by Anna Knight, SVP of the Global Licensing Group
For more than 30 years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been a pop culture mainstay, connecting fans of all ages around the world. Through strategic licensing deals, the endearing cast of characters from the Sonic Universe has amassed a cult following that showcases the immense power fans can have on the longevity of a brand.
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of many household video game names owned by SEGA that catapulted into the center of pop culture. Today, Sonic is an influencer in his own right, with an enviable resume chock-full of motion picture films, pop-culture artifacts, collectibles, comic books, and millions and millions of followers — due heavily in part to SEGA’s burgeoning licensing division.
SEGA is bringing its portfolio of highly sought-after IPs to Licensing Expo 2022, which is slated to take place from May 24-26 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. This year’s edition will be the first time the industry has had the chance to meet face-to-face since 2019 and is gearing up to be the industry’s unmissable event for deal-making, education, networking, and IP discovery.
I had the opportunity to speak with Alex Gomez, the senior director of consumer products for the Americas and European regions at SEGA of America, who oversees licensing for all SEGA properties, including one of the most renowned properties that fuels fandom – Sonic the Hedgehog.
Anna Knight: Alex, thanks for connecting. As a prominent exhibitor at Licensing Expo, what can attendees look forward to discovering at your booth this year?
Alex Gomez: It’s a pleasure! And yes – excitingly, we have tons of news to share! As you may have seen, Paramount is releasing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the sequel to the hit movie Sonic the Hedgehog, on April 8. Fans are also enjoying the consumer products program we built to support the film, which includes everything from toys, apparel and accessories, and costumes to publishing and food and beverage. Paramount has already announced a third movie, as well as a Knuckles TV series, so those are just two of many upcoming programs we’re excited to share more about at Licensing Expo! There is also an animated series being created in partnership with Wildbrain/CPLG and Netflix, as well as exciting new games in the Sonic series. All of these programs are open for brand extension, and we’ll be sharing more info about each program at Licensing Expo. We’re excited for a productive event!
AK: What challenges have you faced in the absence of in-person exhibitions, and what do you hope to achieve at Licensing Expo?
AG: I think the biggest challenge of not having in-person events is not being able to meet new people and discover new business opportunities. 2022, 2023, and 2024 are massive years for SEGA from a content perspective, which includes new games, movies, TV, and mobile content. And with the business growing as quickly as it is, it’s challenging to align schedules and meet everyone via video conference – plus, there are far fewer walk-ins. Licensing Expo is an ideal platform for us to connect with a wide variety of people, including our existing partners, while also allowing us the opportunity to source and meet with new partners.
AK: Now, let’s talk trends. What trends are coming down the pipeline?
AG: Well, “metaverse” continues to be a phrase we hear a lot and is a space many brands and consumers are eager to learn more about and find a place in, so I think we’ll definitely see more activity in that space. I also think there will be some really fascinating programs in the Location-Based Experience category, as people are more and more comfortable being outdoors and in the company of others. There should be really interesting times ahead of us!
AK: What is a significant trend of industry disruption you see due to the pandemic?
AG: Well, there are definitely some challenges the industry has to navigate right now due to the pandemic. But I think one positive result that the pandemic has forced is new ways of doing business. One of the biggest things I think we’ll notice is that the practice of day-to-day business has become a bit more streamlined. People have had to be nimble and find creative ways to do their jobs remotely during the pandemic. And I think some of these practices will remain in place post-pandemic and ultimately lead to efficiencies that help the overall business succeed.
AK: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your career, and what advice would you give newcomers now?
AG: The advice I would give to myself at the beginning of my career and to any newcomer today would be to pay close attention to every part of the licensing business. Learn and understand as much as possible about every stage of the business, from finding the right opportunities to negotiating terms, to understanding product development, to developing retail programs and how to leverage marketing to support them.
Take notes from other similar programs; there is no need to reinvent the wheel when there are best-in-class examples to reference. Still, my opinion is that only when you really understand every phase of the business can you then take learnings from those best-in-class examples to create programs of your own that are also best-in-class but unique to the DNA of your brand.
You want to become a master of the business as a whole, not just an expert in one area of it. I’d also recommend aligning and working with the most talented people you can. The team I work with now at SEGA is world-class, and their talent and expertise are what bring out the best in our licensing programs. All of this combined is what I believe is needed to really differentiate from others in the marketplace.
Leading up to this year’s Licensing Expo, the Pop Insider will be publishing a series of exclusive Q&As between the Global Licensing Group and brands that will be exhibiting at the show. Free registration for Licensing Expo 2022 is accessible here — secure your pass today to schedule a meeting with SEGA at their booth, No. Q226.