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Exhibitors bring their A-game as Licensing Expo returns to Las Vegas

Entertainment conglomerates, children’s brand juggernauts, leading music labels and more businesses flocked to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the first day of the Licensing Expo.

More than 11,000 attendees and 250 exhibitors were drawn to the three-day event, which returned in person for the first time in nearly three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Licensing Expo is the largest event dedicated solely to licensing and brand development where retailers and companies can buy the rights to intellectual property from large companies such as Beanstalk, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Cruncyroll and Hasbro.

“This event is a melting pot of all the biggest brands in the world,” said Amanda Cioletti, vice president of content and strategy of Global Licensing Group at Informa Markets. “Everything from art and design brands, to fashion, phone, entertainment — the world’s biggest entertainment, in fact — lifestyle, it’s all here under one roof.”

Launching pad

Licensing Expo has brought many household names into the limelight during their exhibitions in past years.

“Funko launched their licensing program here … but Funko is a massive brand

now,” Cioletti said of Funko, which makes pop culture figurines and collectibles with licensed properties such as “Squid Games” or “Stranger Things.” “Another great one I always love to reference is Elf on the Shelf. So, Elf on the Shelf started here at the Licensing Expo. Now, you can’t escape Christmas without knowing that that elf is always watching.”

Licensing Expo adopted a theme this year for the first time — location-based experiences.

With Feld Entertainment bringing a life-sized Monster Truck simulator to the event, Hasbro helping guests with their Nerf gun skills and virtual reality games at every corner, exhibitors strived to deliver on the theme with creativity and flair.

“I’ve worked on this show for so long, but I really do think this is one of our most beautiful shows, because of how creative our exhibitors are,” Cioletti said.

All along the expo floor, exhibitors showcased eye-catching pieces. Warner Bros. Entertainment’s exhibit was filled with costumes from its most notable movies, including “Harry Potter,” “Corpse Bride” and the not-yet-released movie “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Legendary Entertainment displayed three costumes from one of the top movies last year, “Dune.”

Legendary has come off of a high year with major motion pictures such as “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Dune” and has been riding out the momentum with their licensing strategies, according to James Ngo, executive vice president of franchise management.

“Those really pushed us into this year very strong … We have a very, very robust roadmap ahead of us, so there is a lot to talk about with licensees,” Ngo said.

The expo also serves as a place for companies to track industry trends, something Legendary and Ngo have been noting for future licensing opportunities. One of the biggest, according to Ngo, is “the balance between what happens in the digital world and what happens in the real world.”

Developing relationships

For many attendees, the goal is to maintain old relationships with brands and develop new ones with some of the most desirable exhibitors.

President of Innovative Designs Kristen Sangha was walking the expo floor Tuesday in the hopes of achieving this goal. Innovative Designs produces stationery crafts and holds the licensing rights to brands like LucasFilms, Marvel and Warner Bros. to manufacture and sell stationery related products in large retail stores such as Target or Walmart.

“The goal of this show is to actually find new licenses. We are very seriously looking into new licenses for back-to-school next year,” she said.

While some are looking to buy licenses, others, including Andrew DiMino from CarbSmart, are looking to sell their own licenses. CarbSmart is a brand that markets to the low-carb, ketogenic food market, and company officials attend to try to land deals to license the name to companies.

“What we do is we license our name for products, for instance, Unilever licenses our name for their CarbSmart ice cream, and that relationship started 18 years ago,” said DiMino. “Now we’re here at the show looking for more opportunities for the brand.”

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