Strike a deal: Boxerjam marries into Progress family
The staff of Boxerjam was literally sweating last week before the announcement that the company had been acquired by Media General, Inc. Was it because they feared the deal would fall through? Or were they getting cold feet about being purchased by a large corporation?
No. Actually it was because the air conditioning wasn’t working in the company's second floor offices on the Downtown Mall (across the hall from The Hook), and it was hot as blazes.
Still, the remaining staff of the online game company breathed a collective sigh of relief that the sale, in negotiation since last September, finally was announced.
At the height of dot.com fever, way back in 1999, Boxerjam employed 75 people and had no trouble attracting $12 million from venture capital firms. When the bubble burst in 2000 and advertising revenue dried up, the company withered to a skeleton crew– and began looking for a buyer.
Enter Media General. Although locals know it best for buying the Daily Progress from the Worrell family in 1995, the company owns 25 other dailies, nearly 100 other periodicals, and 26 television stations. The company stable ranges in quality from the so-called "state newspaper," The Richmond Times-Dispatch, all the way down to the Charlottesville Business Journal.
Boxerjam will join Media General’s interactive media division and be known as Boxerjam Media. “We’ll be a separate operating unit,” says Boxerjam president Temple Fennell, who will retain his title but will report to Neal Fondren, president of the division.
“We have an opportunity to leverage Boxerjam with our newspapers and with our television stations,” says Fondren. “We just bought Boxerjam, and I’m not quite ready to reveal our plans.”
Fennell suggests that his company, which made its reputation with a word game called Strike-A-Match, could be exploring pay-to-play options where people can win “significant” cash prizes. Another idea is charging a small monthly fee comparable to a magazine subscription for games like the puzzles because “for some people, it’s like their morning fix to do the puzzles,” says Fennell.
Fennell doesn’t anticipate Boxerjam Media growing much beyond its current staffing of seven to 10 game gurus anytime soon.
The highest profile of those game wizards is Julann Griffin, who created Jeopardy! when she was married to Merv Griffin. With her sibling Maureen Roberts, the sisters put the "J.A.M." (Julann And Maureen, get it?) in Boxerjam, and will still be available to develop games. Boxer and Jam merged in 1995.
Both Fennell and Media General decline to say how much Media General paid. “It was not material under SEC guidelines,” says Fondren.
The SEC says that as a rule of thumb, acquisitions and dispositions that are 10 percent of a company’s assets must be disclosed. Media General reported assets of $2.534 billion last year.
The big question for Charlottesville, of course, is whether the purchase of Boxerjam will somehow lead to a new and improved website for the Daily Progress, arguably one of the worst in town.
‘That was a ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ question,” says Fondren, who promises that in the future, the Progress site “will be much different from what you see today with a focus on interactive services.”
As for that air conditioning problem at Boxerjam, “It’ll be one of our first capital expenditures,” jokes Fennell.