Special Report

Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2014


The champion and protector of the Women’s National Basketball Association, David Stern, will retire in February 2014. He has been the all-powerful commissioner of the NBA for three decades. It is hard to imagine how the WNBA could have survived without his support, and that will soon be gone. The league was founded in 1996, and currently has 12 teams. Six teams have disappeared since the league’s beginning, and three have been relocated. Attendance has been awful. Average regular season attendance by team per game was only 7,457 in 2012, compared to about 18,000 for the NBA. The WNBA attendance number was below 6,000 in Atlanta, Chicago and Tulsa. Even in New York City, the New York Liberty could not break the 7,000 barrier. Attendance for half of the teams dropped by double digits between 2011 and 2012. Owners have little financial reason to support the league. The Chicago Sun Times reported in 2011 that “The majority of WNBA teams are believed to have lost money each year, with the NBA subsidizing some of the losses.” TV viewership is so low it only makes matters worse.

8. Leap Wireless

Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ: LEAP) was the one loser in the recent telecommunications M&A frenzy. AT&T nearly bought T-Mobile, which eventually combined with MetroPCS. Sprint Nextel is being pursued by both Japan broadband firm Softbank and Dish Network. Since the consolidations have created financially stronger companies, Leap is too small to survive. The best proof is in its subscriber counts and earnings. Wall Street lost confidence in Leap a long time ago. Its shares are down 90% over the past five years, while the Nasdaq is up by 40%. Leap’s management has probably known it needs a partner for some time. It was widely expected that Leap would merge with MetroPCS last year. The T-Mobile-MetroPCS deal ruined that.

In October 2012, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported, “After reporting net losses for the last six years, analysts are forecasting Leap will remain unprofitable through 2015, according to data and estimates compiled by Bloomberg. It may post a profit of about $43 million in 2016, according to the average estimate.” The risk factors disclosed in Leap’s annual report read like a road map to Chapter 11. Management warns about the company’s ability to build out its 4G network, make debt payments, take on more debt if needed and increase its customer base. Probably the most damaging evidence regarding Leap’s dim future is its subscriber count, which dropped from 5.9 million at the end of 2011 to 5.3 million at the end of last year. By comparison, the new T-Mobile Metro PCS subscriber base is about 43 million, which in turn is smaller than Sprint, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

9. Mitsubishi Motors

While it never had a massive presence in the United States, the niche Japanese automaker has had some success with models like the Lancer and the Eclipse. However, Mitsubishi Motors will soon exit the U.S. market, just as its Japanese rival, American Suzuki Motor Corp., did at the end of last year. Its sales are nose diving. In 2012, Mitsubishi sold fewer than 60,000 units in the United States, down from nearly 80,000 in 2011. That decline was the biggest of any auto brand and has continued this year. In the first four months of the year, sales have fallen by 6.5% to just 20,571 vehicles. The U.S. market share of Mitsubishi was only 0.3% in April. Mitsubishi does not have the advantages of some other companies with low market shares — it is not a luxury car company like Porsche and Land Rover, which sell high-end cars and command high prices. The average price for Mitsubishi’s seven models is under $25,000. One of the company’s weaknesses is this small model lineup. Mitsubishi is further hampered by the public’s perception of its products. In the new J.D. Power vehicle dependability survey, it ranked third from last out of 33 brands.

10. Road & Track

Founded in 1947, Road & Track is the oldest and most well-regarded automotive magazine in the country, according to Hearst, the publication’s owner since 2011. Road & Track and its better-selling stablemate, Car & Driver, have been among the top brands in the industry for years. However, Road & Track operates in a crowded market, which includes several other large publications and a substantial number of popular car websites. The four dominant magazines have all posted advertising sales drops in the past five years as Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Automobile have each lost hundreds of ad pages. Road & Track has had the worst of it. Ad pages fell from 1,092 in 2008 to 699 last year. Pages are down another 31% to 232 for the first six months of this year, according to MIN. No large national magazine can continue that kind of long-term slide.

Car & Driver has an audience of 10.7 million people, which according to Hearst makes it the world’s largest automobile magazine brand. Hearst does not need to support two magazine brands, each of which is in the midst of a sales slide. Since both magazines are based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a consolidation of staffs would be a money-saving option. Road & Track subscribers could also be migrated to Car & Driver. Road & Track might continue to live online, but Hearst has no reason to keep two similar titles.

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