Some phenomena, you can sort of see coming. They’re blown in by prevailing cultural winds. They say something about the zeitgeist.
Others arrive, fully-formed, unexpected, out of nowhere and the only correct response is: what the…? Which brings us (in a good way) to the Thumb Wrestling Federation.
Now, it’s true that thumb wrestling as a ‘sport’ has been around forever. Who hasn’t at some point, possibly in the middle of a long car journey, declared a thumb war? This is (literally) handlheld gaming that pre-dates even the greying Game Boy.
But, in 2006, things got serious. This was the year that saw the introduction of the Thumb Wrestling Federation, a TV show that aired on Nicktoons in the US. It was an instant hit and gained a wider audience when it moved to Kids’ WB last autumn.
At the same time, the show moved to the UK and became a major ratings success for the BBC.
Its appeal has proved to be quite broad, skewing as young as five and right into teenage territory, but the core demographic is six-11.
The licensing programme has been co-ordinated globally by Al Ovadia & Associates, with Bulldog Licensing having been appointed to handle the UK.
The first deal struck was with Spin Master, which was appointed as master toy licensee and produced a range that, with a wrestling ring and ‘costumes’ allows kids to re-create the fun of the TV show.
Bulldog’s MD, Rob Corney, offers: “It all started with the TV show, and from the beginning toys seemed like a natural fit. With TWF, kids can emulate what they see on the show almost exactly. In fact, we’ve seen many instances where kids have staged and filmed their own matches, attempting to match the format of the TV show, while adding in their own action and dialogue.”
These toys, plus apparel (t-shirts, hoodies, boxers, socks and sleepwear) and mobile phone content have already been launched in the US and Canada. Sambro is handling the toys in the UK and these, together with apparel from Aykroyds TDP, are being sold into major retailers for a June launch.
Also on the way later in the year are accessories, stickers/sticker books, greeting cards, calendars, books, DVDs and more.
Key to the whole enterprise is the continued success of the TV series. And the signs are good. It is being aired several times a week on both the BBC’s terrestrial channels and all over CBBC.
The Beeb has brought all three existing seasons and a fourth is already in pre-production from the company behind the shows, Animation Collective.
So, whilst very few may have seen the Thumb Wrestling Federation coming, absolutely no one can see it going. Not any time soon.