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Dec 12, 2017

What the Sports Business Can Learn from the Toy Business

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The New York Times published a fascinating article a couple days ago on WowWee Brand’s Fingerlings toy, one of the hottest toys of the holiday season. In it, I found several interesting lessons for the sports industry.

“For decades, there has always been a must-have holiday toy” - Last year, the Adidas Superstar was the must-have shoe. It was the first time in years that the top-selling shoe was not a Nike/Jordan product. In 2017, we do not have a “must-have shoe,” and sales and margins are suffering for it.

“The $84 billion global toy industry is struggling for the attention of children obsessed with smartphones and tablets. Global toy sales have been growing each year, but at a slower pace than video games” - The sports business has also struggled for the attention of today’s kids. There are many competitors for kids’ attention and parents’ money.

“The average life span of a toy fad is about eight months from its launch until it’s marked down.” “The life of an item is a little rockier” than it used to be, said Walmart’s VP of Toys. “We move as a country faster from one thing to the next” - In the sports industry we have seen fashion cycles become ever shorter. Brands and retailers must figure out new ways to bring products to market more quickly. The sports industry must be more responsive to changes in consumer interests and preferences.

“Cultivating the success of a hot toy carries its own risks, including managing supply…WowWee says it did not intentionally create the shortage. But whether by design or happenstance, there is no question that scarcity fuels a toy’s mystique. ‘The reality is that you are better off having some disappointed children this year in order to excite them next year’ ” - Much of the sports business was built on unrequited demand. That strategy has been abandoned, chasing higher revenues. We must get back to scarcity as a motivator for purchase.

“It’s like coming up with a hit movie or a hit song. If you see signs of success, you pour gas on it” - Brands and retailers must become more responsive to shifting tastes and the winds of fashion.  The sports industry has to figure out ways to “pour gas on” new trends and items. Micro-collaborations are not the answer.

“You know you can trust a toy company if its toys fart. It knows what kids want” - Two takeaways here: A sense of humor is essential in today’s market. More important, we’ve got to get back to knowing our customer.

“When the toy business is good, it is really fun. When it is bad, it is really bad” - Enough said there.

“Over the decades, the industry consolidated and retailers struggled. The rise of social media — where toys can be instantly validated or just as quickly panned — has raised the stakes for companies like WowWee. There are less shades of gray. You either fail or you succeed” - The sports industry must react better to the changing retail landscape and the methods in which we market our products.

“Walmart invited hundreds of children to a convention center to play with a range of new toys, including the Fingerling. Based on the children’s feedback, the retailer named the Fingerling one of its 25 top-rated toys for the holidays and purchased more monkeys” - Walmart and the toy brands understand the value of listening closely to your customer.

We sometimes act as if the sports industry exists in a vacuum.  As we can see from this article, there are lessons to be learned outside our industry; these are lessons we should be learning every day.



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