New Elvis owners discussing Graceland upgrades

An executive with the company that purchased Elvis Presley’s intellectual property says it is discussing ways to expand the late rock and roll icon’s brand and upgrades to the Graceland tourist attraction.

Nick Woodhouse, president and chief marketing officer of Authentic Brands Group, says that the company’s status as a marketer of icons like Marilyn Monroe positions it to expand the Elvis brand’s worldwide presence.

Presley was “one of the most recognized and revolutionary people of all time, whether it’s in society or in pop culture,” Woodhouse said during an interview, adding that the company can make the Elvis brand “come to life a little bit more than it has been in the past.”

Authentic Brands announced recently it had bought Presley’s licensing and merchandising rights from CORE Media Group. The purchase price was not disclosed. As part of the deal, Joel Weinshanker, founder of the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, acquired the operating rights to Graceland.

Authentic Brands now controls Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the use of Presley’s name, image and likeness on music, photos, movies, television appearances and performance specials. The licensing and merchandising business revolving around Presley’s life and career has generated about $30 million annually in past years.

Fans’ hunger for more of the King has been fed in recent years by releases of music compilations such as the “Elvis at Stax” CD box set and re-release of the 1972 “Elvis on Tour” documentary in theaters and on DVD, and by some new exhibits at Graceland. Woodhouse envisions moving the brand into other realms beyond music, including the luxury items market.

As an example, Woodhouse cites the appearance of Presley’s likeness on Dolce & Gabbana T-shirts. Regular T-shirts and tank tops with Presley on them are currently being offered for more than $100 on eBay, and similar T-shirts emblazoned with images of Monroe and James Dean are selling for more than $300 on Dolce & Gabbana’s website.

Woodhouse believes there is also room for brand growth among younger fans who, unlike their parents and grandparents, did not see Presley in his prime or were born after he died. Presley died in Memphis on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.

Woodhouse notes that more than 9.5 million people like Presley’s Facebook page.

“The Facebook sweet spot is probably not what people would assume is the original Elvis fan,” Woodhouse said. “Clearly, he resonates on social media and he resonates on other more modern platforms as well.”

Authentic Brands and Weinshanker, along with input from Presley’s former wife, Priscilla Presley, and their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, also are discussing ways to upgrade Graceland, the tourist attraction focused around Presley’s longtime Memphis home, Woodhouse said.

Graceland attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year, offering tours of the home and Presley-related exhibits across the street. Elvis Presley Enterprises officials previously had said that long-discussed plans to improve and modernize the attraction had been put on hold due to the economic downturn and a possible sale.

Woodhouse did not discuss details of the upgrades, but says the new operators are considering some “great ideas.”

“Suffice it to say, it is as we all know, one of America’s most visited spots and we would like it to be visited more,” he said.