London 2012: How the toy market is going for gold
- 25 January 2012
- From the section Business
Later this year, youngsters will be cheering on their heroes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games - but will they be recreating those golden moments at home?
Some toy manufacturers have spent significant sums on an official London 2012 licence as they strive for their own golden summer.
The annual Toy Fair trade show provides a shop window for some of the Olympic-linked toys and games can we expect to see on the shelves.
Yet it seems that many of those on show are collectables, rather than a toy version of the sports themselves.
Figures suggest that UK toy sales increased by 3% in 2011, compared with the previous year, to reach a total market value of £2.96bn.
Roland Earl, director general of the British Toy and Hobby Association, says that the "excitement and buzz" of the summer of sport and celebration has been seized upon by manufacturers.
The advantage for these businesses is that - unlike major football tournaments - the domestic teams cannot be knocked out in the early stages of the Olympic Games.
Many manufacturers expect to see Olympic products in the shop window from the start of the torch relay through to next Christmas.
"There will be an after-effect that you do not get with football. The Olympians will be heroes for some time," says Jez Fraser-Hook, UK director of toy industry analysts NPD.
He says the industry will be hoping for the good weather which came at the time of the Royal wedding, which prompted a spike in consumer confidence.
This year, of course, features a Diamond Jubilee, rather than a wedding - but a chess set featuring the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and the turrets of Windsor Castle is already on the market.
During the Olympic Games, all eyes in the host nation will be trained on the velodrome in the hope of a series of gold medals.
As a result, Hornby have created the Scalextric Velodrome, where two players can race the Team GB cyclists around a banked track. The £69.99 game is one of relatively few that recreate the sports themselves.
Hornby, like many others, has thrown itself into the collectables market with figurines for 30 Olympic and Paralympic sports, and keyrings of scenes that typify London, such as the capital's red buses.
"We fully expect visitors to want to go away with souvenirs," says sales and marketing director Nathaniel Southworth.
Another variation on a traditional theme is the Olympic Games edition of Monopoly, complete with a phone box to designate a player instead of a top hat, and the Olympic stadium to build instead of hotels.
For those just wishing to get away from it all, their children may not let them by bringing their Team GB Trunki - a ride-on suitcase for toddlers branded with the host nation's logo.
All these items are licensed, which means they can carry the London 2012 logo. The organisers are aiming to protect the commercial value of the London 2012 brand, in order to recoup some of their costs from sponsors.
Manufacturers consider the investment a sound one, given the widespread coverage and profile of the Games this summer.
This view is shared by Golden Bear - which manufactures the toy versions of the Games mascots
Chairman John Hales hopes that the mementoes of the rare experience of hosting the Games will appeal to young and old, but it has also put the business firmly under the microscope.
The London 2012 Organising Committee (Locog) is probing claims about poor pay and conditions at the Chinese factory where the toys are made. The business itself, which refutes the allegations, has also organised its own independent audit.
Other companies have chosen to bask in the golden glow of the Olympics, without signing up as official licensees.
On show at the Toy Fair, at Olympia in London, are 15 Playmobil figures reflecting a range of Olympic - but no solely Paralympic - sports.
Scooters and go-karts have also been made in the colours of the union jack, as the UK hosts the Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
"In the long-run, we know we have these in the pipeline to make the most of national pride," says Ivan Latter, of Micro Scooters.
Ultimately, the legacy of the Olympics for the toy and games world may reflect the aspirations of the organisers themselves.
Outdoor and sports toys recorded a 12% increase in sales in 2011 - the fastest growing area behind building sets.
Were this growth to continue, then London 2012 may be able to claim that the Games helped to inspire the younger generation, and their parents, to become more active.