Phil Robertson‘s anti-gay comments and subsequent suspension could wind up boosting sales of Duck Dynasty merchandise and even drive up ratings for an already red-hot show, experts tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Unlike controversies that erupt when a high-profile personality is suspended for drug use or domestic violence, Robertson’s is tied to the type of difference in religious values that could rally consumers to his cause. A spokesman for A&E, which airs Duck Dynasty and suspended Robertson indefinitely for his remarks in a GQ article, declined to comment for this story. However, a network source confirmed that while the show has a wide national audience, it’s especially strong in the southern and southwestern U.S. — particularly the Bible Belt – where for many viewers, faith can drive shopping habits.
Indeed, Billboard reported Thursday that the album Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas, which features a prayer by Robertson and a duet with country singer George Strait, sold about 125,000 copies for the week ending Dec. 22. The album is number six on the Billboard 200 chart, and has sold about 575,000 copies to date.
Chris Stone, whose Faith Driven Consumer group’s petition nabbed more than 70,000 electronic signatures in support of Robertson within nine hours of its posting, says the group he founded represents consumers whose faith “is a significant enough part of their life to influence their daily (buying) decisions.
“In this case those that like Phil or like Duck Dynasty specifically would be more inclined to engage with the brand because they identify with it,” adds Stone, who is based in Raleigh, N.C.
Duck Dynasty in the past two years has become a very big business, and not just because it is among the most highly rated shows on cable TV. Industry sources confirm Forbes‘ prediction that more than $400 million in Duck Dynasty merchandise will be sold this year — apparel, sports gear, work gloves, toys, kids’ play sets, flashlights, Chia pets and Hallmark cards, among others. In all, some 75 companies with Duck Dynasty licenses produce around 1,200 different products. Much of that activity has been generated through Brandgenuity, a New York brand licensing agency.
Duck Dynasty-branded books also have been best-sellers, including Si-Cology by another castmember, Si Robertson, the No. 9 New York Times nonfiction best-seller as of Dec. 19. Happy Happy Happy: My Life as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson was No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list when it came out last May.
Stone puts the faith-driven group of consumers at 25 percent of the U.S. population or about 46 million people at a minimum. He estimates they have $1.8 trillion in retail buying power.
Stone’s prediction is backed up by Ira Mayer, the New York-based president of EPM, publisher of the The Licensing Letter, which covers the business of merchandising and licensing. Mayer says some fans who are “in alignment with Robertson … might therefore be inclined to show their support by purchasing more merchandise,” even as others “find Robertson’s comments sufficiently offensive (and) stop buying altogether.”
A number of licensees THR called declined to comment, but some have expressed faith in Robertson. TMZ reported that Under Armour is aware of the controversy, but the clothing company has “no plans to change our current relationship.” Stone says he has heard from both licensees and sponsors including Skyjacker, a company that makes suspension parts for trucks. “They stand by Phil and the show,” says Stone, “because they share a biblical worldwide belief with the cast and with Phil in particular.”
Mayer says the controversy could have another impact – bringing more viewers to Duck Dynasty. The wave of publicity generated by Robertson’s suspension could encourage people “who have never seen it,” says Mayer, to watch in order to determine for themselves “what the ruckus is about.”
“People who solidly support Duck Dynasty will become even more so,” says Stone, “and those who have not experienced it yet may out of curiosity or like-minded values be attracted. So I would expect — assuming A&E continues to show the series — that will be the case; and if not, I would think someone else would pick up the show because it’s such a valuable commodity.”