Joe DiMaggio, Inc.
The Yankee legend has been dead for close to a decade, and now his lawyer wants to cash in on his legacy by licensing his famous name. Fortune's Matthew Boyle reports.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- In the coming years, it should be much easier for the nation to turn its lonely eyes to Joe DiMaggio, as the Yankee Clipper's name could be plastered on everything from casinos to pizzerias to - you guessed it - steaming hot cups of Joe.
Morris Engelberg, DiMaggio's longtime attorney, confidant and trustee of his estate, is currently courting offers for all the licensing rights to the name Joe DiMaggio, Fortune has learned.
Touting DiMaggio's name as "a globally recognized iconic entertainment brand which has not been previously exploited," Engelberg is trying to entice potential buyers with a sales pitch that envisions DiMaggio's name and likeness attached to hotel chains or casinos, a line of food products, apparel, wine and assorted memorabilia, as well as the expansion of an existing restaurant chain, Joe DiMaggio's Italian Chophouse.
No dollar figure was attached to the sales pitch, but given similar recent deals, the rights could command a tidy sum. In 2005, investor Robert F.X. Sillerman paid $114 million for an 85 percent share of Elvis Presley Enterprises, a company that derives its revenue from licensing, tours of Graceland and onsite retailing.
A year later, Sillerman's firm, CKX, paid $50 million for the marketing rights to Muhammad Ali's name. A CKX spokesman declined to comment.
The sale comes on the heels of Engelberg's decision to sell a 2,400-page diary that DiMaggio kept to Steiner Sports, a sports memorabilia company based in New Rochelle, New York, which plans to sell the pages individually at up to $10,000 a pop.
"We are calling people that Joe mentioned in the pages," says CEO Brandon Steiner. "For pages that mention Marilyn Monroe, we're asking $10,000." In addition, the pages will be available in an upcoming Neiman Marcus catalog, Steiner said. DiMaggio's two granddaughters, Paula Hamra and Kathy Stein, have also auctioned off a slew of Joltin' Joe memorabilia over the years.
In the pitch letter - a copy of which was obtained by Fortune - Engelberg claims that income from the restaurants alone "could reach seven figures" from a monthly $12,500 royalty and a cut of the profits from food and memorabilia sales. (Two restaurants are currently open, and two more are in the pipeline, he claims.)
A "major area" of potential, Engelberg writes, lies in a line of food products - pastas, bread, cheeses, sausages, hot dogs, sauces and coffee. DiMaggio once plugged Mr. Coffee, which was one of the few brands that he chose to endorse during his lifetime.
But "the real big bucks" are in the pizza business, Engelberg believes. "It is basically right in front of us," he writes to potential bidders. "Imagine about 200 pizzerias in New York and outlying areas connected to the name of Joe DiMaggio, as there seems to be a pizzeria on each corner that I walk by [in New York], and if there is not, there should be one à la Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts."
Engelberg did not return several calls placed to his Hollywood, Florida, office.
But would the Yankee Clipper, who died following lung cancer surgery in 1999, have approved? Some friends of DiMaggio bristled at the thought of his name being as ubiquitous as Starbucks. "Morris has been sitting there looking to commercialize everything," said Tom Villante, a longtime friend of DiMaggio's. "If Joe knew what Engelberg was doing with these sales, he'd roll over ten times in his grave."
Others were not as concerned: "I would not say this is ghastly," said longtime Yankee PR man Marty Appel. "I would just hope that Engelberg would retain the dignity of the name."
Setting aside the impact on DiMaggio's legacy, a more pressing question remains: How much could the rights sell for? Steiner, for one, doesn't think they will command the huge sums that Ali and Elvis received. "It's not enough to warrant a mega-deal," he said. "There's not enough to it."
But Dean Bonham, who runs a Denver-based sports and entertainment marketing consultancy, thinks that the sky is the limit. "It's unprecedented," he says. "There is not another Joe DiMaggio out there."