Pathetic Buyouts: Companies That Sold For $1 (Or Similarly Low Amounts)

Updated: August 31, 2010

When entrepreneurs start large and lofty businesses, they usually shoot for one of two "liquidation events": an IPO or a buyout. Ignoring the late 1990's dot-com frenzy, IPO's are rare and usually reserved for truly elite businesses. Buyouts are a more common and attainable way to cash out. Recent years have seen many high-profile buyouts, like eBay snapping up Skype for $2.6 billion and the $580 million sale of MySpace to News Corporation.

But not all buyouts reward company owners so lavishly. Today, Focus recalls some of the most pathetically low corporate buyouts (either because of the dollar amount, or because of what the companies were once worth):

Newsweek

In what has to be the most laughably low corporate acquisition of all-time, the New York Times reported on August 2 that the Washington Post was selling Newsweek for $1. No, that isn't a typo: the popular magazine really was offloaded to Sidney Harman (an audio equipment tycoon) for one U.S. dollar. Post chairman Donald E. Graham, who "wanted the sale to be as nondisruptive as possible", reportedly sold so low because Mr. Harman agreed to absorb all of Newsweek's hefty financial liabilities as part of the acquisition.

Given that Newsweek had "struggled through the recession more than most weekly news magazines" (posting a nearly $30 million loss in 2009), perhaps Graham and the Post should consider themselves lucky to have washed its hands of the money-losing publication with a profitable dollar to spare.

Pontiac Silverdome

Sporting arenas might seem like construction projects, but they are actually business ventures expected to produce revenue for many decades. Early on, Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome (pictured above) lived up to expectations, housing the NFL's Detroit Lions and USFL's Michigan Panthers. The Silverdome even played host to 1982's Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. Unfortunately, the once-proud stadium simply failed the test of time, and the Lions departed for a new arena in 2001.

In November 2009, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the 80,300 seat Silverdome had been sold to "an unidentified Canadian buyer" for $583,000. That's less than the cost of many upscale homes, and about 1% of the original $55.7 million construction price. According to the Journal, procrastination resulted in the humiliating sale price, as developers reportedly offered $17.5 million for the stadium and 127 acre property as recently as 2008.

iMeem

When rumors began surfacing in 2009 that music streaming service iMeem might be acquired, few could have imagined it would be for such a low amount. After all, even low-level Internet companies tend to fetch price tags of $20 million or more on the open buyout market. It was rather shocking, then, when the Washington Post reported that iMeem had sold out to MySpace Music for less than $1 million in cash. Though iMeem was far from a market-busting success, the fact that it boasted roughly 16 million devoted users suggests that it could have sold for much more to another suitor.

All in all, the Post concluded that MySpace Music got "the iMeem brand and users for next to nothing." An additional earnout, also part of the deal, was also dismissed as "not much."

BusinessWeek

In July 2009, London's Financial Times warned that struggling magazine BusinessWeek could suffer the Newsweek Fate - a buyout price of just $1 in exchange for the acquiring company assuming its debt obligations. While that fate was happily avoided, the magazine was sold in October to Bloomberg for the unimpressive sum of just $5 million. In an article on the acquisition, BusinessWeek stated that the deal would breathe new life into the magazine, which had been severely victimized by the late 2000's recession.

Prior to the acquisition, print revenues had halved to just $60 million between 2006 and 2009. Still, a commenter on the article could not help but observe that, since BusinessWeek had been generating over $120 million before, "selling it for $5M seems like a pittance" compared to hanging on and turning it around.

Bebo

When social networking service Bebo was sold for around $10 million in June, few outside of parent company AOL shed any tears. But as BusinessWeek explains, what might sound like a splendid sum to the rest of us was anything but to them. Just two years ago, AOL plunked down an eye-popping $850 million for Bebo, which appeared at the time to be an up-and-coming force in the exploding social networking scene. Even then, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes called the acquisition AOL's "riskiest."

Needless to say, Bebo failed miserably to match the runaway success of market leaders Facebook or MySpace. Consequently, the company wound up offloading the failed community for less than $10 million, classifying Bebo's common stock as "worthless" for tax purposes. All told, the buyout means AOL took an $840 million bath on its ill-fated foray into social networking. Criterion Capital Partners, a turnaround specialist, acquired what was left of the site.

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