Deal or No Deal? EA & Take-Two, Round 2


First there was the craziness with Yahoo and Microsoft. Will they? Won't they? Should we even care anymore? Now, to quote Yogi Berra, it's like deja vu all over again, with investors in Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive wondering whether this marriage will ever come off, or whether the wheels come off the deal instead.

A battle of press releases greeted investors this morning.

First, from EA: The deal is off. The company's tender offer at $25.74, delayed five times already, would officially expire at midnight tonight because a deal hasn't gotten done, and there's no indication that a deal might get done.

And with the holiday shopping season just around the corner (yes, I know, but those game title boxes don't print themselves, nor do the discs they come on, so these companies need lead time!) EA is now worried that the merger won't be completed in time for it to realize a nice pop from Take-Two's seasonal game sales. Good point. So it wants to lower the price. Or walk completely.

Enter Take-Two, which says, Wait a sec: If you give us a chance to walk through our 3-year plan, you'll quickly realize, EA, why we're not only worth $25.74 -- but a heckuva lot more.

So Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick and EA CEO John Riccitiello, who ended their formal talks with one another on Friday, have left it to the attorneys to figure out.

I'm told from sources close to EA that those attorneys from both sides worked through the weekend (shades of Microsoft and Yahoo. Ugh.) to come up with a way to move this ball forward. The two sides are trying to work out the finishing touches of non-disclosure agreements so these talks can continue. EA wants its due diligence and it appears Take-Two is ready to accommodate.

Will they? Probably. Will a deal get done? Probably. Is anything certain? Nope. But then, what ever is?

Look, these two sides have been bickering, dithering, haggling, negotiating or merely chit-chatting for months. To no avail. Unlike Microsoft and Yahoo, the target company in all this, Take-Two, can afford to hold out for more money. It comes to this from a position of strength. Is it as big as EA? No. Does it need to be? No. Could it someday eclipse EA? Maybe.

None of that could be said about Yahoo, whose languishing stock price and boardroom disarray, not to mention its eroding role in the marketplace, undermined its negotiating power against Microsoft.

But Take-Two, checkered past and all, has a blockbuster on its hands with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. EA is the sports title leader, but that's really about it. EA needs to expand its library of offerings; Take-Two could sure as heck use EA's globally huge marketing and publishing power. But Take-Two could be fine without EA and try to continue to grow, publish and prosper on its own. If EA can't make this deal happen, it'll have to start anew its search for a key, compelling content developer.

All of this simply tells me that for investors worried or concerned that talks died because of all the inertia, don't be worried. Yet. It appears talks are moving along, albeit in a strange and circuitous route.

Which makes today's declines in both stocks curious: Talks are good, after all. Bitterness seems to have abated. Now both sides can get down to (insert Jack Black's "Nacho Libre" line here:) "nitty gritty."

My sense: a deal gets done for a few dollar more than EA's already offered. And sooner rather than later.

Questions? Comments?