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How Rebellion is bringing back Roy of the Rovers

The Source chats to Rebellion’s Rob Power to find out what licensing goals the star striker is shooting for.

“We’re great believers in the power of Roy of the Rovers,” says Rob Power, brand manager at Rebellion Publishing. Rob notes that the comic inspired entire generations of fans to read, to follow careers in football and the media and to believe in football as a force for good.

Roy made his debut for Melchester Rovers in the pages of the comic Tiger in 1954. His exploits quickly gained a huge following among football-mad readers, with Roy of the Rovers soon becoming the leading strip in Tiger throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. At the height of his popularity in 1977, Roy of the Rovers was so popular that it became a comic in its own right, selling over half a million copies a week at the height of its popularity. Footballers clamoured to appear in its pages, celebrity appearances were a regular occurrence, and storylines made the news – such as when Roy was famously shot.

By the ‘90s interest in boys comics waned and Roy of the Rovers closed as a title in its own right. Roy could still be found in the pages of Match of the Day magazine until 2001, when the final whistle on an illustrious career was finally blown.

Effectively, Roy of the Rovers has been defunct since. Rebellion, an independent games developer and owner of the comic 2000AD franchise with a cast of characters including Judge Dredd, gained the rights to the character in 2016, as part of its acquisition of the Fleetway and IPC Youth Group comics archive from Egmont (as well as titles including Tiger, Valiant and Whizzer and Chips). Recognising the enormous potential of bringing Roy of the Rovers back to a football-mad public, Rebellion has been working on getting Roy match fit.

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Rob thinks now is the perfect time to start licensing Roy: “The World Cup has reinvigorated many fans love for football and our licensing strategy with classic Roy of the Rovers material will tap into that energy and keep it alive.”

Picking up on this point, Rebellion’s licensing strategy with Roy is two-fold: reboot the character through publishing for the children’s market and bring classic Roy of the Rovers material back for fans of the original comics. While the reboot will appeal to 8-12 year old children, the classic programme will be targeting adult males aged 35 years+ with ranges of retro, higher end and collectable product.

“Licensing the classic material first makes perfect sense, given the brand recognition and enormous amount of affection the artwork and storylines generate,” says Rob. Rebellion will also run a licensing programme focused on the rebooted character and storyline once established in the marketplace.

In a competitive market, Rob firmly believes that Roy can compete with today’s superhero and app obsessed children.

“The reboot comes from a similar place, but with a twist. Melchester Rovers are the great non-partisan club, and can be everybody’s favourite second team. We have the opportunity to explore storylines relevant to modern football and contemporary society, and perhaps most importantly help football-obsessed kids discover the joy of reading,” he says. Rebellion has commissioned extensive market research that has indicated that readers respond well to characters they can identify with or aspire to be like.

“Our new Roy Race is a bit of both, a 16 year old footballing prodigy with a heart of gold trying to make it in the world of modern sports,” adds Rob.

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In terms of the licensing programme itself, the reboot kicks off in October 2018 with Scouted, an illustrated fiction novel by children’s author Tom Palmer. Scouted is followed in November by Kick-Off, a 64-page graphic novel by Rob Williams (Suicide Squad, Action Comics). Four more titles, two fiction and two graphic novels, will be published over the course of the 2018-19 football season and will be followed by a similar schedule for the 2019-20 season.

While the publishing reboot to children gets underway, the classic licensing programme will begin with the launch of replica Melchester Rovers shirts, continuing with a Roy of the Rovers calendar. The first licensed products to arrive will be a retro 80s shirt, produced with COPA and arriving in November, and a brand new 2018-19 season Melchester Rovers shirt, produced in association with Hummel. Both shirts will be available through online retailers, as well as direct from both manufacturers and the Roy of the Rovers online shop.

Rob points out that 2019 is an important year for Roy. Activity around the character will build throughout the year to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Roy of the Rovers’ debut in Tiger.

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Rob points out that Rebellion is keen to build on the intrinsic appeal of Roy. “We’re working very hard to enmesh Roy of the Rovers in the world of real football – we’ve signed up leading football podcast The Totally Football Show as Melchester Rovers shirt sponsor and are working closely with Match of the Day magazine.”

Rebellion is also in talks with people all over football, from organisational bodies and clubs through to all sorts of media outlets.

“The news that Roy of the Rovers is back has been met with enthusiasm all over and we’re delighted with the reaction,” concludes Rob. “We’re confident that a new generation will grow to love Racey just as much as their parents and grandparents did before them.”

This feature originally appeared in the autumn 2018 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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