SBJ/February 4 - 10, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Super Show's licensed-goods focus squarely on knickknacks, not apparel

Notes and quotes from a sparsely attended Super Show:

DESERTED AISLES: While Nike returned to the Super Show with an off-premise dog-and-pony show reminiscent of the song and dance NFL Properties used to stage on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, the Eager Beavertons as well as Reebok and Adidas did not have floor booths at this year's event in Las Vegas.

Also gone by attrition (read: bankruptcy), and in some cases by choice, were many of the licensed apparel brands. The NFL and MLB shared a booth for the second consecutive year; the NHL's was a far cry from when its booth used to be the biggest one on the floor of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where the show was held until last year. The NBA's meeting rooms were so far removed from the action that a Super Show office barely 100 feet away couldn't locate them.

Exhibitors complained that what had been a vibrant licensed-product section was now filled with "trinkets and trash," to use the pejorative industry vernacular. Every manner of bobblehead could be found, along with an astounding variety of licensed bears.

Accordingly, there were some companies selling licensed sports product who weren't complaining.

"The best show we ever had," said Tom Toal, sales vice president at Concord Industries of Norwalk, Conn., which derives 60 percent to 70 percent of its revenue from sales of key chains.

Over at Team Beans, supplier of the ersatz Beanie Baby bears that have been given to fans at World Series and Super Bowls, President Michael Lewis was sitting pretty in a booth chock-a-block full of bears, bobbles and customers. Once a principal at Apex One, which like so many of the licensed apparel brands of the '90s is just a memory, Lewis is now more than a survivor of the licensed sports apparel halcyon days; he's a winner at a time when licensed apparel is drawing far less attention than licensed baubles and bobbles.

"If you told me five years ago I'd be making a living doing this, I'd have hung up on you," Lewis said. Team Beans has more than 70 licenses, including leagues and athletes, and will sell more than $10 million worth of bears and bobbleheads this year, he said.

 

CHANGING TEAMS?: For many years, the temptation (and, in many cases, the practice) of large sports licensers was to take the big dollars from sneaker companies less interested in being in the licensed apparel biz than in getting their logos on TV. In recent years, MLB rebuilt its licensing business by growing with relatively smaller companies like Majestic, New Era, Rawlings and Russell.

With MLB's on-field deals expiring at the end of the 2002 season, there is growing speculation about whether Reebok, which has lately been gobbling up on-field deals (NBA and NFL) like a hungry Pac-Man, will gets its vector logo on MLB fields. None of MLB's licensing execs are said to want Reebok in, since that would be counter to their recent strategy. The view from here is that Reebok will have to work the deal from ownership down to have any chance. Rawlings' precarious financial position could complicate matters, however, not to mention persistent rumors that the company will exit licensed apparel or perhaps even the apparel business altogether. Insiders report that Reebok doesn't want an MLB deal unless it includes caps — a right held by New Era that doesn't expire until after the 2003 season.

Rhetorical question: Would a Reebok division that holds long-term exclusive deals with MLB, NBA and NFL be worthy of an IPO in better times?

 

LICENSING LORE: Sometimes licensing deals that aren't made are more interesting than the ones that are. Such is the case with Tiger Woods, who recently said no to a $2 million offer from American Greetings for an executive diary that would have included pictures and golf tips. ... Among the trinkets and trash, a favorite was an NHL-licensed windshield ice scraper from J.F. Sports; the business-end was the blade of an ice skate or the bottom of a Zamboni. ... Tucked into a far corner of the show was a booth from Retroactive Apparel, founded to bring back defunct licensed brand Pro Player via a brand play at retail, a la Starter. Ronnie Braha, a principal with Retroactive Apparel, hopes to get the line to midtier retailers this fall. ... Not far from the licensed area, Fury was displaying hundreds of scary-looking knives. A woman behind a table laden with malicious cutlery was asked how they get onto airplanes. "With great difficulty," was the answer.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@amcity.com.

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