The LEGO Group and sports have had an… interesting history. In the early 2000s, as the company flailed around trying to find something, anything that would sell, the designers took a stab at playable sports sets. Most of them were released in the years around the LEGO Group’s brush with bankruptcy, so the quality of many of these sets is lacking. This week Brick Fanatics is going to take a look back at this sometimes odd coupling to uncover its origins.
In recent years sports has been the exclusive domain of the Collectible Minifigures line and Friends. Every series of Collectible Minifigures has contained at least one sports figure. Further to that there have been entire runs based around sports teams such as the Team Great Britain series and the more recent DFB Football team. Friends has had several offerings featuring the girls in sports ranging from football to karate.
The inherent challenge with translating LEGO bricks into sports is the dynamic aspect. The fun of sports is competing, challenging an opponent, and winning. Those things are not necessarily the most interesting subject matter to act out in the way that most kids play with LEGO toys. Actually playing hockey is fun – acting out hockey… not so much. The problem is that without actual competition the types of stories which can be played dry up fast.
In light of that, most of the LEGO Sports sets designed in the theme’s heyday were playable. Football sets featured a spring loaded mechanism which could ‘kick’ the ball between special baseplates that contained a divit. Basketball sets featured special minifigure legs which allowed a player to pick up a ball and ‘shoot’ it. Hockey sets were also playable. While it worked in concept the sets never proved to be super popular, presumably because they just were not fast paced enough.
Eventually the LEGO Group would release sets across four different sports themes including football, basketball, hockey and extreme sports which featured both snowsports and skateboarding. All of them struggled to find an audience. Their longest lasting legacy is providing an excuse for the LEGO Group to create ball elements which have been put to amazing use by the AFOL community in Great Ball Contraptions. These amazing collaborative builds are often highlights at fan conventions.
However, these sets were not the origin of LEGO sports. A now defunct partnership with Shell led to a series of football based sets released in limited European markets to coincide with the 1998 World Cup. Truly static, they featured green baseplates with markings printed on them. The sets were modular in design and, if one acquired enough of them, a whole stadium could be built including grandstands, lights, press boxes and teams medical stations. Never released outside of Europe, these sets command a high price on the aftermarket. They were the origin of both LEGO sports and the football element.
These first football sets represent the origin of LEGO sports.