View from Vegas: Licensing out of ‘deep freeze’

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.

Leftovers go better with sports, thanks to
storage containers from Boelter Brands.

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.”

Snuggie spawned a new category: the licensed blanket with
sleeves. Collegiate Snuggies from Fabrique Innovations are
at far left; The Northwest Co.’s Yankees championship
Comfy Throw is near left.

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.

Pangea Brands thinks sports fans have
gone too long without logos on their toast.

Not to be outdone, the fertile product development minds at Michael LewisTeam 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.

Does your NBA team’s
play keep you up at night,
or is it the licensed coffee
from Top Shelf Coffee?

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

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