Hard Rock Cafe sign Getty Images

Seminoles buy Hard Rock

Stacey Vanek Smith Dec 7, 2006
Hard Rock Cafe sign Getty Images

KAI RYSSDAL: Remember those Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts that were all the rage about 20 years ago? Seemed like whenever people went somewhere exotic, they would pick up a souvenir. I’ve actually got a coffee mug at home that says Hard Rock Beijing.

The Hard Rock’s not nearly as cool as it used to be. And the fad eventually faded. I haven’t used that coffee mug in years. Today the British gambling and leisure firm Rank Group announced it is selling the Hard Rock off. Marketplace’s Stacey Vanek Smith takes a look at the buyer.

STACEY VANEK-SMITH: Times they are a-changin’ for the Hard Rock Cafe. If the deal goes through, the Seminole tribe of Florida will be the proud owner of Hard Rock cafes, hotels, concert venues and even a few casinos.

And let’s not forget the rock memorabilia — like Madonna’s famous black bustier. But like many of the people it celebrates, Hard Rock hasn’t aged all that well. When it opened in the 70s, it was a hip place for music lovers, located in exotic spots around the globe.

RON RANDLE: And now, they’re right next to the Aw Shucks and the Chili’s and the Applebee’s. And they’ve lost a lot of what made them special.

That’s Ron Randle with brand consulting firm Enventys. He says Hard Rock’s image needs a tune-up. That might help explain why Britain’s Rank Group agreed to sell it for less than a billion dollars. Still, Randle says, with a little work the British-born cafe could be climbing the charts again.

RANDLE: If I had a spare billion dollars, I would have bought the brand. It seems to me that there is a lot of potential for regaining that cool.

But why would Florida’s Seminole tribe choose to take it on? Allan Woinski is editor of the Gaming Industry Daily Report. He says Hard Rock does own casinos, but that’s not what attracted the Seminoles.

ALLAN WOINSKI: It’s actually been a trend with the tribes that have really made a lot of money on the casino side. They’ve branched out into nongaming operations, like hotels. This is definitely the biggest one. This is also one of the wealthiest tribes.

If shareholders OK the deal, it’s expected to wrap up this spring.

In New York, I’m Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

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