March 23, 2018
Billionaire entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga, who propelled Blockbuster Video into a national brand, among other businesses, has died reportedly following a long battle with cancer. He was 80.
Huizenga, who lived in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area, excelled in many ventures including sanitation, automobile sales and hotels. A longtime sports fan, Huizenga at one time owned the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, MLB’s Florida Marlins and NHL’s Florida Panthers.
But in 1987, Huizenga acquired a few upstart Blockbuster Video stores on a $1 million investment and grew the franchise from less than 20 locations to more than 3,700 stores globally. He sold the company to Viacom in 1994 for $8.4 billion.
At its peak, Blockbuster operated more than 9,000 stores, employing 84,300 people worldwide.
“It was sad to hear of the passing of Wayne Huizenga,” said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). “Wayne was a true video industry pioneer. During his tenure at Blockbuster the blue and yellow stores became the symbol of video rental, and ‘Make It a Blockbuster Night’ entered the lexicon. Whether you worked for him, competed with him (as many of us did – and lost), or simply rented movies in his stores – you have to respect his impact on the in-home movie experience.”
In a 1997 interview with The Washington Post, Huizenga said that despite feeling technology would eventually render packaged media rental obsolete, he reluctantly sold Blockbuster.
“I didn’t want to sell it. I loved that business,” he told The Post.
As Netflix entered the market featuring by-mail DVD rentals, Blockbuster countered renting movies and TV shows through the mail. When Netflix launched the SVOD market, the writing was on the wall for video rental stores.
Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and was acquired in a fire sale by Dish Network. The satellite TV operator had hoped to use the remaining 1,700 Blockbuster stores to sell portable media devices, including cell phones, in addition to home entertainment.
Dish shuttered most remaining company-owned Blockbuster locations a few years later. As of last month, there remain nine Blockbuster franchise stores in operation, including two in Bend, Ore.
While many news reports suggest Huizenga founded Blockbuster, this was not the case.
Huizenga got involved with Blockbuster two years after the chain was founded in Texas by David Cook. As he recounted in a June 2003 Fortune magazine article, “By the time I got involved, Blockbuster had already worked out some of the kinks.”
Cook, according to the Fortune story, started the video rental superstore concept in 1985 “as a way to apply what he knew about building giant databases.” He had already made his mark in the petroleum industry with the launch of David P. Cook & Associates in 1978, which he took public in 1983.
But by then the oil industry was in trouble, and Cook went looking for something else to do. After investigating a video store franchise opportunity for a friend, he told Fortune, “I determined there might be a bigger industry there.” He opened a single superstore, in Dallas, on Oct.19, 1985. It was stocked with plenty of copies of the latest hits as well as older titles. Success came right away “The first night we were so mobbed we had to lock the doors to prevent more people from coming in,” he told Fortune.
Cook predicted his single Blockbuster might grow into 1,500 units and immediately began scouting around for more locations. Following early success from the company’s first stores, Cook built a $6-million warehouse in Garland, Texas, using a bar-code inventory system to track the movements of 10,000 films per store. With the warehouse, he told Fortune, stores “could pop up instantly,” he told Fortune, while individual store inventories were tailored to neighborhood demographics.
Cook soon found Huizenga, “who agreed to put up about $18 million in return for voting control,” the Fortune story said. “Cook’s disagreements with one of Huizenga’s lieutenants led him to leave, taking some $20 million with him. ‘I’m clearly not the best manager in the world for a large corporation,’ says Cook, who openly admits he didn’t see it that way then. ‘I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t think Blockbuster did a whole lot better under Wayne – including me.’”