Playboy pins its hopes on clubs and license deals in Asia

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Playboy pins its hopes on clubs and license deals in Asia

MACAU - February marks the start of the year of the rabbit in the Chinese lunar calendar. It may be an auspicious sign for Playboy Enterprises Inc., which opened a nightclub in Macau last month as it seeks to expand its business by licensing the trademark bunny head logo on lifestyle products in Asia, its fastest growing region.

The company, founded by Hugh Hefner in 1953, also plans to open a Playboy Mansion in 2012 in Macau and has been busy cutting deals to sell Playboy-branded merchandise across Asia.

Its namesake magazine, which is banned in China and defunct in Indonesia due to violent backlash from Muslim hard-liners, has struggled with competition from the Internet, losing readers and advertisers. Playboy Enterprises hasn’t turned a profit since the third quarter of 2007 and last month reported that losses hit $27.4 million in the most recent quarter.

The renewed focus on Asia is something of a do-or-die move for the company as it tries to transform itself from the publisher of a magazine synonymous the world over with centerfolds of bare-breasted women into an entertainment and lifestyle brand.

“It’s our biggest and fastest growing market, and obviously there’s a mass appeal,” said chief executive Scott Flanders. “I think we’re more popular even in Asia than we are in the U.S. We’re more of a fashion brand. We’re more like Louis Vuitton.”

Playboy had been trying to open a club in Macau for a long time, Flanders said. The company finally managed to reach a deal with Sands China Ltd., a unit of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Last month it inked a five-year, $50 million deal with Chinese company Glory Rabbit, which plans to open at least 2,000 Playboy-branded retail stores in China. IMG, Playboy’s licensing agent, is working on deals in Japan, South Korea and India, Flanders said.

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