Los Angeles Business Journal

Proxy Fight Heats Up at Spark Networks

By Jonathan Polakoff Thursday, May 22, 2014

There’s no love lost between Internet dating company Spark Networks and its largest shareholder.

The West Los Angeles company, with properties including Christian Mingle and JDate, on Thursday fired back at Osmium Partners with a public statement denouncing the Greenbrae investment firm’s recent attacks on Spark’s management.

Osmium, which holds 14 percent of Spark, earlier this week put forward a plan to elect its own slate of board members next month and squeeze growth from Spark’s flagship dating sites. The investment firm said Spark has been lagging competitors such as Match.com and Zoosk for years under the leadership of Chief Executive Greg Liberman and that the company has overspent on marketing.

Osmium also urged shareholders to vote for its board nominees ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting on June 18. Osmium has also issued other critical statements in recent weeks.

Osmium has held a stake in Spark since 2008 and in 2010 helped defeat a go-private proposal from the company’s largest shareholder at the time, Boston private equity firm Great Hill Partners, at $3.10 a share. Great Hill sold its 20 percent stake in Spark in recent months, leaving Osmium as the company’s largest single shareholder.

Spark’s statement today said Osmium’s priorities are in its diversified investment funds rather than the health of Spark’s business. The company also said Osmium has a history of flip-flopping on issues and is not worthy of shareholders’ trust. Spark said shareholders should vote for its proposed board members.

“We believe the value of your investment in Spark is under serious assault,” the statement said. “We believe (Osmium) has shown a history of shallow deception, offered a plan that lacks any substance, brings no relevant experience to the table and – most importantly – may have goals for its investment in Spark contrary to those of other stockholders.”

Spark shares closed down 3 percent to $4.51 on the New York Stock Exchange and are down 27 percent so far this year.