May 26, 2015 by peterott
The Story of Starting Lineup Figures
My wife and I listened to the “Half-Baked Ideas” Podcast with Kevin Wildes and David Jacoby on the Grantland Channel the other day. Normally, this podcast consists of the two men coming up with crazy ideas for new businesses that are not fully formed, which can be entertaining. One of my favorite ideas in the past was a company that would allow people to operate heavy machinery and destroy things for fun, as part of bachelor parties and other events. It’s usually a pretty enjoyable listen.
This episode was different. It was a presentation about a past sports figurine product that they described as a “half-baked idea” for some reason, even though it was incredibly successful. The product was Starting Lineup figurines which were immovable toys that looked like athletes, posed in a particular act relating to their sport. They were very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This predated my sports interest, so I never had any memorable experiences with the figures, but apparently many people did.
Invented by former NFL punter and Harvard graduate Pat McInally, these figures touched a nerve with the public and quickly were being mass-produced to include athletes across virtually all sports. During the podcast, Wildes and Jacoby look at how this product came into being and why it was successful and why it went out of production eventually.
Their commercials are pretty great at least. Old commercials often are:
These figures provided kids with toys that they could play with and also have served as a way for some to invest in the future (similar to baseball cards). Although most of them sell now on the re-sale market for $5-$10, some sell for much more. A Michael Jordan figure is listed on eBay for $1,099.99. The John Stockton/Karl Malone combo is listed for $1,600. The most expensive one that I could find listed right now is Bruce Jenner, for $2,500. Clearly these objects carry a lot of value for some people even to this day, when they are long out of production.
Wildes and Jacoby look into the genesis of the product and generally take a humorous look at the history of it. It’s a good look into sports marketing history and is well-worth a listen, since the podcast is only 20 minutes long. It can be found on iTunes or anywhere you get your podcasts. There’s an online version along with an additional writeup available on Grantland.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!