In light of the recent 3 3/4 Green Lantern movie figures hitting retail, some discussion has begun about Mattel’s usage and potential loss of the DC Universe license. This article is by no means intended to instigate or perpetuate the idea that Mattel is in trouble of losing the DC license. However, it’s purely an examination of what could happen and perhaps why it could happen.

First and foremost, it was the 3 3/4 Green Lantern toys that brought this to my attention. The reason was surprisingly simple and yet layered with levels of complexity. I had seen the toys before, but never really examined them much. Upon noticing them at a Target, in a very small section, I wondered if perhaps I might pick a couple up. The first thing that alarmed me was the high price, at around $8. This was particularly disappointing after seeing the new price hikes on JLU figures taking them to $20 for a 3 pack. Second, I noticed that the figures sported only a paltry half dozen or so points of articulation. Admittedly, the Movie Masters line has tons of articulation, but I was confused as to why the 3 3/4 line does not have that same sort of care.

Ultimately as I strolled around the toy aisle, I realized that Mattel had arguably the smallest presence of any movie line and altogether had the smallest presence in the boys aisle. Despite the depth of the DC license and the fact they have a big movie launching this summer (Green Lantern), the rollout was weak. This was at Target, Mattel’s biggest retail supporter, no less! The articulation issue seemed to be icing on the cake, as if only marginal effort was put into a line that in theory should have had massive support. I was not alone in my sentiment that Mattel seemed to have missed an opportunity here.

Rumor has it that Mattel’s DC license runs up in 2012 and I began to wonder, will someone else try to take it? If I was unhappy with Mattel’s rollout for Green Lantern, is DC happy with Mattel’s current product?

I can’t pretend to know everything that DC comics looks for in it’s product. I have no idea if they’re more interested in having a certain type of product or if they have a scale or distribution preference. However, I do think it’s fair to speculate that one of the key criteria for any company would be brand recognition. What can Mattel do, that makes DC characters and products more viable in the marketplace. We can examine that in simple terms and see if there are other toy companies out there that might potentially be better at fulfilling those needs.

Mattel has seemingly been plagued with issues of distribution, tooling, price and quality. On the flip side, Mattel has delivered largely unparallel character selection, sculpting and collector appeal. However, which would be more important to DC?

Immediately everyone thinks of what would Hasbro do with the DC license? Many will also point to various failures that Hasbro seemed to have with the DC line during their run at it in the 1990’s. However, it is important to note that Hasbro never had the expansive license that Mattel currently has.

Here are a few other key facts to keep in mind:

In the early 1980’s Kenner was able to beat out the much larger Mattel in a bidding war for DC characters because Kenner was more willing to put dollars and tooling into a new DC line.

Although Hasbro inherited the DC license from Kenner when the two companies merged, Hasbro never did much with the license. The “Kenner” wing still mostly controlled the releases for most of Hasbro’s run with the license. In fact it was Hasbro that relinquished the DC license when they felt essentially that they had sold the extent of the Batman and Superman figures that there were to sell.

DC has in the past licensed parts of the DC brand out to different owners. In the mid 90’s, Mattel actually had the rights to Wonder Woman, while Hasbro had Batman, Superman and some others. DC has also licensed it’s characters out to it’s own DC Direct as well.

So let’s just for the sake of argument, rule Hasbro out. While I’m certain that they do in fact see some benefit to the DC licenses, let’s just pretend that they aren’t interested. So are there toy companies out there in a supposed shrinking toy market, who would like to have the DC license? Meet the contenders!

1. Jakks Pacific – Largely known for their WWE toys and large share of the toy market as a result (until they lost it to Mattel), this company has been very aggressive in it’s boys branding. When Jakks lost the WWE, they licensed TNA as well as NWA to produce wrestling figures. Jakks may also have an ax to grind, as they perhaps feel that Mattel essentially stole their bread and butter in the WWE. Likewise, Jakks has shown some determination to remain a presence in the toy aisle, with their Pirates of the Caribbean toys taking up a large chunk of most toy aisles across the country. Jakks has given Pirates an immense rollout, not only in 6 inch and 3 3/4 inch figures, but with roleplay toys, vehicles, playsets and games. Jakks also knows the collector market, having a lot of experience in their WWE and UFC lines, catering to adult audiences.

2. Spinmasters – Although they’ve been around for years, it’s been quite some time since Spinmasters tried to make a splash. It seems unlikely that they would try to tackle a line as expansive as the DC universe, but their recent Tron toys did receive some praise. They also provided a much larger rollout of toys for Tron in comparison to Mattel’s current efforts with Green Lantern. Spinmasters Bakugan, Tech Deck and Mighty Beanz have also inched out their own slices of the boys aisles. Spinmasters could see the DCU as a chance to play with the big boys.

3. Jazwares – One of the most aggressive players in the boys toy market today is Jazwares. Although Jazwares has found mixed success, one cannot deny their intensity for attempting to move in the marketplace. Jazwares controls very little of the total market however, as their toys are routinely only found in specialty stores and Toys R Us locations. Jazwares hoped to make some inroads with their A-Team line, but had very limited success based on a cavalcade of problems, including the license and toys themselves. One thing that makes Jazwares a likely candidate is their knowledge of the collector market and their willingness to shell out cash to have characters tooled from scratch. Jazwares has also procured several potential big licenses, with Mega Man, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter on the shelves or in the works. They could see the DC license as the tent pole that would put them in Target and Walmarts across the country.

4. Bandai – Japan’s largest toy manufacturer is constantly carving away at the American toy market as well. Bandai already has had huge success with their Ben 10 and Power Rangers toy lines. The former of which, still takes a huge chunk of the boys aisles today and remains one of the most innovative and consistently growing toy lines of it’s era. Bandai recently snatched the Thundercats license up as well. That license has long been rumored nearly impossible to get and also one that was on Mattel’s radar. Bandai’s successes or failures with Thundercats could be a good indicator on their hunger for a larger slice of the boy’s toy market.

5. Playmates – Arguably the trendsetter in the 1990’s, Playmates has taken a backseat role in recent toy wars. Although Playmates attempted a coup a couple of years back with expansive rollouts for both Star Trek and Terminator, neither line proved particularly successful. What’s important to note is that Playmates spent a lot of money and time in procuring those licenses. Playmates also has much more experience than some of the other contenders and with the Ninja Turtles set to have a massive relaunch in 2012, have potential for being a real showstopper in the marketplace. What they do with the Turtles could be the barometer for what potential a DC license under their branding could hold. Playmates has never had a license like DC comics, but no doubt has had their eye on it a few times in the past.

Other Less Likely Contenders:
Mezco – Although Mezco is tiny by comparison, they have shown some interest in the DC line. DC Comics may be willing to work with Mezco, as they have with their Mez-Its and look to expand upon that. Mezco has shown some serious interest in moving further into the toy aisle, with it’s Hellboy licensing mainstream attempt. The real question for Mezco would be if they have enough capital to do a big rollout for the DC license and if DC would be willing to take that risk.

NECA – Although NECA has continued to expand in the toy aisles, they have made little if any effort to step out of the collectibles range. However they have hinted at the desire to expand their sales potential. One thing that NECA has shown an adept ability to do is to target collectors and to profit from licenses that are non-traditional. NECA reaped the benefits of licenses like Twilight and very well could see a chance to break into that next level with the DC universe. Again, it’s a matter of money and ability to put toys into aisles that make NECA a less likely candidate.

McFarlane – Could Todd McFarlane’s toy division be like a phoenix rising from the ashes? Few other toy companies on this list have risen and fallen as far as McFarlane. Although McFarlane largely shut down a huge portion of it’s toy division, they have the knowledge and ability to produce the DC comics line perhaps better than anyone else. With experience not only as a mainstream toy line producer, but also with collectibles, comic marketing and brand awareness. The big question for McFarlane is if they have a passion to make a grab at becoming a industry leader again.

MGA – The most unlikely candidate, MGA is known for it’s Bratz dolls. While MGA has made very few attempts to get penetration into the boy’s toy market, a recent victory over Mattel in a long-standing legal battle could be the catalyst to do so. Let’s face it, this is a very unlikely choice. However, what would be a better slice of revenge than to try and usurp Mattel’s second biggest boy toy line?

So there you have it… A look at the field of potential candidates and some reasoning as to why they might want the DC license and why DC comics might select them over Mattel. One thing to note is that DC would likely be leery to give up their license during a movie year, in fear that a new toy company would not be able to meet the demand in time. In addition, Mattel has plenty of fringe benefits such as an association with Fisher-Price and Barbie that have unique crossover ability that few other toy companies can match. Still, it’s something to ponder and put on your “what if” caps.

Do you think Mattel is doing a good job with the DC license, when all things are considered? Do you feel as though the Green Lantern movie line is getting a comparable rollout of toys to other movie properties? Would you like to see another toy company get a shot at the DC license and if so, who and why? Let us know!

31 Responses to Could Mattel Lose The DC License? And To Whom?

  • Joseph Tages says:

    It would be great to see Marvel and DC under the same toy company's wings. That hasn't happened since the Mego era of the 1970's. As for Mattel, I gotta say that anything without the Four Horsemen's involvement behind it has pretty much sucked. Infinite Heroes should have been Mattel's answer to Hasbro's Marvel Universe, but Mattel didn't know where to go with it at all. Between this, the GL movie merch, and DCUC's terrible lack of availability at retail, it wouldn't surprise me to see the DC license move on elsewhere.

  • I would also not ignore the fact that with the license up for grabs next year, they could concievable do something with the 12" US market, like with Sideshow. That's my prediction…

  • I could definitely see that. Mattel seems to be dipping their toes into that water, but obviously Sideshow would be able to do so much more. I have to wondr if perhaps DC wouldn't go the route of having several companies license out their toys. Sideshow/Mezco combination, perhaps? Could be interesting.

  • Mattel has been snagging more and more licenses themselves. I have to wonder if DC doesn't feel like they're kind of getting put on the backburner. All the more reason to look at the other options out there. I guess it really depends on what DC is looking for or if they're even monitoring the trends that much.

    If one company could have both licenses at the same time though, man it would open up a wealth of opportunities. Assuming the respective comic companies would play ball.

  • wesitron says:

    My hypothesis is that Mattel will pay out the ass to retain the license and drive the single packed figures into the 18 dollar range to make it up, alienating collectors for maybe a year or two before DCUC dies completely.

    According to hasbrotoyshop.com, the 6" Iron Man Armored Avenger series is about 10.99 a head and is licensed by Marvel. I would love to see DC in the hands of Hasbro and have superarticulated and cheaper toys. Barring Hasbro, I'm keeping my eye on Jazwares this year. They have a lot of potential to come out on the strong side of collectibles and if they succeed they'll be skating a fine line between Mezco/NECA and Hasbro/Mattel. Should be interesting

  • poeghostal says:

    At this point, I'd rather Mezco not get the license. They've been cursed ever since the failure(?) of their comic Hellboy line. Look at the run of licenses and mediocre product since then–Heroes, the Spirit, the Wolf Man, Kick Ass, Green Hornet. All second-tier (or third-tier) licenses, all mediocre toys.

    Comic Hellboy was half a decade ago. Mezco's only been moving backward since then.

    As for the DC license…at this point, if Mattel lost the license, I'd rather it went to Hasbro than anyone else, if only because we might get a great 3 3/4" DC line out of it. Barring Hasbro (because who knows, maybe Marvel would have issues about having the same company own both major comics licenses), my next pick might be Jazwares, who are really pushing to improve with their MK and SF stuff.

  • The Blot says:

    If I had to pick, and assuming Hasbro is out of the running, I'd love to see the DC license go to Jakks Pacific. I think they'd do an amazing job with DC's huge library of characters considering the amazing job they did with the WWE. Their tooling and packaging was excellent! Just think of all the random wrestlers that got figures during Jakks' run. Never in a million years did I think we'd see modern day figures of the Killer Bs!

  • poeghostal says:

    Hasbro's prices on their own site are sometimes quite different than those at retail. Those same IM figures cost $15-$18 in stores. And don't think Hasbro should go online-only, because then the production numbers would go way down and the prices would go way up, a la MOTUC.

  • CompyRex says:

    I'm not going to lie, I bought two 3 3/4" Green Lantern figures and they're pretty cool. Still, the price and lack of articulation is unacceptable.

  • DEADPOOLISTHEMAN316 says:

    I don't want Mattel to lose the DC license overall, especially not on DCUC b/c I still have teams that need completing and I love the overall look/consistency that the Horsemen bring to the line. But Mattel does need a swift kick in the a$$ b/c their other DC properties have little care put into them. There's no reason why their 4" line cannot have the same amount of sculpt and articulations as Hasbro puts into MU. Their 12" Superman Movie Masters line was so subpar. Another reason why I feel anything involving Movie Masters/ collector figures should be done by the Horseman. Maybe giving exclusivity rights to certain things like 12" line to sideshow, 4" line to Jakks could be the wake up call Mattel needs. Just take away a few things and see them 'change' the way the attack the remaining lines they have access to

  • wesitron says:

    Not at all. I'm not a fan of the MOTUC situation one bit. I used the IM as an example of a 6" because it's really the only thing in that scale on the market right now. I've only seen them at TRU for 18 bucks, but the site had them for 11. I don't know what the MSRP is for them, I just know the site usually has the same prices as most stores. Still, the exclusive IM at Wlmart right now is only 12 or 13, which is cheaper than any DCUC AND an exclusive.

    I would just like to know what it is about the DCUC brand that costs so much money that prices have been constantly going up for the past several years, because it sure ain't tooling.

    Still, you're right about Hasbro needing to keep out of the online-only business, I wouldn't ever wish for another mattycollector in the world.

  • Mark says:

    DC figures done in the style of MU/ML by Hasbro would be better than anything Mattel has/could produce with or without he Horsemen. I say this because of Mattel's tooling excuse and wanting the standard buck used for every figure. The Horsemens' talents are wasted at Mattel. I mean aside from the MOTU200X figures they are not even letting them work on a worldwide mass produced toyline.

  • Good point. I sort of see this as a chance for Mezco to break out of that trend, though. In my hypothetical scenario, Mezco would be looking to exploit the DC license so they can get back to making good toys again. As opposed to the half hearted stuff they've been doing, as of late.

  • I think the real test will be to see what Hasbro's new Marvel Legends end up for at retail. All of these Hasbro 6 inch projects thus far tend to be exclusives in one way or another.

  • wesitron says:

    Agreed. Here's hoping they're cheap! 🙂

  • Iron Man figures are 20.99 at the times square store. I know that store is a little more expensive, but a whole 10 dollars?!

  • Russ says:

    didn't parents say the same thing about Star Wars figures back in the late '70s/early '80s?

  • I think the difference is that these 3 3/4 figures from Mattel came out in 2011 and have nearly the same articulation as those Star Wars figures in the 70's, but cost about 4 times the price.

  • That's an interesting scenario. Where Mattel loses the master license, but retains rights to do certain scales of figures.

    Honestly, I would think that Mattel's failure in both movie lines and TV show lines would be a big issue. Brave and The Bold should have been a big hit. The Batman did pretty good, but Brave & Bold figures bombed prett much right out the gate. Of course they did keep JLU on the shelves for years, but they haven't really been able to capitalize on other DC media. DC has already chosen DC direct several times to do tie-in figures for DVDs and such. I wonder if we couldn't see a situation like that where things were split up.

    Of course, for all I know DC could be tickled pink with Mattel.

  • clark says:

    You can rely on Hasbro's website to represent MSRP. Since companies like Mattel and Hasbro make money from stores buying their products, they would not set MSRP at $17.99, and turn around and offer it on their website for 39% less than what stores are capable of. That means they would constantly be a competitor for their supporters, a competitor that can always undersell them. If they did that stores would then stop buying their products. Toys R Us just marks everything up.

  • Wes GRogan says:

    I highly doubt they will lose the license outright, but DCUC is dying quickly, at least compared to how much money they COULD be making on it. Hell, if I can't find it, that sure makes it hard for me to spend money on it. And when I DO actually manage to find it, the price keeps me from buying any of them, much less one. Especially when I know that I already own 90% of the figure ten times over. They gotta change it up, get some unique tooling, and somehow make it actually worth the money to buy. As it is, the C&C is obnoxiously impossible to complete, the figures themselves are difficult to find, and they come with almost zero accessories. Yeah, that's a great line to me.

  • The scary part is that you could multiply that statement and basically apply it to all of Mattel's DC lines.

    JLU? Absolutely.

    Retro-Action? Yup.

    B&TB? Yes.

    DCIH? Dead for reasons listed above.

    Movie Masters? Dead for reasons listed above.

    That leaves what exactly representing the DC branding from Mattel? The Action League, I suppose. Even then you could make a case.

  • Mattel has pretty much let the license go already with their poor handling of BatB and Young Justice. As the article states, there's no DC product on the shelf (other than the new GL line) and hasn't been for months. Remember, this isn't Mattel's decision to keep the line, it's WB's to let them have it. And I doubt WB is really all that amused by how Mattel has been squandering things.

    Let's also not forget another big factor in all this – the Hobbit. WB is probably going to want the same company handling the movie toys for that, but whether that plays into Mattel's favor or against them remains to be seen.

  • Mark says:

    I hope The Hobbit toys are made by Hasbro or Jakks or any company except Mattel.

    Also since no one else has metioned it, that Matty picture is brilliant LOL.

  • Yikes!

  • Mr. Yuck says:

    I really hope Mattel doesn't lose the licsence. Putting aside my gripes about some of the QC issues (that damn dynamic poses keeps warping the limbs) I really do love this line. Frankly, I don't want anyone but the Horseman sculpting these figures. They are a phenomenal talent, and you can see the passion they have for these characters in their work.

  • toe says:

    I'd wait a few more years for it to slip to Hasbro once they lose the Marvel one. Then we can wait for them to remake all the core DC characters again. So by 2023, you can expect some B-listers to be made without QC problems! Until that time, plenty cursin' and hatin' to be had!

    LET THE COUNTDOWN BEGIN

  • jerry says:

    ill give Mattel a couple of solid years, like, 2011 and 2012…….all the previous comments have shed most of the problems that make Mattel an unlikely suitor for a renewal come 2012…my guess is somebody else will bring a killer presentation…and….just don't count Hasbro out the run just yet…..I believe they learned from heirmistakes w DC in the past…just look how aggressively they've done with Marvel Universe…….maybe redemption is at the turn of the corner.

  • jerry says:

    And all of you guys have pointed out all the troubles that Mattel has brought upon themselves….by their own hand no less….. they should stop making sorry (or unbelievable) excuses for their poor marketing and production values….arguably one of the best toy lines out there but with a rather mediocre planning and execution.

  • demoncat4 says:

    if by some chance Mattel loses the dc license. would love to see either jaks or side show take a crack at it or all three share the license. Jacks doing 6 inch. side show the twelve inch market or neca go for just the collectors market and jacks handle retail. for hasbro when they had the license just did batman and superman and their cast or would say like if so and so showed up on the cartoon they could get a figure. though marvel and dc being under the same toy company again would be interesting espically a new dc 3&3/4 line again

  • brian says:

    like to see playmates or mcfarlane get it remember the great star trek figures by playmates
    and spawn figures by mcfarlane

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