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While the economy hasn’t fully recovered from the beating it took over the past 18 months, the mood at the recent Sports Licensing & Tailgate Show in Las Vegas was decidedly upbeat, perhaps because retailers were suffering long before other sectors.
Since show organizers split with the defunct Super Show several years back to hold their own licensing show, exhibitors have complained about attendance. Final attendance figures were not available at press time, however show organizers said they had renewed at an eye-popping 70 percent rate, and by the end of the first day, said they were within an eyelash of surpassing last year’s total attendance. Of course, many of last year’s results were dim.
“Our 2008 fourth quarter was so horrible it was easy to beat,” said Jerry Esposito, national sales manager at bedding/home decoration licensee The Northwest Co. “The Yankees winning and the economy coming around made this whole room happier.”
Former NFL marketer Tom Weiner, now vice president of sales and business development at Photo File, said his company sold almost twice as much as at last year’s show. “Everyone’s outlook has changed for the better from a year ago, when there was kind of a deep freeze,” said Gregg McArthur, president at McArthur Towel & Sports, which will again have its championship Trophy Towel on the field after the Super Bowl.
While the large sport properties did not have oversized booths like they did in the glory days of the Super Show, almost every league had people walking the show, which was not the case in recent years. WinCraft, one of the largest hard-goods licensees, did not rent a show booth for the first time in memory. That didn’t stop show organizers from trying to sell WinCraft President John Killen one for next year’s show, as he was being interviewed. “We closed 2009 very strong, as did a lot of licensees in this room, and we are finding that collaborating directly with key retailers to build programs has been very productive,” Killen said.
“This year is already substantially better than 2009,” said Charles Sizemore, CEO of The Memory Co. “Retailers held it close last year and it was a difficult year as far as collecting money, but now they are bringing in fresh inventory, so we are feeling good.”
ROOTING INTEREST: While there were four teams left in the NFL playoffs during the show, there was considerable debate over which Super Bowl matchup would fuel licensing sales. The only consensus among show exhibitors and attendees was that the Indianapolis Colts, now the Super Bowl favorite, were the least likely to stimulate sales, something they proved after winning the Super Bowl three years ago.
Given the results of the conference championship games, now the biggest question among licensees is whether the New Orleans Saints have any national appeal. “Indy did not sell for us last time,” said Adam Pennington, owner and CEO of watch licensee Game Time. “New Orleans is a small market, but you’ve still got the Katrina thing giving them some national appeal.”
Added Eric Schapiro of G III, who was showing a new NFL Collection upscale retro line of tops, tees and jeans with understated logos, similar to the ones they have been selling to women in their “Touch” collection, “When it comes to a championship, all you can hope for is a team that sells outside its own market and there isn’t one left. The [Dallas] Cowboys would have been unbelievable. New Orleans is a great story, but the market is just too small.”
SNUGGIE WARS: People used to walk the licensing show looking for the next bobblehead. Last week, they were looking for the next Snuggie. Allstar Products Group has sold more than 20 million of the blankets with sleeves worldwide since September 2008. Sports-licensed versions started to appear at retail last year, principally from longtime blanket licensee The Northwest Co., which calls its version the Comfy Throw and is available with MLB, NASCAR, NBA, NHL and NFL logos along with entertainment licenses like “SpongeBob,” “Toy Story,” and “Family Guy.”
Northwest’s Esposito said sales exceeded original projections by 400 percent. As for the future? “They’ll become a standard part of our line, like any blanket,” he said. Having seen at the show no less than four different licensees vying for space in the licensed blanket with sleeves category, we’re wondering if those products will soon join Crocs in the faded fad pile.
“It will settle down and become an item in part of an assortment, rather than the item. But in terms of real volume, you probably already had to be out there with them,” said Dave McCarthy, senior director of consumer products marketing at the NHL, which has an exclusive with Northwest.
Snuggies originators joined with fabric licensee Fabrique Innovations to show a number of new looks, many adorned with college marks via CLC. There was an all-over print collegiate Snuggie; a jerseylike uniform Snuggie with school name and number, and one that folds into itself to produce the pillow Snuggie.
“We have the brand name and our printing and overall quality are far superior,” Fabrique’s Ron Farina insisted.
Not to be outdone, the fertile product development minds at Michael Lewis’ Team Beans/Forever Collectibles showed prototypes of their own entry in the competition, the $24.99 Sleeper Stocking, a Christmas stocking large enough to wear, lounge or sleep in, decorated with licensed sports logos and available for holiday 2010. Rounding out the assortment of oversized clothing that are blankets (or vice versa) was The Licensed Products Co.’s three-in-one blanket, a nylon shell that is fleece-lined and hooded so it can serve as a blanket, poncho or cushion when folded.
TOAST OF VEGAS: The talk of the show was certainly the Pro Toast licensed toaster from electronic accessories and leather-goods licensee Pangea Brands. On the outside, it has MLB, NBA and NHL logos; inside there is a mesh design allowing it to burn your favorite team’s image on toast. Sanrio licensee Sanyo has for a decade been selling a similar product, which singes an image of the “Hello Kitty” character on toast.
Pangea founder and CEO Joshua Fink, who was handing out toast samples from his booth, saw the “Hello Kitty” product in Asia and decided American sports fans needed logoed toast. The toaster for all seasons will be at retail in April and sell for $34.99. Pangea is aiming for team stores and mass merchandisers as principal sales channels. Ad support is under development. The tag line: Did you toast your team today?
LICENSING LINES: If ever there was a complementary product for the Pro Toast, it is the licensed coffee from Top Shelf Coffee, Cleveland. Introduced at the recent NBA marketing meetings in New York, owner and CEO Jordan Filippidis is aiming at team shops and has done sponsorship deals with NBA clubs in order to get distribution at retailers that are also team sponsors. The Colombian Supremo blend comes in 12-ounce bags carrying NBA team logos, whole or ground, regular or decaffeinated, dark roast or regular, priced at $7.99 to $8.99.
Another product in the “never saw a logo on that before” category — Boelter Brands faux Tupperware storage containers, in nesting sets of three, round, square and rectangular, with all the major sports licenses.
Terry Lefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since it’s the site of the Super Bowl, we felt it necessary to revisit the deal that last month turned what was once known as Joe Robbie Stadium into Sun Life Stadium.
Addendum one: Since originally reporting $7.5 million a year for the five-year deal, we’ve heard quite a range of other prices, from $4 million per annum, which seems low, to $6 million, a figure we now believe.
More intriguing is that it could have been MetroPCS Stadium eight months ago. Sources familiar with the negotiations tell us the NFL Dolphins had interest from MetroPCS but rejected that company’s overtures to do the no-fee promotional arrangement with Jimmy Buffett that got his Land Shark Lager on the stadium nameplate from May until last month.
While no formal offer was made, sources said MetroPCS, with 600 stores in South Florida, would have paid upward of $6 million a year (one source said they would have gone as high as $8 million) for a five-year deal. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross rejected the deal because he thought the stadium naming-rights were worth $10 million annually, because he was not thrilled with the name MetroPCS Stadium, and because he wanted to pursue a show-biz strategy with entertainers like Buffett and Gloria Estefan.
In April, MetroPCS was told the Dolphins were “going in another direction,” and the Land Shark deal was announced in May. The Sun Life deal was rolled out last month, meaning Ross left millions on the table — something that’s easier to do when you’re a billionaire.
Addendum two: Fenway Sports Group made a land grab for credit on the deal, with a PR reachout and a congratulatory ad in these pages. While we’re told FSG made the initial introductions and thus earned a commission, the agency you haven’t heard of relative to this deal is Van Wagner, a company better known for signage.
Van Wagner has been developing expertise and clients in the venue-branding area under Kip Koslow, who directs the agency’s sports and entertainment consulting. Van Wagner evaluated the deal and negotiated on behalf of Sun Life. It’s also handling implementation of cornerstone partnerships at the new Jets/Giants NFL stadium for Pepsi and MetLife, for which it is the agency of record.
Van Wagner got a one-time exemption from MetLife to work on the Sun Life deal. Pepsi has also assigned some chores at the new Cowboys Stadium to Van Wagner.
We’ll be interested to see if Sun Life wants to augment its deal via outfield signage with the Florida Marlins, another stadium tenant. Last year, that wall had both Geico and State Farm ads. Sun Life’s categories are not very broad. They are financial insurance (health and annuity), plus financial advisory.
MILKING IT: Unilever’s Dove Men+Care skin care line is backing its Super Bowl ad buy with a Web effort modeled on the iconic got milk?/milk mustache campaign for a national consortium of milk processors.
Just as a player from each team competing in the Super Bowl annually shoots a milk mustache ad in the weeks leading up to the game, two players — New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai — were shooting stills and video last week on behalf of the Dove line. Footage from the winning team’s player will be used in a large post-Super Bowl online ad effort across a variety of sports sites, including FoxSports.com and Yahoo! Sports.
The Ryan Partnership handles for Unilever. Ogilvy & Mather is Dove’s creative shop.
NOT OVERINSURED: Prudential is the name on the arena that the New Jersey Devils call home, but Insurance Office of America has signed as the team and arena’s first official insurance broker. In a five-year deal that’s largely a business-to-business marketing play, IOA gets tickets, hospitality, concourse and LED signage, along with some radio and Web site inventory.
The deal, the first NHL sponsorship for IOA, expands a sports strategy that’s atypical for the insurance brokerage category but standard practice for the big brands in the category, like Allstate and State Farm. IOA also has sponsorships with the Orlando Magic, Jacksonville Jaguars and University of Central Florida. The UCF deal includes title rights to the main plaza at UCF’s Bright House Networks Stadium after a $2 million gift in 2007.
Premier Partnerships brokered the Pru Center deal for IOA.
BRIDGE TO CHINA?: Ask any U.S. property marketer what’s needed to establish a beachhead in a foreign market, and the answer you’ll hear is a player from that country competing in the United States. Every league is looking to China’s billion-plus consumers enviously, and one need look no further than the impact that Yao Ming and other Chinese nationals have had on the NBA in China to see why.
The NFL’s answer to Yao will be available in the next player draft. He won’t be an overall No. 1 pick, like Yao was, but 6-foot-5, 310-pound Ed Wang, an offensive lineman from Virginia Tech, will be the first player of direct Chinese ancestry drafted by the NFL. Most scout sites have pegged him to be between a second- and fourth-rounder.
From a marketing perspective, though, Wang is a first-round pick, since he’d be a portal to China for the NFL or any companies he endorses. Wang is fluent in Mandarin, and his parents were members of China’s Olympic team in the 1970s.
Octagon is representing him for both contracts and marketing. We’re told both domestic and Chinese footwear companies have already expressed some interest, as has the NFL itself.
TEAM SELLING: The NBA has named the Los Angeles Lakers and Staples Center owner AEG as its Team Retailer of the Year. Having the team win its 15th league title last season didn’t hurt, but sales were also at championship levels. Merchandise per caps were up 7 percent over the prior year, and the Lakers were ranked No. 1 in NBA merchandise per caps for the third year in a row.
AEG also increased the amount of licensed merchandise in its product assortment by 6 percent; ran innovative promotions and had key matchup merchandise, like product dedicated to the Lakers vs. Cavaliers on Christmas Day; and supported NBA league initiatives, including NBA Green and NBA Fit.
“They’re our top-selling team and all the things we preach as far as best practices, they do,” said Brian Keegan, the NBA’s vice president of retail marketing and development.
GOAL ORIENTED: Looking to cash in on America’s growing Hispanic population in a World Cup year, Brad Rothenberg’s BRC Group has signed a one-year exclusive U.S. marketing representation deal for 20-year-old Giovani dos Santos, the Mexican-born soccer star who’s called by some the future of Mexican soccer and possibly the face of his national team during the FIFA tournament this summer.
“He’s to Mexican soccer what Landon Donovan has been to the U.S., as far as star power,” Rothenberg said.
HERE & THERE: Longtime Kraft Foods marketer Stephen Chriss moves from director of snacks, consumer and customer engagement, to heading up a new companywide function including sponsorship marketing as senior director, corporate scale and marketing alliances. Promotions under Chriss’ aegis include the NFL Manning brothers’ participation in the fictitious Oreo Double Stuf Racing League. … eLayaway has signed NFL hall of famer Marcus Allen as a spokesman. Co-founder and CEO Sergio Pinon said Allen will be a “brand ambassador,” used for appearances and possibly in some advertising. The company, which now has the NFL Saints, Vikings and Jaguars and the NHL Red Wings under contract, used Deion Sanders as a spokesman several years ago. … OTC joint pain supplement Instaflex has signed soccer hall of famer Carla Overbeck as an endorser. Overbeck will be used largely for online marketing efforts; Sue Rodin’s Stars & Strategies handles.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.