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Comic Books

Superheroes Revisited: Batman Overtakes Spider-Man

The age-old question is re-examined: DC or Marvel? We’ve restated the 2014 retail sales figures for Batman, Avengers, and Superman to reflect the relative rankings between the four superhero brands on the $100 million-plus list.

This is how the top superheroes rank up in 2015 for licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada:

  1. Batman (No. 11 on the $100 million list)
  2. Spider-Man (No. 12)
  3. Avengers (No. 13)
  4. Superman (No. 16)

Globally, the ranking is re-arranged a bit, with Batman relegated to the number 3 spot:

  1. Spider-Man
  2. Avengers
  3. Batman
  4. Superman

See the complete list here.

Looking Back

Superheroes have reached incredible heights compared to just two years ago. In 2013, the ranking placed Spider-Man on top ($1,333 million in worldwide retail sales), followed by Batman ($494 million), Avengers ($325 million), and Superman ($277 million).

While the numbers were closer in the U.S./Canada (with just $52 million separating the top two contenders), Spider-Man’s greater international presence launched it to the top (70% of sales were outside the U.S./Canada in 2013).

Note that although Superman ranks last, he was one of the first amongst his peers to launch a major licensing program—and he hasn’t lost his retail mojo. But at number 3, the Avengers program counts a host of heroes including Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Thor that individually don’t rank up to the Man of Steel but, collectively, overtake his retail presence.

International Presence

In the last two years, Warner Bros. and Disney have stepped up their superhero programs, launching tie-ins not only to feature film releases, but also developing special programs around TV shows and spin-offs for kids—globally. Previously a domestic phenomenon, now consumers worldwide enjoy more super-branded merchandise than ever, and not just for children’s cereal and collectibles.

Why restate in the first place? Our historical figures largely reflected the former retail reality—although our estimate of, for example, the Avengers’ growth of 34% in 2014 and 40% in 2015 holds accurate, the dollars didn’t manage to keep up. The restatement also means that Batman and Spider-Man have overtaken Peanuts and Thomas & Friends—a phenomena reflected in the children’s toy and apparel aisles, as well as the fact that these classic brands don’t have the extended retail presence that Disney and Warner Bros. command in other categories to the same extent.

Superman performs poorer internationally, but by now all the heroes sell more merchandise outside the U.S./Canada (combined) than at home. The territory with the most growth is Asia, but sales have gone up in every part of the world.

In total, the top four superhero brands racked up $4.2 billion in worldwide retail sales in 2015, or 10.3% of total sales attributed to top entertainment brands (9.8% in the U.S./Canada). In 2013, superhero-licensed sales accounted for a demure 6.5% (7.0% in the U.S./Canada).

And Beyond!

We expect all the superhero brands to jump in retail sales in 2016 thanks to feature films backed by global product launches like Batman v. Superman (Warner Bros.), Captain America: Civil War (Disney, a member of the Avengers), Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.; tie-in to Batman universe), and Doctor Strange (Disney, a member of the Avengers)—as well as TV series. While some were merchandising busts, they nevertheless bolstered the presence of companies’ top performing brands.

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