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Coming Soon: A Wave of Michael Jackson Merchandise

Some 300 Michael Jackson-designed items, from sunglasses to board games, will be available in stores starting next week

A new wave of Michael Jackson retail offerings is set to hit next week. Three weeks after the iconic singer's death, concert promoter AEG and giant Universal Music Group (VIV.PA) are expected to begin selling as many as 300 items designed by the 50-year-old singer, including knapsacks, wallets, belt buckles, sunglasses, china tea service sets, and a wide array of board and other games.

The quick turnaround was hardly intentional. Sources with knowledge of the deal say Jackson's manager, John Branca, approached Universal Music's Bravado merchandising group in June while the singer was preparing for his London comeback tour. Jackson's team and AEG, the tour's concert promoter, were eager to thwart the expected crush of pirated T-shirts and other merchandise that were already beginning to flood the market. Bravado Chief Executive Tom Bennett signed the deal and met in Los Angeles with Jackson in June, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, and reviewed designs that Jackson had created for many of the products.

Bravado is a small but growing part of Universal Music's $6.4 billion empire; last year it generated nearly $240 million in sales, nearly a threefold increase over 2007. The unit sells merchandise related to UMG stars such as Kanye West, Elton John, and Guns N' Roses. At the time of his death, Jackson did not have a record label, although his most recent albums had been distributed by UMG rival Sony Music (SNE). Universal's Motown label controls the rights to some of Jackson's earlier music, as well as music by the Jackson Five.

Huge Market Potential

The new line of Michael Jackson merchandise will be sold through a wide array of retailers, including Target (TGT), JC Penney (JCP), Hot Topic (HOTT), and other store chains that often work with UMG's music distribution network. The market could be huge. Sales of Jackson's music skyrocketed after his death, and the July 7 memorial was seen by huge audiences on TV and on the Web. The market for deceased icons has always been huge. Elvis Presley merchandise is estimated to generate more than $40 million in revenue a year three decades after his death.

The Jackson merchandise could also pick up steam with the widely expected release sometime in the coming months of new songs that Jackson recorded but had kept under wraps and was expected to release soon after his London tour began.

Grover is Los Angeles bureau chief for BusinessWeek.

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