WizKids LLC is taking fans out to the ballgame with its SportsClix collectible game, which is on shelves just in time for the 2004 baseball season.
The game allows players to simulate a complete baseball game using hand-painted plastic figures of real major league players. Each 2-inch-high figure stands on a plastic base that can be rotated to show a series of numbers - based on stats from the 2003 season - that dictate the player's performance.
The debut set from Bellevue, Wash.-based WizKids includes about 150 different players. Some players are shown in different jerseys or poses, raising the total number of figures available to almost 200. The list includes such stars as Ichiro Suzuki, Jim Thome, Nomar Garciaparra, Sammy Sosa and the splendidly named Coco Crisp of the Cleveland Indians.
Sports-card maker Topps Co. Inc. - which bought WizKids for $28 million in July 2003 - was handing out the figures to real-life players as well as to fans in big-league spring training sites in Arizona this year, according to Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi.
The firm also is doing promotional giveaway events with several minor league teams this season, including affiliates of the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Topps hopes eventually to do the same with the major league clubs, Luraschi said. The minor league events will include stops in Kanapolis, N.C.; Beloit, Wis.; and Lancaster, Calif.
WizKids already is planning a midseason addition to the SportsClix line to include players who switched teams after the first batch of figures was produced. The group is likely to include Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, whose initial SportsClix figure is wearing a Texas Rangers uniform.
In addition, WizKids is considering doing SportsClix versions of great players and teams from baseball history, Luraschi said. The concept also could be expanded to include other sports.
``We're going to wait and see how baseball does,'' Luraschi said. ``But the natural progression would be to do other sports.''
Feedback on the initial product has been ``tremendous,'' according to Luraschi, who added that some ``chase figures'' - figures made in smaller numbers that are more difficult to find - already are selling on the eBay auction Web site for more than $50 each.
Founded in 2000 by toy industry veteran Jordan Weisman, WizKids hit the $90 million sales mark in 2002 before being acquired by Topps. One of the firm's big sellers has been its HeroClix line, a strategy game based on Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and other popular characters from DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
``SportsClix is aimed at a wider audience than HeroClix, but the concept is the same,'' Luraschi said. ``There are people who want to play the game and people who just want to collect the figures and some people who want to do both.''
The figures are sculpted at studios in Bellevue and Cincinnati before being produced in Asia. WizKids declines to say which plastic resin is used to make the figures.
The SportsClix starter pack - containing nine figures and complete game rules - retails for $19.99. Booster packs containing three figures sell for $6.99, while a two-figure, clamshell set is $4.99. SportsClix are available at many hobby stores and some retail outlets.
Sales in Topps' entertainment products unit - which includes WizKids - were up 5 percent to $150 million in fiscal 2004, ended Feb. 28. The unit's contribution to Topps' overall margin grew 8 percent to $42 million in that period.