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From the Editor: What Happens in Vegas…

It’s arduous to consider that it’s already been every week for the reason that doorways to Licensing Expo 2024 opened at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. For 3 days (or longer, because of the appropriately-Vegas pre-show occasions and afterparties), executives from all corners of the patron merchandise area gathered on the intersection of bodily and digital merchandise, stay experiences, leisure, and life-style. By now, the mud has settled, and the thrill — or the managed chaos, as I prefer to say — is behind us till the following present.

Our group, together with myself, Jackie Breyer, Ali Mierzejewski, and Stephanie Infantino, coated a lot floor spanning dozens of conferences and gatherings whereas utilizing Sales space No. G234 as our residence base to sometimes regroup and refresh (should you left your contact data whereas we had been away, we might be in contact). We unveiled new problems with The Toy Book and The Pop Insider, and between Ali and myself, we racked up 9 TV appearances throughout 4 networks (large because of the Licensing Expo group for serving to us on the present flooring on Wednesday)!

The Toy Guide Editor-in-Chief/The Toy Insider Senior Editor James Zahn reveals off some scorching licensed toys on FOX 5 Las Vegas.

We are able to ponder and debate the explanations without end, however there isn’t a denying that one thing particular is going on with Licensing Expo. The present has turn out to be more and more toyetic lately, with this yr’s “Manufacturers at Play” theme leaning into the alternatives for inventive collaboration that await discovery round each nook — and galvanizing a feature within the newest subject of The Toy Guide

The Licensing Expo “campus,” which is anticipated to evolve and develop within the coming years, embraced the playful nature of the enterprise as toy and sport makers expanded their choices to permit guests to go hands-on with their merchandise. From the Hasbro Gaming lounge to the SEGA arcade and past, play was unavoidable. Maybe it’s taken the world just a few years to catch up, however I typically say that “enterprise ought to be enjoyable,” and a mirrored image of that may very well be seen in what was missing in abundance: fits. 

Positive, they’re nonetheless round (navy and grey are the favorites), however pour one out for the tie business, as I can’t recall seeing a single tie across the necks of my suit-wearing pals. Trend selections apart, the excitement on the ground was that Licensing Expo had returned to a pre-pandemic vibe akin to 2019, the final yr earlier than COVID-19* modified all the things. However was it the similar? I say this yr was even higher!

Left: The Funko Funcade may very well be coming quickly to a venue close to you; Proper: Hasbro Gaming’s life-size Operation

Shock. Inspiration. Appreciation.

Whereas some commerce reveals like Toy Truthful in New York or ASTRA Market & Academy (two of my favorites) really feel like household reunions, Licensing Expo takes issues to a complete new stage. As I’ve said about Toy Fair, our prolonged household consists of “the intense ones, the humorous ones, the wacky cousins, the children who don’t get alongside, the cool aunts and uncles, the infants, the elders, and the rock stars with the “hit” product or property of the second. At Licensing Expo you’ve all of that plus the second cousins, the third cousins, the buddies from the outdated neighborhood, and many others. It’s a celebration the place stuff will get achieved.

On the eve of the present, The Toy Affiliation shared the information that business vet Greg Ahearn (Mattel, Toys “R” Us) is joining the organization on June 1 as its President & CEO. Ahearn’s arrival was met with optimistic buzz amid day one chatter.

Throughout the present flooring and within the assembly rooms, the large shock this yr was the huge upswing in retail attendees, an element I consider we’ll be listening to extra about within the days forward.

Whereas retailers had been all the time current, shopping for groups had been out in pressure this yr making unannounced shock stops at many toy and sport firm cubicles. This elevated retail presence led to some off-the-record conversations with a few of my business contacts who agree with the drum that I’ve been slamming on since January: The toy retail expertise within the U.S. is in rough shape and must be fastened quick.

The way it’s gone thus far off the rails is a little bit of a thriller with no single reply, however the truth that worldwide retailers are nonetheless delivering huge statements and people oft-touted “shock and delight” experiences regularly ought to be a wake-up name for the home crowd.

And for these seeking to make these huge statements, inspiration was in all places.

Aligning with latest pattern stories — and the contents of our 2024 Licensing & Leisure Difficulty — gaming and anime stay poised to form leisure content material and client product licensing for a few years. 

Left: Paramount introduced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles van; Proper: SEGA gave Sonic the Hedgehog’s Shadow a “Fearless” trip

Licensing Worldwide dropped some topline data from its annual Global Licensing Industry Study revealing that anime, video video games, and social media properties accounted for 38% of licensing income within the $147.6 billion Leisure/Characters section. That information arrived alongside a number of recent licensing offers for properties in that section, together with WowWee x Uplift Games for Adopt Me! Fingerlings; Bonkers Toys x Invisible Narratives for Skibidi Toilet; Viz Media x McFarlane Toys for Bleach; and Jazwares x Scottgames for Five Nights at Freddy’s. And that’s only the start as extra offers might be revealed in time.

It’s straightforward to get caught up within the nonstop tempo of a schedule that spans early morning to late evening, however it’s essential to step again and soak up simply how a lot respect and appreciation is on show at Licensing Expo. It could be a enterprise primarily based on wheeling and dealing, however which means little with out the good folks fueling it — of us who actually admire each other and the contributions they make towards shared success. 

On that observe, I need to name out not solely the group at Informa Markets for placing collectively an amazing present but in addition the hardworking women and men contracted by the Mandalay Bay Conference Middle to make all of it occur. These unsung heroes work bizarre schedules to do the heavy lifting in constructing and tearing down the commerce reveals. Having labored numerous occasions in numerous cities, I’ve by no means encountered a extra optimistic group than the one in Las Vegas final week. Commerce reveals are essential however with out expert members of the trades — carpenters, electricians, and many others. — they might not exist.

*So about that saying, “What occurs in Vegas…”

We could also be just a few years faraway from the full-blown pandemic, however COVID-19 stays an actual risk. I returned residence to Illinois with a nasty case of the bug, my second bout following what I picked up at Toy Truthful Dallas again in 2022 (which was even worse). Sadly, I’m not alone on this as I’ve already heard from a number of contacts who’re additionally battling COVID-19 proper now.

That mentioned, one other optimistic take a look at this morning signifies that my plans to attend ASTRA Market & Academy in St. Louis this yr have been scrapped.

Whereas I received’t be there in individual, I might be there in spirit as The Toy Guide’s 2024 Specialty Toys & Items Difficulty debuts Sunday, June 2, 2024! Marissa Silva will attend in my place alongside James “JD” Devin and Thomas Stephen Jr. from our advertising group. Do you have to see the crew on the present flooring, you should definitely say hey and allow them to fill you in on all of the methods we are able to work collectively throughout The Toy Guide and its consumer-facing sister publications, The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider.

Keep secure. Keep wholesome. And keep on the #pulseofplay!

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