Rising Up: MGM Studios on how 45 years later the Rocky franchise is still packing a punch

The trumpets, the grey tracksuit, the run up the stairs and the timeless story of David vs Goliath, the underdog with the eye of the tiger; there’s very little about the Rocky franchise that isn’t iconic. It’s difficult to believe that it’s been… [checks notes]… 45 years since Sylvester Stallone first stepped into the ring as Rocky, and not so difficult to believe that over the course of four and a half decades, he has emerged as a staple image of popular culture.

The sentimental affinity that the world shares with the message and storyline of Rocky aside for a moment, the statistics alone for the franchise are as impressive as Rocky’s boxing career. This is a franchise that has accrued $1.3Billion at the box office; three academy awards and 10 nominations, two golden globes across six films, and has given rise to two spin offs in the form of the more recent Creed films. 

If ever there was a case of life imitating art, suggests Robert Marick, executive vice president of global consumer products and experiences at MGM, the rights holders and studio behind the franchise, Rocky is surely it.

News of MGM’s partnership with TCG Entertainment to bring live Rocky concerts to the global stage as part of the 45th anniversary celebrations of the Rocky franchise has already fired up the engines of its core audience base across the world; so word that this is just a part of the wider plans to celebrate the global cinematic, pop culture, and even sporting culture icon that is Rocky Balboa is certain to send it into fever pitch.

Here, Licensing.biz talks with MGM’s Robert Marick to discuss a cultural icon, learn more about those 45th anniversary plans, and discover what kind of potential a brand that spans not only cinema, but pop culture, sport culture, lifestyle and more, has within the ever evolving licensing space.

People talk about iconic brands a lot in licensing, but Rocky without doubt is a true icon – of cinema, pop culture, and beyond – from the soundtrack, style, iconic film scenes, the script its story, and even the acting. Handling the licensing programme for something embedded in culture must be an exciting prospect?

To be honest, it’s a privilege. While everything you’ve mentioned is accurate, Rocky is so much more. From underdog to champion, there is so much depth to the franchise that appeals to its core audience. Because of the multi-dimensional nature of the franchise, it allows us to re-interpret the licensing program in so many ways.   

How do you begin to look at the licensing strategy for something so well revered the world over?

The Rocky franchise provides a multi-dimensional view and therefore a complimentary licensing strategy. In 2021, we’ve rallied around the theme “Champion”. As we developed the Rocky 45th licensing plan, we provided three opportunities. Train like a champion; Look like a champion; and Feel like a champion.

Each opportunity allows for unique product segmentation of licensed product. If you want to “look like a champion”, apparel and accessories is a natural fit. For those that want to “train like a champion”, gym equipment and interactive games such as VR games, workout systems allow fans to train like Rocky; If fans want to “feel like a champion” and show their fandom, publishing, collectibles and replicas will deliver on that aspiration.

In support of this strategy, we developed a bespoke style guide celebrating the 45th anniversary. Our licensing program is focused to rally the “everyday Rocky” to tap into their inner champion, celebrate champions in his or her community, and give fans new ways to show their love for the Rocky franchise all year long.

 You recently detailed the TCG Entertainment partnership, which seems to have fans really excited for the 45th celebrations. What other plans have you got for the anniversary? What aspects of licensing will the plans span? 

While the full roll out plans are still being finalized, I can tell you that we are planning a year-long celebration which will include new and exciting merchandise, interactive games, licensed advertising and location-based entertainment activations.  One example is the Rocky Run. In its seventh year, the Rocky Run unites fans from all over the world to Philadelphia, with like-minded fans, and for a day, step into Rocky’s footsteps where they are able to train, look and feel like a champion leading all the way up those famous stairs.

How much will the current global situation influence the plans and licensing roll out? How do you think it has shaped innovation within licensing, and will you guys be tapping into any of the trends here?

We don’t want to capitalize on this global situation and proactively push the point. Instead we want to focus on the future and getting through it by having Rocky fans express their own Rocky moment and using Rocky to motivate and inspire them to persevere and go the distance. It needs to be and should be organic. 

Can you talk us through the new partners you’ve got lined up for the brand, what categories will you be spanning? What of the current partnerships will you be expanding upon?

Boxing/Athleisure has been identified as a new Fashion Trend. Boxing remains mainstream, trendy and relevant for men and women and Rocky’s signature grey hoodie has made a major comeback. We are looking for key collaborations that can bring together two powerful brands. As for new categories to explore, we are looking at pet, jewelry accessories and location based and live entertainment.

Rocky and Creed are in a unique position that they cover both pop culture and sporting markets, you’ve mentioned the Rocky themed running events in the works – how far will you be taking the sports and entertainment crossover? What potential does this offer?

A great example of this cross over is the Rocky / Creed Rise to Glory VR game by Survios. It’s become an evergreen title, that – similar to the Rocky Run – gives fans a chance to step in the ring and train and feel like a champion. I am excited to share that the hit, Creed: Rise to Glory VR game will be available on console platforms in time for the 45th anniversary. Other opportunities in this area are vast and we are currently exploring our gym and fitness equipment.

Why do you think Rocky continues to resonate with fans across the globe? 

The Rocky franchise is a global phenomenon! The story has so many themes such as ambition, determination, courage, being the underdog and rising to the top etc., and that all translates across generations, demographics and cultures around the world. Everyday people can relate to Rocky in some shape, way or form. Today, more than ever, Rocky is beacon of hope and inspiration around the world. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 45 years since fans saw Rocky hit enter the ring for the first time. Looking back over the years, it’s amazing what Sylvester Stallone accomplished. Just like the Rocky character, the franchise and Sylvester Stallone, beat all the odds at the time as an up-and-coming writer, director and actor. 

The statistics are staggering. $1.3Billion at the box office; three academy awards and 10 nominations; two golden globes across six films and two spin offs with the Creed films. In this case, lifeimitatesart. What a champion!

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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