Earlier this year OYO Sports made a big splash by launching their line of NHL minifigure toys, which is comprised of several players from all 30 teams (plus a few Winter Olympic team variants as well). As of this writing there are over 200 players available, each with their own name, number, and likeness.
It’s quite an impressive debut in a short space of time, but it’s seemingly routine for OYO, having already launched extensive minifigure lines for the MLB and NFL since the company’s inception in the fall of 2011. They are clearly just getting started with the NHL.
I had the chance to talk with Mike Ewing, the Chief Marketing Officer for OYO Sports. We talked about his company and the new NHL line:
Before OYO hit the scene, the available options for sports collectibles were mostly of the static variety (sports cards, figurines, and bobbleheads – okay a bit of movement). Your company provides toys based on pro athletes that people can actually play with, not just look at. Why do you think it’s taken so long for such a product line to materialize?
Great question. It could be because collectibles typically appeal to an audience that is beyond the age of “play.” We approach the marketplace with the collector in mind, but engineer our products to appeal to the kid in all fans. That means you have to imagine laying on the basement floor recreating their favorite moments with their favorite player on their favorite team. All those require movement and the ability to play.
You almost doubled the articulation of a typical brick-based minifigure to help emulate real athletes. What were the challenges in adding so many joints to such a small figure?
We’re big fans of authenticity – and you can’t have authentic movement without the additional movement points on an OYO. Among the many challenges that it presents is the addition of parts. By adding bendable knees and rotatable forearms our figures are able to grip a bat, throw a ball or run – but we have twice as many parts as other minifigures. It’s a challenge, but the authenticity is worth it.
The packages for OYO figures are brilliant, because they’re functional cases that also display well on the shelf (like books or movies). Can you talk about how you arrived at this approach?
It’s important for our figures to be able to live and thrive in a number of different environments. Sealed in the package for the die-hard collector. On the desk or shelf for the true fan of the player and in the block bin for the kid who loves that team. We determined that a plastic case solves all three pretty well.
A decade ago LEGO launched a pro sports line, and even acquired NBA and NHL licenses (but no player licenses). These products only lasted only a few years (2003 – 2004). How influential – if at all – was Lego’s brief stint with pro sports for your company?
We’re always looking to learn our own lessons as well as learning from others. I believe the most important lesson we learned from that situation is that it’s hard to apply traditional models of doing business to the ever changing world of sports. We’re able to go 10-deep down the bench in the sports we work with not because we’re producing with long lead-times in cheap manufacturing environments, but because we’re engineering the company to be able to respond to real-time and hot market trends by producing close to home and just in time to satisfy the demand.
Your company is based in Acton, Mass., and you guys are clearly pro-Boston. Are there any funny or interesting workplace situations that arise due to making toys for rivals like the New York Yankees (or other cities/teams)?
We are a Boston shop, that’s true, and a lot of the fans in the office fall in line with Bruins, Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics. That said, you’d be surprised how many folks in a sports crazed workplace line up with other teams from other parts of the country! We’ve got our share of Yankees fans. This year it did make for an interesting Stanley Cup bracket around the office – I can tell you that no-one picked the Kings, and we have one left alive in the brackets hoping for a Rangers win!
How are players selected for sale? Any worries about players being potentially traded?
We select players based on who is performing, both on the field/ice and with our retail partners. At the beginning of a season we’ll build out the top 4-10 players based on previous trends and start the season with those players. When a player starts to perform (or has a particularly awesome game), we might talk about adding them. We usually act on that when someone truly stands out.
As an example when Matt Fraser made his playoff debut for the Bruins and scored the game winner against Montreal we rushed him through the approvals process and were able to sell him three days later! When a player is traded it’s not a dark day – we see that as one of the awesome things about sports – it’s always changing and we’re ready to put that player into his new gear and get him out there for new fans and old fans alike!
What was the design process for making a minifigure for hockey?
One of the interesting challenges with hockey was how to make movement authentic, how do we make skates that work – and eventually a playing surface that allows for high-quality play. We think we’ve solved it pretty well by giving OYO hockey minifigures gloves instead of hands and making the skates work in the feet not over them. Next we’ll solve for the ice surface, goals and boards and give the real play a chance to work well!
What does the future hold for the NHL line?
Recently we launched Zamboni’s and are now shipping to Canada we’re really excited by the response from fans. You can look for more versions of the Zamboni by the time the next season starts (team specific). There’s been a lot of talk about goalies – and we can’t wait until we’re able to offer this addition to the hockey line. We wanted to get it right, be authentic and deliver an awesome product. We’re looking forward to welcoming goalies to the line-up in time for the next season and perfectly timed as a holiday gift for your favorite hockey fan.
And that concludes the interview! I’d like to thank Mike and OYO Sports for letting me geek-out over hockey toys.