As entertainment licensors create experiential extensions of their properties, such as theme park attractions, stage plays, and exhibitions, it is standard practice to create merchandise dedicated to the special event, to be sold at the venue as well as in the licensor’s and sometimes the licensee’s proprietary online and retail channels.
For the biggest licensors, the product arrays are getting more and more extensive. They are heavily promoted as an enticement for fans to visit the venues and they represent another opportunity to create exposure for the broader property. Existing franchise licensees often create the merchandise tied to the spin-offs, rather than it being sourced by the experiential licensee or the licensor, as has been traditional for commemorative souvenirs. In some cases, event tie-in products are even starting to find their way into general retail channels.
Recent, high-profile examples include:
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the new attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, which is set in a village called Black Spire Outpost on the remote planet of Batuu. Characters and locations that have made brief appearances in Star Wars books and films over time are being further developed in this world, and may eventually end up in other media and entertainment venues in the future as part of the greater Star Wars canon. Merchandise includes many in-world items that the most knowledgeable fans will appreciate but that also appeal to casual fans. Examples range from apparel to lightsabers to build-your-own droids, sold in shops such as Black Spire Outfitters, Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, the Toydarian Toymaker, and Savi’s Workshop. A few of the products, such as an in-world cookbook from Insight Editions, among other book titles, are sold in mainstream as well as dedicated retail channels.
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, consisting of attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Hollywood, as well as a Universal park in Japan. It features stores such as Ollivanders Wand Shop that sell many new and exclusive items based on the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films, and the world where both take place. Since the opening of the first attraction in 2010, the Wizarding World brand has made its way to general retail and e-commerce outlets as an umbrella for a variety of items inspired by the universe of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts. Examples range from Loot Crate’s Wizarding World subscription box and Eaglemoss’s Wizarding World Figurine Collection to puzzles, socks, and more. A mall in Sandy, Utah, offered a branded Christmas in the Wizarding World experience in 2017 and 2018, produced by GES, the licensee for Harry Potter: The Exhibition, mirroring a similar event that takes place at the parks.
- Disney’s Mickey: The True Original Exhibition, held in New York starting in November 2018 as part of the character’s 90th anniversary celebration. Consumers could peruse a wide selection of themed merchandise in the on-site Mickey’s Maker Shop. Products included branded items available throughout the experience’s three-month run, such as exhibition-logoed mouse ear hats, t-shirts, notebooks, and high-end collectibles—some of which could be customized at the shop—as well as periodic drops of new, “True Original” capsule collections on select Saturday mornings. The latter were offered in partnership with brands such as New Era, Vault by Vans, Sugarfina, Taschen, Polaroid, and Rag & Bone. (Employees working the exhibition wore Rag & Bone’s collection.) Event sponsors including Beats and Google Home also released branded merchandise tied to the event.
While these multifaceted initiatives come from the world’s largest licensors, they reflect trends affecting all companies working in the entertainment/character space. Licensors of all sizes are creating experiential spin-offs to give customers a more intimate relationship with their properties, and are using the efforts to create fresh new merchandise, often of the in-world variety. The items are, increasingly, not just for those who attend the event but for fans across the spectrum. And these experiential extensions can serve as a launch point for new characters or other elements that can then be integrated back into the broader world surrounding the property.
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