The King of Pop and the King: How an icon's death boosts a local economy

It's been less than two weeks since his death, and Michael Jackson already is becoming bigger than he was in life. The funeral for the King of Pop has reportedly pumped $4 million into the southern California economy, according to the Chicago Tribune, as fans cram into hotel rooms and restaurants that had been hurting in the recession.

Never mind that most of these visitors couldn't secure tickets to Jackson's services. "This is going to be a nice shot in the arm" for the region, says Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
If Kyser has any doubts, he can turn his gaze to Memphis, where Elvis Presley arguably has had a far greater impact on the local economy since he died in August 1977 than it ever did while he was alive.

The ties between the King of Pop and the King are numerous. Both were icons of American culture who sell boatloads of merchandise even after their career declines (and deaths). Presley was eight years younger than Jackson at the time of his death. And Presley's daughter Lisa Marie, who was married to Jackson for 20 months, wrote on MySpace that her ex-husband had worried about dying the way her father did.

Jackson's funeral should break all sorts of media records on TV and the internet. In death, the King of Pop repairs some of the damage borne by a sagging advertising economy, giving selected magazines and newspapers their biggest newsstand sales of the year, if not ever.

Nearly two million people sought tickets for ths service. More text messages were sent when Jackson died than when President Obama was elected. A mindboggling crowd estimated at 50,000 has gathered in front of the Staples Center.

If Elvis's fans are any baromoter, this is the first of many crowds of Jackson fans we'll be seeing. Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the singer's estate, declines to comment on Jackson's funeral, but Neverland seems poised to displace Graceland as the biggest mecca for pop-culture pilgrims. At Graceland, on Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, throngs of fans return every January to celebrate the birth of the King -- and every August, to commemorate his death. Elvis Presley Enterprises says Graceland gets 600,000 visitors each year, contributing $150 million to the Memphis economy each year.

"I think they do every bit of that if not more," agrees Kevin Kane, CEO of the Memphis Convention and Vistors Bureau. And Jackson's funeral, he adds, "is kind of reminicent of Memphis 32 years ago."

But Graceland was shut for five years, as the Presley family decided what to do with the property, Kane notes. Seeing its success has surely caught the attention of the Jackson family and its advisors. "I am sure somebody's wheels are turning," Kane says.

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