Toy Story Friday extends Disney’s classic franchise; NFLPA Plans to Change Fan Experience; Forever 21 debuts Ford line, faces challenges; MGA Is no longer interested in Mattel; Shark Week still has a bite; plus, other top brand, licensing and retail news.

Licensing, marketing and retail expert/opinion leader Tony Lisanti provides insight and perspective for the top headlines of the week. “Licensing and Merchandising Report” is a must read for top execs who want objective, straightforward and authoritative analysis for retailers, licensors and brands.

Target’s Big Commitment to Toy Story

With Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 4 making its theatrical debut on Friday June 21, major retailers are featuring a variety of licensed products from the popular franchise. Target has made a major commitment to Toy Story and will feature various in-store events that include interactive toy demos, giveaways, and snacks as well as exclusive products across major categories.

Target is offering numerous toys, party supplies, food and snacks, clothing and accessories, bedding and home décor. This is yet another example that theatrical partnerships are still strong and continue to drive traffic and sales for major retailers.

A highlight of Target’s Toy Story products is the Signature Collection from Thinkway. Target has positioned these products as a collector’s line that have higher price points up to $99.99 for the Bo Peep and Sheep.

NFLPA Plans to Change Fan Interaction

From the traditional entertainment licensing partnership with Toy Story to a new tech-driven approach to sports, The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and its OneTeam Collective athlete-driven accelerator have made a major commitment that will change the way fans interact.

The group’s partnership with ByteCubed Labs is described as “an advanced technology product development start-up that combines data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented/mixed reality.”

The content- and data-driven products being developed will focus on bridging the gap between players and fans. The company has plans to create distribution channels and engagement models for new forms of fan-player interaction, as well as transform athletic training across all elements of game-day preparation. Among the products being developed by ByteCubed Labs is a first-in-sports mixed reality training and fan interaction platform powered by AI.

“At ByteCubed Labs, we are paving the way for how data and sports can converge to reconfigure the way sports training is done, while bringing fans closer to the game,” said Ahmad Ishaq, founder of ByteCubed Labs. “Our strategic partnership with the NFLPA and the OneTeam Collective will extend the reach of our technology by providing a unique set of capabilities and content driven by professional athletes in a fashion the world has never seen.”

“Developing cutting-edge, player-driven fan experiences is what really excites us about this collaboration,” said Eric Winston, NFLPA president. “ByteCubed Lab’s approach to content through the use of mixed reality and artificial intelligence could be a game changer as it relates to fan engagement.”

Future consumer-facing applications of ByteCubed Labs technology products include mobile games, fantasy sports and event gamification. According to Troy Jones Jr., ByteCubed Labs Vice President of Business Development, “our partnership with the NFLPA and the OneTeam Collective ensures that the perspective of the player will be the foundation of the products we introduce to athletes and fans worldwide.”

In November of 2018, ByteCubed Labs was launched in partnership with Spectre Holdings and Enlightenment Capital. Their current client portfolio is comprised of college and professional football teams. The initial offering from ByteCubed Labs is PRE-GAME PREP, the world’s first holographic training platform for football.

ByteCubed Labs is the 10th portfolio company secured through the NFLPA’s OneTeam Collective. The partners currently within the OneTeam Collective portfolio span blockchain, wearables, voice recognition, digital media, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, health and wellness, active gaming, and live video streaming. Founding partners are: NFLPA, BlackRock, Harvard Innovation Lab, Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, CSM LeadDog, Madrona Venture Group and Sports Innovation Lab.

Forever 21 Debuts Ford Line, While Looking to Restructure

Following its release of USPS merchandise collection in March and this month’s debut of exclusive licensed products of Ford Motor Company through Global Icons, Forever 21 faces serious business issues that could eventually force the retailer into bankruptcy.

According to a WSJ report earlier this week, Forever 21 has hired restructuring advisers Latham & Watkins and Alvarez & Marsal advisers, to help renegotiate leases and overhaul operations, respectively. This is yet another example of a private, family-controlled retailer that arguably understands merchandising, brands, etc. but struggles with overall operations and profitability. There is no clear strategy for the future.

The company, which operates 815 stores in 57 countries, has been committed to licensed brands doing recent deals with Ford Motor Company and United States Postal Service, and Coca-Cola, LA Gear, MTV and Honda last year.

Quote of the Week: MGA’s Larian

There was another interesting turn to the recent MGA bid for Mattel, which was turned down. Earlier this week, MGA stated it “no longer has any interest merging with Mattel.” CEO and founder Isaac Larian, stated in a release:

“With close to $4 billion in debt at an average interest rate of 6.58% (as of March 2019), a staggering 42% in operating expenses, and a major legal liability for having sold a faulty Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper for years as multiple baby fatalities occurred, there is simply too much mess to clean up at Mattel.

“It is my opinion that Mattel cannot be salvaged at this point and most certainly not under the current, hostile board and management.”

Licensed Product of the Week: Mr. Peanut

Just prior to the NBA draft on Thursday, June 20, the Planters brand, part of Kraft-Heinz, and its character Mr. Peanut debuted its first-ever high-top sneaker called the Crunch Force 1. The limited-edition sneaker is a combination of premium leather, a Mr. Peanut shoe tongue, and peanut insole. Sneaker designers and artists Jeff Cole and Seth Fowler and Philadelphia-based sneaker manufacturer Rich Franklin teamed up with Mr. Peanut to produce the line.