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Moneyball for Dead Celebs: This $5 Billion Business Sells Elvis and Michael Jackson

Authentic Brands, which also owns Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe, values dead celebs on their social media presence and the spending power of their fans.
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Illustration: Josh Freydkis

In April, Shannon Gagliardi, a 48-year-old nurse practitioner from Louisville, took the vacation of a lifetime. She’s a fan of Elvis Presley and still considers missing a 1976 New Year’s Eve concert by the King in Pittsburgh one of the biggest regrets of her life—even though she was only 6 at the time. So it was a dream come true when she stayed three nights at the Guest House at Graceland with her sister, brother, niece, and grandniece. Missing from the family pilgrimage to Elvis’s storied estate in Memphis: Gagliardi’s 17-year-old daughter, who didn’t know what Graceland was.

The range of a mother’s and daughter’s excitement about a trip to Elvis’s homestead shows both the business promise and the generational risk facing Jamie Salter, whose Authentic Brands Group LLC recently completed a $137 million makeover of Graceland, four years after buying a majority stake in the Elvis name. Authentic opened the 450-room, four-diamond Guest House hotel next door in late 2016, a notable upgrade to the worn strip of dollar stores and gas stations flanking the 14-acre property. A rundown RV park and “Heartbreak Hotel” nearby are scheduled for demolition. A new museum complex was opened across the street in March, quintupling the space to showcase all things Elvis, including 22 (out of 88) of the King’s jumpsuits.