Every day, children across the U.S. listen to and learn from the adorable Elmo on Sesame Street. But the “voice” of Elmo, 52-year old multiple Emmy winner Kevin Clash, took a leave of absence earlier this week when a man Clash had a prior sexual relationship with claimed he was underage at the time.
Many questions remain. What impact will this have on the Elmo brand and sales as we enter the holiday shopping season? How will this impact Mr. Clash’s job?
Impact to Elmo toy sales expected to be minimal.
Retail analyst, Stacey Widlitz, S.W. Retail Advisors President, says she doesn’t think there will be a backlash on sales of Elmo products since the allegations have been recanted.
“In retail there’s is a lot more tolerance with being sensitive to different lifestyles. Certainly toy companies will not pull back one of their most popular products,” Widlitz says.
But can consumers separate Elmo from the man who plays him?
“There is a small group of about 5 percent to 10 percent who may have heard of this and may be hesitant to buy a product for a kid who has been asking for [Elmo],” according to Jim Silver, Editor in Chief of the online family site, TimeToPlay.com.
“Kevin [Clash] is the voice and is not Elmo the same way James Earl Jones is not Darth Vader.”
The Elmo and Sesame Street brands remain strong despite the recent controversy. Silver says Sesame Street, led by Elmo, has been one of the top five preschool brands every year over the past decade, alongside Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer.
Silver estimates Sesame Street toys generate $75 million in sales annually with Elmo accounting for more than 50 percent of the sales.
Elmo’s brand is intact, but what about Mr. Clash’s?
Reputation expert Mike Paul, President of MGP & Associates PR says his credibility is at stake. He says although the allegations were recanted, it is just the beginning for Kevin Clash to rebuild his image. “People will still have questions. Was it appropriate to have that relationship?” Paul explains.
This scandal also puts pressure on Sesame Workshop. Paul asks whether Mr. Clash can be replaced with a good understudy. “If he’s the only one in the world that can do it, do they feel this will die down? Are they willing to take the risk?,” Paul exerts.
“If there is a replacement there is a risk for his career,” Paul says adamantly.
“This character makes Sesame Street money and will survive, question is will Kevin [Clash] survive,” Paul says.
According to the website, CelebrityNetWorth.com, Kevin Clash has an estimated net worth of $12 million. The site estimates he receives a salary ranging from $300,000 to $500,000 annually.
Sesame Workshop issued this statement on November 13th regarding Mr. Clash, “We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a close, and we are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode.” The company would not say if or when Mr. Clash will return to Sesame Street.
TheGrio also reached out to the spokesperson for Kevin Clash, but did not receive any response.
Shartia Brantley is a producer and on-air reporter at CNBC. Follow Shartia on Twitter at @shartiabrantley