Why so large a cost, having so short a lease, does thou upon your fading mansion spend? —William Shakespeare
Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders has apparently dedicated himself to ridding the company of everything that represents founder Hugh Hefner. Last fall, the company announced they were going to stop printing nudes in their flagship magazine. Now, they have put the iconic Playboy Mansion up for sale with one catch: You have to keep Hef.
Actually, the arrangement isn’t really all that unusual for such an estate. Hef has lived in the mansion forever, or at least it feels that way. So, the contract stipulates that Playboy’s founder be allowed to continue living in the facility until his death. My, that’s mighty nice of Mr. Flanders, isn’t it? If I were Hef, I’d have someone start testing my food for poison, ASAP. Flanders can’t seem to get rid of everything that represents the magazine’s founder fast enough, and given the current course of action, one has to think that might include the once flamboyant Hugh M. Hefner himself.
Ostensibly, Flanders is looking to streamline the company in desperate search of the profits it had when Hef was at the helm. That would seem to be a normal and practical business move. What Flanders apparently fails to realize is that with the magazine, the mansion, and the clubs, Hef created the ultimate male fantasy and it was the pursuit of that fantasy that fueled the company’s success.
Let’s be fair, Hef wasn’t necessarily the best business person in the world himself. He had to shutter the famous clubs during the 1970s when they began hemorrhaging cash. Hef didn’t understand that even exclusive private clubs have to adapt to changes in society and in failing to do so he had no choice but to kill part of the dream himself. Playboy’s had to make a lot of other difficult decisions as well, including whether to get into video (which it did early with great success) and how to handle its online presence (not so good a move). When Hef took the company private, though, it was clear the company’s better days were behind it.
Now, Flanders, the company’s first CEO outside the Hefner family, seems to be jettisoning every part of the Playboy dream possible in an attempt to scale it down to mediocrity. He has long said that he wants to focus on licensing, which would include the Playboy name as well as the rabbit head logo. Does he not realize, though, that as he destroys the brand’s reputation he reduces the licensing value as well? Mr. Flanders doesn’t seem to think that’s the case, but personally I don’t see any other logical outcome.
The question remaining is what will Flanders kill off next? Of all the company’s holdings, there are several likely targets. I think they’ll keep Playboy Golf as well as the casinos, since those are mild, boring, and manage to make a profit. Most everything else, though, from the publishing division to Playboy TV, the Spike cable network, Playboy Online, and Playboy Radio could all theoretically be sold off, with Flanders still bringing income by continuing to license the established brand to new owners. Such a move would remove costly assets while continuing a revenue stream that would likely continue for the foreseeable future.
I think what bothers me is the complete lack of loyalty Scott Flanders exhibits to everything that is physically a part of the Playboy empire. Where he sees only a brand to be licensed and manipulated, the rest of us see the icons of becoming a man; the things that helped us know what to do, where to go, how to behave, as we made the transition for adolescence to adulthood. Playboy kept us classy, teaching us to dress well, treat women like royalty, how to put on a condom, and, oh yeah, those are what breasts look like. Flanders seems willing to throw every last bit of that away, and when he gets rid of the mansion he will, effectively, be getting rid of Hef as well.
Flanders is asking for $200 million dollars for the estate, but given the liabilities and the fact that Hef may live another 20 years, as well as the location, he’ll be doing well if he gets a third of that price. Still, if I were lying in Hef’s place right now, I’d sure be careful about who was preparing my food. Scott Flanders doesn’t seem to be much of a friend.
Watch your back, Hef.