‘Game of Thrones’ is ending, but will live on in merchandise
New York –From wine to clothing to tours, HBO and retailers have cashed in through the years with “Game of Thrones” merchandise. “Thrones” is not only a huge international show but also a massive business, with all sides hoping to pad the bank during the show’s eighth and final season.
“It’s thousands of products, just a lot of stuff all around the world,” said Jeff Peters, HBO’s vice president of licensing and retail. “We’re so busy we don’t stop and count.”
Products include makeup, beer, toy collectibles and even high fashion collaborations.
But while the show itself is a TV phenomenon, that doesn’t guarantee fans will flock to stores.
“It’s certainly good to be lucky. But you don’t get to where the merchandising programs are with HBO and what they’ve done with ‘Game of Thrones’ unless you have a true, point-by-point marketing and merchandising and retail strategy,” said product and licensing expert Tony Lisanti.
“This is a global property and every country may resonate a little different,” he said.
California-based Vintage Wine Estates has been making the official “Game of Thrones” wine for three years now, said Pat Roney, the company’s CEO. “Just the excitement all over the world with the calls that we get from almost 40 different countries to sell wine — it’s just amazing,” he said.
Popular tours of “Game of Thrones” filming locations in Croatia and Ireland have boosted small, local economies there, according to TripAdvisor’s Andrew Aley.
“Some really positive examples like Northern Ireland, for example, where it’s not somewhere that’s always been on every tourist’s radar and it’s now become one of the major pillars of tourism in that local economy,” he said. “But it’s one of those factors that’s then driving tourism to other attractions as well, like at Belfast Titanic or Giant’s Causeway.”
It wasn’t always this easy for HBO to find retailing partners for “Game of Thrones,” Peters said.
“At the beginning, nobody really knew what it was,” he said. “So, we were the ones making phone calls and we were saying, ‘Hey, you got to get in on this. We think there’s a great opportunity.’ As the show got established and got big, then all the calls came to us and people were just throwing ideas and pitches.”
Some of those ideas resulted in fashion collaborations with companies like Adidas, who created the now hard-to-find “Adidas x Game of Thrones Ultra Boosts” shoes, as well as a collection with men’s fashion designer and Detroit native John Varvatos, who opened a store in downtown Detroit in 2014.
“The one thing that always stands out in my mind from the first season was all the textures, all the way the leathers are finished, the artisan fabrics, and it’s a lot of what we do,” said Varvatos. “But I also didn’t want to make ‘Game of Thrones’ (clothes) where someone felt like they were wearing a costume around town. … So what you wanted to do is take that inspiration with a lot of the great details from the wardrobe from the show and put that into product that people actually could wear.”
The Detroit store, smaller than most others, is only carrying a couple items — T-shirts, each bearing the logo of one of the “Throne” houses, and a one-eyed-raven hoodie. Shirts go for $98 apiece; the hoodie is $168.
There are also “Thrones”-themed board games like “Monopoly,” “CLUE” and “Risk”; Danielle Nicole’s “Game of Thrones” handbags; and beer made by upstate New York’s Brewery Ommegang.
Just how much money is being made? No one really knows except HBO. And the number’s hard to estimate, for a reason.
“HBO wants to get as high a licensing fee as possible. It will not want the companies that license ‘Game of Thrones’ to know what deals HBO is striking so that those companies seek to obtain a lower fee,” wrote Dr. Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University, in an email to the Associated Press.
His broad guess of how much HBO is bringing in: “It’s a lot!”
Aside from the chance to make money, there have been other benefits to retailers joining forces with HBO. Take Urban Decay’s new makeup collection, for example.
“A couple of these products didn’t even exist in our line before. So the lipsticks were reimagined and have new casings and everything else,” said Wende Zomnir, founding partner and chief creative officer of Urban Decay (the company previously worked with HBO on the show “Vinyl”).
There’s been a push to get new “Thrones” products out in time for the last season, but Lisanti thinks that even when the show ends, the products will stay in demand thanks to streaming and planned spinoffs.
“As long as there’s new content, then the franchise will continue to be popular. And that content doesn’t have to be another series,” said Lisanti. It could be events such as a “traveling exhibition, concerts series, and events in cities and around the world.”
HBO isn’t worried.
“We’re striking right now while the iron is hot,” said Peters. “But we’re pretty confident that there will be interest in ‘Game of Thrones’ for a long time.”
Detroit News writer Michael Hodges contributed.