INTERNATIONAL - The force wasn’t with Hasbro Inc. during its latest Star Wars merchandising push.
Chief Executive Officer Brian Goldner says the company made an error by releasing toys too far ahead of the franchise’s most recent movie, “The Last Jedi.” That contributed to disappointing sales of the products during the holidays -- a season that was already hurt by the bankruptcy of Toys “R” Us Inc.
“The fact that we began to merchandise the film in September and the film came out in December was just too long a period of time to sustain retail interest,” Goldner, 54, said in an interview. It didn’t help that lots of other toys were hitting around the same time, he said, “with an array of entertainment initiatives coming to market.”
With “The Last Jedi” rollout, Hasbro and Walt Disney Co. had hoped to duplicate the success of 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” In both cases, they debuted toys in September -- about three months before the movie reached theaters.
But when “The Force Awakens” came out, there was pent-up demand for all things Star Wars. It was the first film in a new trilogy, and fans lined up at midnight to snag action figures and lightsabers.
That strategy backfired in 2017 for “The Last Jedi,” the eighth episode in the saga. Hardcore fans still came out in September, but the momentum quickly faded. Sales of Star Wars toys unexpectedly declined last year.
Hasbro’s overall revenue fell 2 percent in the fourth quarter, and its shares have lost 7.8 percent of their value this year.
Hasbro isn’t the only company that had a tough holiday season. Mattel Inc. saw sales plummet 12 percent in the fourth quarter -- with girls’ toys, other than Barbie, performing especially badly.
The Star Wars slump has fed the idea that consumers are suffering from broader franchise fatigue, brought on by too many movie sequels, spinoffs and reboots. There were more than 20 such movies last year, and more planned for 2018. But Hasbro says good storytelling -- like Marvel’s “Black Panther” -- still can draw huge audiences.
Hasbro has another chance to reignite Star Wars buzz in the coming weeks. Merchandise for “Solo: A Star Wars Story” will roll out in early April. The movie comes out the following month, on May 25.