Consumer Products

Did Disney Miss Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Baby Yoda Merchandise Sales?

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) has done so well under CEO Bob Iger and his team. By purchasing Marvel and Star Wars, the company effectively broadened its entertainment base to more generations in the United States and around the globe. Now Disney+ is taking direct aim at Netflix and Apple with its streaming media bundles. That makes it all very difficult to criticize Disney and its management. That does not mean that even the greatest management team in the world may have stepped over $100 bills to pick up pennies.

The new Star Wars series on Disney+, The Mandalorian, has received many accolades. It’s quite different from what we have seen in movies, and the action and feel of the cinematics are quite different. What seems to have taken on a culture of its own in The Mandalorian is the so-called Baby Yoda character. While this is of course not meant to (presumably) be Yoda’s offspring, that’s the name it gets.

There must have been a million tasks and chores going on behind the scenes getting The Mandalorian series up and running in time for the Disney+ launch. There is also, of course, the upcoming “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which is about to hit theaters as the conclusion of the Star Wars movies that have been set up over the past 40 years.

Again, it’s hard to pass any judgment on a team that has done so incredibly well. That said, it’s a wonder that Baby Yoda merchandise was not made ready ahead of the holidays, even if the company wanted Baby Yoda to be a total surprise. Yoda has been one of the most favored characters in the Star Wars universe.

The Mandalorian premiered in November and introduced a 50-year old green infant that has been called Baby Yoda ever since. In the middle of November, the chart on Google Trends shows that the search “Baby Yoda” went through the roof and hit a relative peak against all generic “Star Wars” terms on better than a 3:4 ratio when the Baby Yoda searches peaked. While Baby Yoda searches have backed off on Google Trends since that time, Google Trends showed the peak day of “Star Wars” as December 15 and “Baby Yoda” was still at a ratio of 3:10 that day. It’s all even more impressive when you start comparing Baby Yoda against terms such as “unemployment,” “stock market,” “recession,” and so on — even against “Taylor Swift” and “Kim Kardashian” searches on Google Trends.

Now let’s hit the official Shop Disney website. Shoppers can purchase tee shirts, coffee mugs, stickers and other printed materials featuring the so-called Baby Yoda. That should be expected considering, every print shop and print service can operate these with proper licenses. But the big miss here is in dolls and action figures.

All the official merchandise as pre-order options. The first “The Child Plush” doll by Mattel for $24.99 and subsequent dolls say the following:

We expect this item to be available by 04/01/2020. Pre-Order it now and you will be notified via email when it is ready to ship.

“The Child Super Sized Pop! Vinyl Bobble Head Figure” by Funko for $29.99 on preorder is not expected to be available until June 3, 2020, and is limited to one per guest.

After doing some random snippets here and there on the site, they noted that Baby Yoda is really called “The Child” but it is also “one of the galaxy’s most wanted!”

Again, there is no way to know just how much was just missed out on for merchandise sales. It’s not just the kids. Adults who are into collectibles are just as into new launches as kids, and they don’t have to ask mommy or daddy if they can have one.

Disney may have worried, and rightfully so, that it would give away a key portion of the surprise(s) if all these weird-looking Baby Yoda toys started to be passed around ahead of the launch of Disney+ and The Mandalorian. That said, consumers in the United States are expected to post very strong Christmas and holiday season sales across many categories and verticals. Perhaps with such a short window of time between the world getting introduced to “The Child” and the holidays, Disney lost out on only tens of millions of dollars in sales. It’s possible that the company may have even made up for it with related sales of the last of the core nine Star Wars films.

This was one of those category items that the company easily could have anticipated, and the leaking of a character may have only drummed up that much more interest. Now the only option for consumers to get them is to go to other unlicensed websites where Baby Yoda or “alien baby” merchandise can be sold, whether that’s legal and will result in suits and legal action is another issue to consider.

Before thinking that Disney blew it entirely here, note that the company will be fine and its shareholders have much to be optimistic about for the coming years. Disney sales were $55.1 billion in fiscal 2017 (September year-end) and rose to $59.4 billion in fiscal 2018 and hit $69.5 billion this year. The Refinitiv forecasts for the next two years are $81 billion and almost $87 billion, respectively.

Too many moving parts are going well to criticize a company of Disney’s caliber for one product among the hundreds of items in demand at any given time.

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