Playboy returns to public markets through Spac deal

Playboy Enterprises, the media and lifestyle company founded by the late Hugh Hefner in 1953, said on Thursday it had secured a cash injection and would return to public markets almost a decade after going private.

The company, which earlier this year shut down the print magazine that was long the centrepiece of its business, said it would merge with a blank cheque company known as Mountain Crest Acquisition Corp in a deal that valued Playboy at $381m, including $142m of debt. 

Playboy will raise roughly $101.5m after fees through the deal, a boost to a balance sheet that counted just $22m of cash at the end of June, according to a presentation to investors. Its existing owners will continue to hold 66 per cent of the company after the deal with Mountain Crest is finalised.

Mr Hefner took Playboy private with private equity firm Rizvi Traverse in 2011 as the adult entertainment company was struggling to compete with new online rivals. Mr Hefner died in 2017 aged 91, and his family sold its 35 per cent stake for $35m to the tech-focused investment fund in 2018.

The company, which published its first magazine in December 1953 with then rising star Marilyn Monroe on the cover, has shifted its business from the nude images that catapulted the company to fame. Today, it is mainly a commerce and brand licensing operation putting its famous bunny logo on products ranging from lingerie to digital gaming. 

Playboy chief executive Ben Kohn said he chose to go public via a blank-cheque company, or special purpose acquisition company (Spac) because of its “efficiency” versus a traditional initial public offering.

“The intention was always to return the company to public markets,” he said, adding that Playboy was already planning to make acquisitions.

The company’s media operation has generated a declining part of its revenues in recent years, accounting for 5.3 per cent of its $78.2m of adjusted sales last year. That figure fell below $1.5m in the first half of 2020. Instead, collaborations with fashion brands such as Marc Jacobs and Monse have helped power its business.

Its total revenues had slid 6.6 per cent in 2019 from the year before. The company reported a profit of $265,000 last year, compared with $1.7m in 2018.

As part of the agreement, shareholders in Playboy will receive close to 24m shares in the blank-cheque company, valued at $10 each. Institutional investors have agreed to buy $50m worth of shares in the company. 

Such cash-shell companies have been raising money and striking deals at a record pace this year, offering themselves as an alternative route to the public markets for businesses that do not want to pursue a traditional IPO.

Spacs have raised close to $41bn so far this year, four times the amount raised by this time in 2019, according to data provider Refinitiv. They have struck almost $80bn worth of deals, far surpassing the value of transactions during the same period last year.

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