Elvis, who was bumped to the No. 2 spot last week among biggest-earning dead celebrities, has been unable to come up with enough orders to justify his own Tennessee specialty license plate. Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The Med) kicked off the license plate campaign last October as a fund-raising effort for The Med, home of the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center.
"We're struggling here," said Sandy Snell, vice president of public relations for The Med. She said this week about 500 people have placed orders, but the state requires a minimum of 1,000 orders to justify producing a specialty plate. "We thought it would be so easy, but we've gotten to this 500 mark and we're kind of stuck," Snell said. She advertised the campaign locally and in Middle Tennessee, then said she ran into budget constraints at The Med and hasn't been able to advertise in East Tennessee. The first deadline passed during the summer, but The Med was granted a one-year extension -- until July 1, 2007 -- to try to come up with another 500 buyers. Elvis Presley Enterprises spokesman Kevin Kern said EPE has promoted the plate in its newsletter and on its Web site, elvis.com. It renewed the Web site push with a reminder on the site's opening page Thursday.
"We continue to support The Med in their effort to make the Elvis license plate a reality," Kern said. The Elvis Web site directs Tennesseans interested in buying an Elvis tag to the Web address firstname.lastname@example.org . Or they can call The Med at (877) 545-3757. There is serious competition in the specialty plate field with about 150 plates offered through the Tennessee Department of Revenue. Five Memphis area plates are among them -- for LeMoyne-Owen College, Rhodes College, the University of Memphis, LeBonheur Children's Medical Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Elvis and The Med are not the first to run into the 1,000-minimum stumbling block. When the Memphis Grizzlies and the National Civil Rights Museum attempted to create specialty plates, they were unable to get 1,000 orders. However, the Tennessee Titans football team is one of the top five sellers among specialty plates in the state.
Revenue department communications director Emily Richard said the top five and the annual revenue produced by the plates are: Friends of the Smokies ($512,000); agricultural plate ($279,000); environmental plate with the iris, the state flower ($277,000); Watchable Wildlife ($276,000); and the Titans ($196,000). Specialty plates cost about $35 more than a regular license plate, and Snell said The Med would receive about $20 of the revenue for each plate sold. She said she has had numerous calls from people outside the state who are interested in an Elvis plate, but the orders must come from licensed Tennessee drivers to qualify. Snell said she has set up recruitment booths at Memphis Grizzlies basketball games, at NASCAR races and auto shows. "It's not like we haven't tried, but there's only so much you can do."
For Elvis, the effort that has fallen short was the second bad news in a week. Elvis, the perennial No. 1 earner among dead celebrities, was knocked to No. 2, behind grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, in the latest listing by Forbes magazine. Snell said she is still hopeful that EPE's Web site solicitation will produce extra orders, but she said she still wishes for a bigger advertising presence.
"If we could get Elvis to sing across Tennessee, maybe it would be OK," she said. "We could get him to say, 'Don't be cruel. Buy my tag.' "