SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Super Show does little to settle retailers' questions on NFL goods

Retailers who attended last week's Super Show in Las Vegas left with more questions than answers, as they found that most NFL licensees were still not sure if their licenses would be renewed for next season. They also came upon Logo Athletic Inc. independent sales representatives in a booth exhibiting Reebok International's NFL line.

Although NFL-licensed-product orders are traditionally booked during January, the league has still not decided which licenses it will renew and which ones it will cut. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the league will chop its licensee roster in half, eliminating more than 150 companies, but no decision as to which companies will be made until March. When licensees call inquiring about their status, league officials read a standard statement that loosely translates to "We don't know."

There are a few certain cuts. Logo definitely will not return as an NFL licensee under its own brand or the brand of its part-owner, Puma, next season, a company official said.

Logo and Reebok are in talks regarding a partnership that would see Logo serve as the manufacturing and fulfillment arm for Reebok's NFL business, which kicks off next season under a 10-year licensing deal. No agreement between the two has been completed, but Logo's sales reps — who are independent contractors not employed by either company — were meeting with retailers in the Reebok booth.

The one company sure to return as a licensee is VF Corp.'s knitwear division, which markets products under the LeeSport brand, but the company still does not know exactly what kind of license it will have. With Logo Athletic out of the picture and most of the other major licensed-product specialists out of business, VF is now the league's go-to licensee for basic apparel items.

The unresolved question is what sort of exclusivity VF will have. One scenario being discussed has VF picking up sole rights to produce apparel for the mass merchant (Kmart and Wal-Mart) and "mid-tier" channels (sporting goods stores such as Modell's and The Sports Authority). Reebok then would get exclusivity for the "upstairs," which would include some mall-based sporting goods stores and department stores.

MLS TURNS TO TELECOM, OVERNIGHT: Major League Soccer is keying in on the telecommunications and overnight delivery sponsorship categories to make up for the loss of two longtime sponsors — Snickers and MasterCard International — which did not renew their deals for next season.

League executives said they've had encouraging talks with AT&T Wireless and Verizon on the non-wireless side. AT&T Corp. was one of the league's founding sponsors but did not renew for the 2000 season. The company has since been reorganized.

In overnight delivery, the league is in talks with the U.S. Postal Service and UPS, which has some money to spend after not renewing its Olympic sponsorship and dropping the NFL.

The league also reshuffled its roster of uniform suppliers, with Nike dropping from six teams to four and Kappa and Umbro adding a team each, doubling their allotment. Mexico-based supplier Atletica switched from the New England Revolution to the Dallas Burn. Adidas remains the supplier for three teams.

AMEX TIPS CARD HOLDERS: American Express will sponsor a Card Member Experience Area at the NBA Jam Session during All-Star Weekend. The area will play host to several events open only to Amex card members, including a question-and-answer session with Kevin Garnett and an appearance by Alonzo Mourning on his birthday, Feb. 8. Magic Johnson also will appear at an Amex card-member-only event at the Jam Session's center court, talking about his All-Star memories and taking questions from fans.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@amcity.com.

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