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Money talks for licensed gear, goodies
Published January 26, 2009
Two hours before Super Bowl XXIX, a father and son stepped out of the Florida sunshine and into Joe Robbie Stadium, hurrying to the souvenir stand closest to the gate.
“What can I get, Dad?’’ pleaded the towheaded 10-year-old.
Clutching tickets in one hand and grabbing for his wallet with the other, the man told his boy what he wanted to hear: “Anything you want, son.”
That kind of unbridled consumerism has helped make the Super Bowl the top merchandise seller among one-day events, annually bringing $100 million or more at retail and drawing among the highest per cap rates of any event in America: three to four times that of a regular-season NFL game.
“Players always say each round of the playoffs takes it to another level. The same is true from a merchandising perspective,’’ said Milt Arenson, president and CEO of Facility Merchandising Inc., which has exclusively sold merchandise at Super Bowl venues for more than 20 years. FMI also administers merchandising in the host city’s hotels and distributes the Super Bowl game program. “Going to the Super Bowl is on every sports fan’s bucket list, so you know people are going to spend. We’ve done Olympics and World Cup; the Super Bowl is still at the top of the heap.”
Jim Steeg ran 26 Super Bowls for the NFL, from 1980 to 2005, before leaving to become executive vice president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Chargers. When asked about the difference in merchandising for the Super Bowl and any other NFL game, he offered an example.
“A team might sell 5,000 programs for a regular-season game,” Steeg said. “For the Super Bowl, we’d sell around 30,000. I’ve seen guys buy a box of 25 and just pass them down the row.”
As a further point of comparison, programs at Steeg’s first Super Bowl cost $2.50. At this year’s game, they will be priced at $25.
The benchmark for Super Bowl merchandise is $100 million in retail sales, with 50 percent in the host city and 25 percent in each of the two competing cities. That can vary greatly, though, as can the ratio of team-specific to championship-market product and the ratio of hot-market to generic product, based on which teams are playing. Pittsburgh’s triumph at Detroit in Super Bowl XL was the league’s biggest based on licensed sales because of the Steelers’ national fan base, the proximity of their home market to the game site, and the fact that Detroit’s winter weather boosted sales of outerwear.
“It really makes a difference if a team has won before,” said Leo Kane, NFL vice president of licensing and consumer products, who has worked the last 16 Super Bowls. “That means they’ll have a big fan base and there will be a demand for commemorative product, which usually lasts well into the next season.”
The scope of Super Bowl merchandising as it stands today is largely the result of a symbiotic relationship that draws back 20 years. The Super Bowl, as an event, came of age at almost the same time as the licensed sports apparel boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“You had teams like the Cowboys and 49ers winning it multiple times and creating unprecedented demand,” said Jim Connelly, who from 1993 until 1998 ran NFL licensing as senior vice president of consumer products. “All of a sudden, everything was about ‘if-win’ orders, and the difference between winning and losing was tens of millions. So we got very good at meeting that mushrooming demand with instant gratification.’’
Sales have also been fueled by the addition of new products to the mix each year. Susan Rothman, NFL consumer products vice president, cited handbags, jewelry and camisoles as examples for this year’s game.
“Location and temperature really dictate the product mix,” Rothman said. “We needed very different product in Detroit than we’ll need in Tampa.”
Steeg traces the rise of generic Super Bowl product to an aggressive push by the Super Bowl XVI host committee for the 1982 game in Pontiac, Mich.
“They were the first host committee with real muscle, and when they started pushing hard on sales of stuff with host committee marks in Detroit, it showed us the opportunity,” he said.
Before the next Super Bowl, generic Super Bowl-licensed products were in airports and hotel gift shops long before the game. These days, the NFL permits retailers in the host city to sell generic Super Bowl-logoed items as early as Aug. 1.
While apparel makes up the majority of Super Bowl licensed products, over the years, there has been an intriguing variety of offerings. Steeg’s mulch pile of forgotten Super Bowl licensed merchandise includes playing cards with images of tickets on the back, inspired by the amount of time he spent “shuffling tickets.” Also in Steeg’s attic are jigsaw puzzles and forgotten recordings of halftime marching bands.
This year, the more than 80 Super Bowl licensees’ hundreds of offerings include car mats, pewter letter openers, electric trains, pizza cutters, baby booties, rugs and leather recliners. Playing to the NFL’s assertion that the Super Bowl trails only Thanksgiving as a food-consumption holiday in America, there’s also a Super Bowl Crock-Pot from Jarden Corp., cake decorations from DecoPac, and M&M’s with Super Bowl logos from Mars Direct. Hallmark markets some 40 Super Bowl party products, including invitations, cups, napkins and plates.
It should be no surprise that Arenson’s favorite Super Bowl was played at the game’s largest venue, the Rose Bowl, which has hosted the game five times.
Remember the scene in “Hoosiers” where the coach has his team measure the distance from the rim down to the floor to show them that the site of the state championship game is the same as their gym back home? Capturing the merchandising dollars from the affluent Super Bowl crowd requires the opposite philosophy.
“We start planning for next year the day after the Super Bowl because every site is unique,’’ Arenson said. “Nothing out there makes Tampa like Miami, or Miami like Dallas, or Dallas like Indianapolis. They’re all different, and the key is to plan and react with that in mind.”