business you have to be lucky and take advantage of your luck," Eisner explains. "We would have come out at the $10 price and been a real, growing company, but it's hard to say we'd have been one of the few companies that defied the SPAC world crash."

  • Eisner adds that he didn't personally have interest in selling Topps, in whole or in pieces, but always knew that could be part of the deal when partnering with private equity.
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