AFi Interview – Mattel’s Scott Neitlich

This is the first of a 2-part interview with Mattel.   Part one is an interview with Mattel’s Scott Neitlich, part two is with the new Mattel DC retail team.  Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Mattel has always been very kind to AFi and we’ve had the good fortune to work with some amazing Mattel brand managers in our 7 years, and Scott is no exception.  Scott, because he has put himself in the duel role of brand manager and fan liaison,  sometimes finds himself as a polarizing figure with fandom and he is often “blamed” for mistakes or decisions that he had nothing to do with.   Anyone that knows Scott, or has talked to him at a convention knows he is a fan and collector himself and he really puts his heart and soul into all of the lines he’s involved with.   The fact that he continues to put himself in the line of fire day after day amazes me.   He does it because he is a fan and wants to keep the other fans informed.

Lately there have been a lot of questions surrounding the new division of responsibility with regards to Mattel’s DC Entertainment license.  There is now an online/collector team that Scott heads up and a retail team that is made up of some new people.   Today’s interview is with Scott, and he tries to clear up some answers such as why there isn’t a DCUC SDCC exclusive this year as well as what it means to be brand manager for Masters of the Universe during it’s 30th anniversary.


AFi: You’ve been in and out of the DC line manager role through a couple of company re-orgs.  Can you talk about some highlights for you in each round?

Scott Neitlich:  Getting to just work on the DC brand for almost 5 years has been a huge thrill (and I am still on the brand, now only the online collector skus, the retail part is handled by the retail team). It has definitely been a roller coaster ride both working on brands that other previous brand managers started and handed off (ie. Infinite Heroes) as well as helping to launch brands myself like DCUC and Retro Action. Getting to work on the Green Lantern theatrical line was also a huge highlight as it gave me a lot of new experiences and I got to get into the movie action a bit meeting with filmmakers and even Mr. Green Lantern himself, Ryan Reynolds. The whole experience was amazing.

Personally, some highlights include keeping JLU going (for way past the show on air), getting to pick a handful of DCUC figures (Blue Beetle, Kamandi, Jonah Hex) and helping to coordinate some  of our amazing SDCC items like the Starro box set, Lobo and Plastic Man. I also really made it a personal goal to finish off Super Powers in 6” Still a few repaints and slight sculpt changes to go, but we are father then I ever thought possible. Cyclotron? Wow. Yeah, we did that.

AFi: We know you had the original five-year plan for DCUC: how much of that was unmade when the new DC direction happened?

Scott:  We actually pretty much wrapped up. As the new team was coming on board we were looking at rebranding the 6” line anyway to keep it fresh so it was nice timing. Of course there were other figures we wanted to get to but those pretty much went into the online Club Infinite Earth line. That is kinda the whole point of CIE, to keep 6” going even if we don’t have retail support. We are our own master now! (no MOTU pun intended!)

Some fans were confused (or Angry) that we didn’t do a 6” DCU (Classics) item at SDCC this year. Honestly, a big part of that was that we now have Club Infinite Earths on In the past, we needed SDCC to put out 6” figures (for the “overall collection”) that didn’t fit into the retail line for one reason or another. Whether this was due to character selection (Lobo) piece count (Plastic Man) or a plus’d up package with light and sounds (Wonder-Twins), in the past SDCC was our avenue to deliver items that really “didn’t work at retail for one reason or another”.

Now that we have Club Infinite Earths on, we can offer all of these executions without having to wait for an annual show. Honestly, fans are in the best position ever for 6”. By  supporting the online club (which we know was a “risk” in year 1 with a lot of unknowns at the time we sold the sub) fans are really going to be rewarded. Ideally it will be like getting a DCU 6” SDCC item every month. (no need to toy hunt!)  Metron is a great example. How in the world would we have done that at retail? He would have had to be part of a “deluxe” assortment with a Batman and Superman deluxe figure and would have been short packed with many fans unable to find him. He would have been better off at SDCC to do the full chair. BUT now that we have CIE we can just include him (and other collector only figures) without retail restrains or having to wait for SDCC. With the online club the gloves are off and you will really see some great collector product (pending the sub goes forward in 2013, which I can’t imagine it won’t!).


AFi:  Looking back knowing what you know now, would you have inserted some missing heavy hitters into DCUC like the 90s Wally West/Kyle Rayner instead of some of the minor characters that got made?

Scott:  It is always a challenge to keep each year fresh while still having some heavy hitters for future years (like holding MM for wave 15!). Honestly, we like have MIA character in order to keep lines going strong each year and not run out of characters too fast. You’ll see many of these missing links filled in in the not too distant future (pending we get enough subscribers to keep the Club Infinite Earth line going on Yes on one hand it is frustrating for fans always worrying that a line might die without completing a team, but on the other, if you burn through characters too quick that can be worse. It is like a delicate dance! Holding back just enough without overdoing it.  


AFi:  Do you feel that, as a comic fan, you were/are an anomaly in the overall history of Mattel brand managers?

Scott:  There are definitely other comic fans at Mattel, but yes, I am probably one of the brand managers who was not only a comic fan but also an avid toy collector before coming to Mattel. I’d define myself as a toy collector first and a comic fan second. For most, it is the opposite. I think that is the big difference.


AFi:  There are still several DCUC figures and repaints that are “looking for slots”,  things like “Naked” Cheetah, Modern Red Tornado, Gold Dr. Fate and the Super Powers version of the Penguin.  Would these ever show up in the subcription?  If not have you turned this information over to the retail team?

Scott:  While we wouldn’t put these into the main sub (in order to reserve all the slots for new figures) it isn’t out of the question to offer these as non sub items (like Bubble Power She-Ra) if there is enough interest. We’ll have to see how the 2013 sub sells first.


AFi:  Last year at Comic con, when you made the subscription announcements there was a lot of confusion and fans wanted more information what have you learned about rolling out the subscriptions specifically for DC universe for this year?

Scott:  Basically last year was a bit of a difficult sell in (for the sub) due to the change in direction only weeks before SDCC. This year, by the time the 2013 sub goes on sale fans will know the full 2012 line up, the first few 2013 figures and actually own the first few 2012 figs. So we hope it will be an easier sell in.


AFi:  Now that you are in charge of how does it work if another group that doesn’t typically sell product on Matty comes to you with something they want to get into the hands of the collector market?  Do you approve that or do you take all comers?

Scott:  I talk to and coordinate with all the brand managers. If they have product that could work on we work together on the execution. But myself and my team are heavily involved. We won’t just put anything up on the site. It needs to have a fan following of some type and or collector demand.


AFi:  At Toy fair you mentioned a solution was coming for the Digital River customer service issues.   It sounds like there is a solution in place now, judging by some of your answers on the Matty boards, but there hasn’t been an official announcement.   Can you talk now about what changes you instituted?

Scott:  We have a new US dedicated customer service team. Right now they are going through a back log of customer issues but by the time SDCC rolls around things should be pretty tight and customers can expect a much faster turn around and an easier way to manage their account including payment and shipping options.


AFi:  Looking back on your time on JLU is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight?

Scott:  With JLU, honestly, it is really a miracle we got as many figures as we did. Most fans forget the line was supposed to end with Grodd. And look at how many we have had since!

Sure there are a few figures we might have done different,  but overall, we kept the line going for YEARS after the show was off thanks to fan support and as a  collector of this line (before I came to Mattel) keeping it going as long as we did is one of the things I am most proud of. We basically kept it going until fans stopped buying. The 7 pack of all new figures didn’t sell well enough and that was pretty much the last nail in the coffin that there just were not enough fans left. But man, what a run! Remember when the Question was the figure we never thought we would get? We’ve come along way!


AFi: Will we ever see another line that might be split between retail and MattyCollector?

Scott:  Always possible but nothing is planned right now.


AFi:  What ended up being the best selling item from the Green Lantern movie line?

Scott:  The basic figures and the ring and mask sold very well.


AFi: On the MOTUC front, as a lifelong fan what does it mean to you to be steering the line for the 30th anniversary?

Scott:  The entire MOTUC line has been an amazing experience and an honor. Especially as a fan first. I never thought I would grow up to be the kid who played with MOTU and is now working on the brand. Honestly, it feels kinda poetic that a fan should be running this. I’ve mentioned how I entered the vintage Create a Character contest back in the day (quite a few times if I remember). Seems like the idea that a young kid who entered that contest and played with the toys grew up to run the line is a good thing for collectors and the future of MOTUC! And I hope our current customers/fans feel the same.  There is a lot of love that goes into making this brand the best it can be!


AFi:  Were there any 30th anniversary plans you pitched that didn’t go forward?

Scott:  Not really. There were a few licensed products that never happened, but everything Mattel wanted to do in the Classics line went through. It will be a great year!


Big thanks to Scott for being so available to answer fans questions.  Tomorrow we will have part 2 which will be the new retail team breaking their silence to give fans some idea of their part of the DCU and where they came from.


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