Hollywood tie-ins take Hasbro far
PAWTUCKET, R.I. - Hasbro has long enjoyed success on family game night, but the Rhode Island company is no longer content with playing to small audiences in living rooms. Its gone Hollywood, signing up Rihanna, Jay-Z, and other flashy partners to sell the big-budget movie version of its board game Battleship.
The films plot line - an epic sea battle between Navy forces and alien invaders - has little in common with the staid 45-year-old game. But that doesnt matter much to Hasbro. Battleship the movie already is doing strong business overseas in advance of its Friday US opening, and the company has more movie projects in the works. They include big-screen adaptations of Risk, Monopoly, Ouija, and even the childrens classic Candy Land.
Hasbro has hooked up with Hollywood before through blockbuster films based on its popular Transformers and G.I. Joe action figures. But this is the first time the Pawtucket toy manufacturer has produced a movie - along with Universal Pictures - and a line of products around the tamer fare of its board games.
Its a strategy that allows Hasbro to generate revenue from ticket sales and licensing partnerships, in addition to sales of games and toy characters. The payoff can be huge: The three Transformers films released since 2007, along with G.I. Joe, have earned more than $3 billion at the box office and $1.6 billion in retail sales.
Its an important move for Hasbros future - industrywide sales of licensed toys grew 6 percent since 2009, while overall toy sales fell 1 percent, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm in New York.
The first Transformers film showed how we brought consumers a whole new way to experience the Transformers brand, said Brian Goldner, Hasbros chief executive. Once the first film was made and we proved our brands could play on the big screen, we knew that we could translate that success in other brands.
Battleship, which cost $209 million and stars singer Rihanna and actor Taylor Kitsch, opened in April at the number one spot in 37 markets around the world, taking in more than $215 million globally. A massive marketing machine has shifted into gear to hype its domestic release. Hasbro, eager to capture a young-adult audience, has signed licensing deals with Jay-Zs urban clothing line, Rocawear; gaming company Activision; and publisher Random House. Universal, meanwhile, has national partnerships with Coke Zero, Subway, Kraft, and the Navy.
Jameel Spencer, a Rocawear spokesman, said collaborating with Hasbro was appealing because of the nostalgia surrounding the naval combat game that dates to 1967.
The creative team instantly referenced our various memories growing up playing the board game and the iconic line from the commercial, You sank my battleship, Spencer said. We were intrigued by the notion of taking this historic board game and making it into a box office worthy cinematic piece of art today.
Hasbro, the second-largest toy company in the United States, is also capitalizing on nostalgia in its merchandise line for Battleship. Visitors to Hasbros Pawtucket headquarters walk from the lobby into a naval seafaring vortex of sorts where all things Battleship are on display in a room that resembles the inside of - you got it - a battleship. It features the companys new line of construction toys (think Legos), allowing fans to recreate the USS Missouri for $69.99, or an Alien Strike set for $29.99.
The basic board game, which involves calling out letters and numbers to try to sink an opponents ships, has undergone a glitzy makeover with deluxe versions that boast fancy lights and sounds. Hasbro has also unveiled Battleship zAPPed, in which players purchase game pieces and download a free app that turns their iPad screen into a playing surface that recognizes the ship pawns.
Its a way to elevate Battleship beyond what its historically been - a great but simple naval board game, said Ted Riedel, senior director of marketing for Hasbros boys gaming. Its really the start of a franchise being born.
Toy makers see opportunity in films because licensed toy sales for brands such as Cars and Star Wars offer major growth potential, according to toy analysts. Adrienne Appell of the Toy Industry Association, said companies can earn substantial money by selling licenses for the use of a character or brand they own. For example, Rocawear is paying Hasbro for the right to use Battleship in its clothing line.
Hasbro, which has 1,400 employees in Pawtucket, has been trying to build itself into an entertainment powerhouse. Three years ago, it opened Hasbro Studios in Los Angeles and a year later it launched HUB TV, a cable and satellite television network that is available in more than 64 million US households and features shows like Transformers Prime and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Hasbro said it is committed to turning toys and games into movie stars as the company tries to increase revenues in an increasingly competitive environment. The toy maker last month reported a $2.6 million loss for the first quarter, compared with a $17.2 million profit during the same period last year.
But the future is looking up with the Battleship blitz underway. Adam Sandler recently agreed to work with Columbia Pictures to write and star in Candy Land - which he will coproduce with Hasbro. Will Smith and James Lassiter are producing Risk and Michael Bay is producing Ouija to be released next year.
But there are no Hollywood plans for another Hasbro standby - Mr. Potato Head. So far, the companys official spokes-spud (who celebrates his 60th birthday this year) is being relegated to small supporting roles. Two new versions of Mr. Potato Head - The Amazing Spider-Man Spider Spud and Star Wars Darth Tater - are being rolled out in time for the feature film releases of The Amazing Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace in 3-D.