Sprint pulls Virgin Mobile from Walmart

Sprint
Sprint's Virgin Mobile prepaid brand is now only available to U.S. customers via its online portal. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

Sprint has pulled its Virgin Mobile prepaid brand from Walmart stores. In an email to FierceWireless, Sprint said, “Walmart has been a great sales channel. Virgin Mobile USA continues to evaluate its sales distribution outlets and, at this time, has made the decision to exit our retailer agreement with Walmart. Customers can still purchase Virgin products on www.virginmobileusa.com.

Virgin Mobile was in about 50% of Walmarts, according to Sprint.

Analyst Jeff Moore with Wave7 Research first noticed the disappearance of Virgin Mobile from Walmart as did researchers at BestMVNO. “Virgin was in Best Buy until April and Meijer stores until a few months ago,” said Moore.

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The Virgin Mobile prepaid brand was also sold through Target stores. But Sprint pulled all of its brands out of Target. “We exited Target in August 2018 due to choice,” said the Sprint spokesperson.

Sprint bought Virgin Mobile in 2009 for $483 million. The Virgin Mobile brand is licensed from the Virgin Group founded by the U.K. billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The brand previously had a steady retail presence in RadioShack stores until 2017 when nearly all those stores closed.

Moore also noted that the Sprint-branded prepaid service Sprint Forward was shuttered this fall, with all Sprint Forward customers moved to Boost Mobile.

It appears that Sprint is consolidating its prepaid businesses under the Boost brand, which is still sold at Walmart stores.

But it’s interesting timing on Sprint’s part, to pull the Virgin Mobile brand out of Walmart. Given that the merger of Sprint with T-Mobile is in its final stages, it would seem logical for the parties to keep their heads down. The last hurdle for Sprint and T-Mobile to clear is the lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of several states. That trial is set to begin on December 9, but T-Mobile has been chipping away at the lawsuit, convincing three states, so far, to drop out of the suit in exchange for various promises.

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Speaking of strange timing, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere was in talks with SoftBank about possibly taking over as CEO of the drama-ridden company WeWork.

RELATED: Reports of Legere WeWork talks complicate T-Mobile/Sprint trial – analyst

In September 2018 in response to questions from commissioners at the FCC, T-Mobile executives promised that if the company successfully merged with Sprint, the combined company would not eliminate any of its prepaid brands.

Although removing Virgin Mobile from Walmart is not the same as eliminating the brand, Walmart was the last remaining retail store where customers could walk in and buy a Virgin Mobile prepaid plan and phone. Now, if they want Virgin Mobile, their only option is the company’s online portal.

Moore notes that it has been 31 months since Virgin has changed its rate card, and no press releases have been added to Virgin’s press room in 19 months. “I don’t think anyone knows how severely in decline Virgin is,” he said. “There’s been no energy put into Virgin over the last several years. Virgin is a dying lemon on the vine.”

The Virgin Mobile brand is also included in the deal with Dish, which states that “following completion of the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, Dish will acquire Sprint's prepaid businesses and customers, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and the Sprint-branded prepaid service.”

Dish declined to comment for this story.

In terms of subscriber counts, Moore said that Sprint has about 8.4 million prepaid subs, counting its Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile brands. He estimates that Virgin accounts for approximately 1 million of that. The biggest prepaid brand in the United States is Metro by T-Mobile with about 20 million subs followed by AT&T’s Cricket with 10 million subs and Straight Talk, a subsidiary of América Móvil, with about 9 million subscribers.

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