Well, I'm back from vacation, only to discover that Los Angeles is in the middle of a billion dollar girl fight. Actually a $3.1 billion girl fight if Mattel's figures are correct.
Later today a judge is expected to rule on whether to declare a mistrial in the case Mattel brought against MGA Entertainment over its mega-hit Bratz dolls. Two weeks ago a federal jury ruled that the idea and drawings for the Bratz line were created by a Mattel employee while he was at Mattel. That employee, Carter Bryant, later left to go work for MGA and took his ideas and drawings with him--he has already settled with Mattel.
MGA's attorneys have asked for a mistrial because, during deliberations, one of the jurors allegedly made "grossly inappropriate comments about the ethnic origin" of MGA CEO Isaac Larian, who was born in Iran. According to the MGA filing, "Juror No. 8 referred to Iranians being 'thieves' and to 'hav(ing) stolen other person's ideas'..."
Larian was apparently afraid this might happen. His PR rep tells CNBC that initially the CEO was concerned about the trial being moved out of Los Angeles to working class Riverside County (a courtroom/expert judge availability issue), and he was also concerned with the mostly white jury. "Don't worry, this is America," the publicist assured him.
But Larian has billions of other reasons why he'd like this case to start over. The potential mistrial comes just as we're starting to hear for the first time what Bratz is worth, as attorneys try to convince jurors whether or not Mattel is entitled to damages. MGA has never publicly revealed sales figures for Bratz. For the first time, in an exclusive interview with CNBC Larian says the doll generates anywhere from a half billion to a billion dollars a year in sales. BUT he says the figure used to be higher, but he admits MGA stumbled in strategy during the last year. "We walked away from the essence of the brand, which was multi-ethnic dolls that each wore a different type of fashions," Larian told us. "The mistake that we made (was) most of the fashions became the same. We are now fixing that going forward." He also blames the sales falloff on a campaign by Mattel to destroy Bratz, even at the expense of Mattel's own attempt to copy the doll with the My Scene line.
MATTEL'S BOTTOM LINE:
Mattel has its own figures on what it believes Bratz is worth: $816 million in profits through June of this year on revenues of $3.1 billion. Barbie wants every penny. That's assuming the current verdict isn't thrown out and everyone goes back to square one. By the way, for much of the trial, both Larian and Mattel CEO Bob Eckert have been in the courtroom. It's no small thing to drive all the way to Riverside...