Column: Does the LEGO Group want the football market or not?

LEGO Ideas 21337 Table Football is the latest LEGO set that tries to appeal to football fans, but still hints at fundamental misunderstandings of this lucrative market.

In placing 22 football players (two complete teams of 11 players) into a LEGO Ideas set that only has space for 10 and launching it using one of the game’s most socially active players, Marcus Rashford, and one of its best players of recent times, Thierry Henry, 21337 Table Football has clearly been positioned to speak to more than just the usual LEGO crowd.

You can’t get a much better pair of footballers to front your campaign, particularly for how both are that rare breed of footballer that is popular, successful and charismatic in a way that bridges traditional club allegiances. Perfect, then, to speak to the wider community of football fans, and perfect to edge into the football market.

Why target this market? As cynical as it may be, football is as much about big business in 2022 as it is the beautiful game. Millions and millions follow the sport with a passion and devotion that very much extends into their wallets. If you are able to connect your product with their unwavering love and loyalty to their team, their favourite players or whatever else may fascinate them about football, you can feast on what’s to come.

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And with 21337 Table Football there is a tasty set of ingredients to mix together. Alongside taking the chance to include two complete teams of LEGO footballers in a set that completely does not need that, and attracting two of the game’s biggest names to promote the set, comes the perfect timing for launch.

2022 is a big year for football, with the popularity and success of the UEFA European Women’s Championship in the summer to be followed up this November and December with the FIFA World Cup. There is no time better than in the heady afterglow of the women’s competition and amongst the fevered anticipation of the men’s tournament to launch a football-focused LEGO set.

Timing is spot on, booking Rashford and Henry is as strong a play as you can make and, surely, offering up a product that is thematically adjacent to the beautiful game – and packing it with 22 minifigures so as to appeal to football fans less in tune with piecing LEGO bricks together – makes for the ideal moment for the LEGO Group to finally crack the football market. Right?

Unfortunately not, because the product doesn’t quite work for football fans. As we have reflected in our review of 21337 Table Football, it is a great LEGO set and one for LEGO collectors to certainly enjoy, but it only begins to speak to the football fan, rather than outright appeal to them. And it’s a conversation that feels half-hearted at best, and at worst coming from completely the wrong angle. Twice over, too, for considerations around the minifigures and the price.

Marcus Rashford and Thierry Henry launch LEGO Ideas 21337 Table Football
LEGO Ideas 21337 Table Football review

I write this personally as someone who has grown up with those dual loves of football and LEGO, and I want LEGO Ideas 21337 Table Football to be a huge success and to open the door to a world of play, creativity, collectability and fun that only LEGO can truly bring to the world of football. There’s so much to imagine that these two worlds combined could creatively offer, and to a market unrivalled in size. Yet, 21337 Table Football is too much like the stadium sets before it to realise why, in spite of what’s good, it’s just not right.

Are those really LEGO minifigure footballers?

LEGO Ideas 21337 Table Football minifigures and football market comparison 2

There is a diversity and variety on offer across the 22 minifigures included in 21337 Table Football that is like nothing we have seen before, but this is created solely through the choice of heads and hairpieces included. The torso and leg designs for each minifigure feel like an afterthought – they are as generic as they come, and bizarrely, far more so than at any other time the LEGO Group has previously created footballer minifigures.

Think back to the football-themed sets from 2000 that, alongside a LEGO Zinedine Zidane, offered a variety of generic kit designs that came with various numbers printed on the back. The footballer in Series 4 of the Minifigures theme had a very detailed kit design with badge, sponsor, kit manufacturer and printed shorts and socks design, split with yellow skin tone between them.

The Germany national football team Minifigures series from 2018 had even more detail, using the official Adidas kit for the team and names and numbers on the back, printed shorts and socks with different skin colours in between, and dual-moulded arms to represent short sleeves. And while 40485 FC Barcelona Celebration didn’t officially include footballer minifigures, it did offer up five of a torso design of a standard Barcelona shirt complete with club crest. No names or numbers on the back, no short sleeves, nor shorts and socks to match, but for the first time ever a version of an official club shirt in LEGO form.

The LEGO Group has offered a variety of football kit interpretations in minifigure form, so to have the 22 minifigures in 21337 Table Football kitted out in the least detailed, most generic designs of them all is such an unexpected misstep, and a clear misunderstanding of any football fan’s expectations in even considering such a LEGO set as this.

To tie into the foosball table it is understandable that the kits are kept relatively simple in design and non-club-specific. But the design of these torsos is so very plain that where the quantity of them most definitely tells us that these are footballer minifigures more so than foosball dummies, the quality and appearance very much suggests otherwise.

In comparison to footballer minifigures that have come before, there are LEGO-ised badges on each kit and a subtle shirt design for each (plus goalkeepers), but there are no further details like a kit manufacturer or sponsor on the front, there are no dual-moulded arms for short sleeves, no numbers printed on the back of the shirts, no skin tone printed on the legs between the shorts and socks and no printing on the sides of the legs.

In finding that middle ground between footballer and foosball player, the LEGO Group has unfortunately veered too much towards the foosball side, managing to create a set of minifigure footballers that, out of all the ones they’ve done in previous years, are the least like footballers.

And it’s the details around this that matter, that would otherwise draw in football fans less accustomed to or interested in piecing together LEGO bricks, but that could recognise and see play potential in the two complete teams on offer to them in 21337 Table Football. Remove the white chevron across the red shirt, add a few more details to make both the red and blue kits look a little more like actual kits and add a selection of numbers on the back and then you really do have two complete teams of LEGO football minifigures that football fans can begin to far better connect to their game, and – if the kit designs are clever – a good few fans could see semblances of teams they know or support.

The minifigures in 21337 Table Football offer extraordinary diversity in the selection of heads and hairpieces, but also the cheapest, unconsidered football kit designs we’ve seen in LEGO form. It would have been fairer to include just the 10 required to fill out the table and to not so openly communicate in the market that this is for football fans, because these minifigures don’t do enough to be that.

Bursting the price bubble

The fundamental basics that could make the minifigures included in 21337 Table Football relevant and appealing to football fans are not there, as is the LEGO Group’s understanding of where to perhaps more fairly place products like this into the football market.

As it is, 21337 Table Football is priced at £214.99 / $249.99 / €249.99, which is a similar amount to the other recent LEGO football-related sets, the football stadium trio of 10272 Old Trafford – Manchester United, 10284 Camp Nou – FC Barcelona and 10299 Real Madrid – Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. That collection of stadium sets offers large builds of some of the game’s most iconic venues, but for builds that pack in the piece count and the details, they come at a hefty price. They’re placed where they should be within the LEGO market, but not where they need to be for the football market.

As such, we have seen otherwise rare sights like 10284 Camp Nou – FC Barcelona sitting on sale with a large reduction at LEGO.com and still struggle to sell (it eventually sold out, but far slower than most other sets would have at that reduced rate).

It’s a price bracket that to me, as a football fan as well as a LEGO fan, I feel demonstrates that the LEGO Group does not understand what it is to be a football fan and where you continually prioritise your money to further your passion for the game. It’s £70 on a shirt (and there are many that are released each year); £50-100 on a ticket to a game or (depending on who you support) a few hundred for a season ticket; £100-200 on some boots; £35 on a ball; £10 per person to hire a five-a-side pitch to play; £60-ish for the latest FIFA game.

To follow, support and play football, these are regular costs that a football fan faces and is prepared to pay, year in, year out. This package of products and experiences barely changes from year to year and is very difficult for new products to successfully penetrate and become a part of. It is a lifestyle expenditure that has also – even during better economic times – continually prompted ‘cost of football’ debates and, previously in the case of football shirt pricing, even required government intervention.

And where does £214.99 on an unlicensed LEGO football set potentially sit within the football fan’s annual spending? Right at the top end. You could buy the home, away and third kit for your team, at full price (which few people do), and still have a little change left to buy one Collectible Minifigure. For something that is indeed trying to break into the football market, just as the stadium sets before it, 21337 Table Football is starting at entirely the wrong end of the market. It’s not a priority purchase and for how much other, more relevant stuff you could be buying at the same price, it’s completely out of place.

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With consideration to the above issues around details such as the footballing authenticity of the minifigures included and wider concerns such as the price it has been set at, 21337 Table Football is up against it to really bridge the gap between the LEGO and football worlds, even with the likes of Rashford and Henry in tow.

What are the options moving forward? Think about some of the types of products that have successfully penetrated the football fan’s bubble in recent years. Magazines, Panini stickers and football figurines – low-cost, collectible items that are packed with authentic, football-focused appeal that quickly and clearly speak to what football fans love about the game, the teams and the players. For the LEGO Group to really break into the football market and to create a LEGO football world, perhaps it’s best to look at what others do and start at the other end of the price bracket and build from there.

As it is, 21337 Table Football is a great LEGO Ideas set but not the one the LEGO Group should pin hopes of finding football fans on. To that end, for the details included in the set it feels like a missed opportunity to be a better LEGO football product, and for the bigger considerations around price it feels likely doomed to ever reach the football fan. Here’s hoping that the LEGO Group scales back the next football venture and focuses on the details first, because the market will come, once the product is right.

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Rob Paton

As one half of Tiro Media Ltd, I mix a passion for print and digital media production with a deep love of LEGO and can often be found on these pages eulogising about LEGO Batman, digging deeper into the LEGO Group’s inner workings, or just complaining about the price of the latest LEGO Star Wars set. Make a great impression when you meet me in person by praising EXO-FORCE as the greatest LEGO theme of all time. Follow me on Twitter @RobPaton or drop me an email at [email protected]

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