While a number of PE firms have reportedly balked at Playboy (NYSE: PLA) Enterprises’ $300 million asking price, actual billionaire playboy Richard Branson’s name has been increasingly mentioned as a prospective buyer. The Chicago Tribune, picking up a piece from the UK’s Daily Mail, says the Virgin Group chairman could be interested in making a play for the adult-themed media company. Both Playboy and Virgin have said no comment, but the rumors have sent Playboy’s stock up to $3.12 today after shares had been been hovering around $1.15 two months ago.
It’s hard to say whether Branson is the person to turn it around, but Playboy did thrive under another out-sized personality of Hugh Hefner. While the 83-year-old Hefner still owns a majority stake and serves as chief creative officer, he stepped back long ago from the day-to-day running of the company, which currently has a market cap of $100 million. Playboy had been banking on a major digital revamp, which was completed last January, but it clearly made little positive difference in Q1, when digital revenue fell 39 percent — though to be fair, Playboy said the move to outsource e-commerce was part of the reason for huge decline.
In the meantime, while the speculation is rampant about who if anyone will buy the company, it certainly has distracted observers from wondering who or when Playboy will choose to permanently replace Christie Hefner, who left the company and handed the role of Chairman and CEO to Jerry Kern in December on an interim basis.