SBD/Issue 88/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

NFL Squeezing Small-Scale Online Retailers Over Merchandise

NFL Is Limiting Who Can Offer
Reebok's Game Day Apparel Line
The NFL is "essentially cutting off ... small-scale online discounters," as the league will "only allow online shops that bought at least $3[M] worth of licensed merchandise from Reebok last year to apply to offer" the company's game day apparel line, according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Reebok's licensing division in a letter sent last fall notified "hundreds of ... online retailers that they would have to reapply for the right to continue selling the NFL's valuable game day line," which includes jerseys, hats and "other apparel modeled on what players and coaches wear." More traditional retail stores "that also sell online will have to meet a minimum threshold of $2[M] in purchases last year." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that the league's strategy is to "protect its brand by combating counterfeiters who sold knockoffs and discounters who undercut value." McCarthy: "It's the same as Tiffany or Levi's or Ralph Lauren. Wal-Mart doesn't sell our top of the line. The game day stuff is our best stuff, and that's why we need to protect it." McCarthy added that small stores "excluded by its new policy can still sell non-game day merchandise like sweatshirts often found at mass-market retailers." Retail analysts said that NFL officials "appear to have calculated that they can make enough in extra sales through NFLShop.com and other approved Web sites to offset any loss of sales to small retailers." Meanwhile, Belson notes the league's new policy comes at a "critical legal and political juncture for the NFL," as the Supreme Court is deciding American Needle v. the NFL. The league's change in online sales strategy also comes as the U.S. House is "considering a bill that would make it an antitrust violation for manufacturers to set minimum retail prices" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/20).

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