NFL licensing targets: ‘Back to Football’ and women’s market

More focus on the beginning of the football season and a redoubled effort on licensed products for women were some of the new marketing efforts rolled out to more than 450 licensed-product manufacturers and retailers gathered at Cowboys Stadium last week for the NFL’s eighth annual licensing summit.

While the six-year-old NFL Kickoff program that takes place in the Super Bowl champion’s home city has been a good launching pad for the regular season, league marketers are hopeful that a new “Back to Football” marketing platform, which will extend from training camps in July until the regular season’s debut in September, can heighten awareness and sales.

“It’s another step for us toward year-round marketing programs,” said Rob Stecklow, NFL director of advertising, who, with other league officials, presented what were surely the world’s biggest PowerPoint displays on Cowboys Stadium’s massive video board.

Back to Football is also designed to strengthen NFL licensees’ already sturdy ties to the critical back-to-school buying period, the second-most-important seasonal event for retailers after the holidays. “It’s in the language the consumer products world speaks,” said Leo Kane, NFL consumer products vice president. “And it is a more inclusive program, so it should extend our reach.”

The Longaberger line’s
success shows the
potential for women’s

While it is difficult to measure exactly which licensing sales are attributable to women, NFL marketers know that they often control the household purse strings. So a marketing effort aimed at growing the NFL affinities of women is also in the works. Measured solely by sales of licensed product designed specifically for women, the NFL’s business geared toward women has grown twelvefold since 2001 and doubled since 2004. Today, women’s product accounts for less than 15 percent of all NFL licensed apparel sales.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t grow that to 25 percent, when you consider how much more often women change out their wardrobes,” Kane said. “Our apparel licensees have understood there’s a business there, if they just get after it. We are putting some efforts behind the NFL and women in general, and will see if we can’t get all of our licensees to grow their women’s business.”

At a lunch presentation, a team of NFL women licensing executives noted the success of the new NFL Longaberger line, whose handcrafted NFL baskets range from $24 to $214, along with the availability of NFL-licensed scented candles and garden accessories, as evidence of that demand. As an incentive, a pair of tickets to Super Bowl XLV was offered to the licensee developing the best new women’s product.

 HALO EFFECT: Where there was some question at January’s licensing show in Las Vegas about how much stimulus a New Orleans Saints championship would provide for licensees, now there is none. The feel-good story of the team and city’s revival, combined with sales stimulated by Mardi Gras crowds — some were referring to it as Lombardi Gras — had the already-rebounding industry feeling good. Kane said that based on three weeks of sales, Saints championship merchandise sales are comparable to any of the largest championship runs.

“They are a Cinderella story the country seemed to enjoy, and it looks like sales will net out huge, but below the largest, like the most recent Packers and Steelers championships,” said WinCraft President John Killen. “The economy’s turned somewhat, and everyone in this room is happy after a Yankees championship and the way the Saints performed.”

Kane said the New Orleans title should push them into the top five for NFL team sales for the fiscal year, which ends this month. They had been tracking between 10th to 15th. “There’s still a chance the Saints will be close to the all-time [championship sales] high, but they will certainly be one of our top five,” he said.

Perhaps no licensee was affected more than Tandy Beads, which sold around 12,000 hot-market Saints Mardi Gras beads. Sales rep Buddy Guy said, “We could have sold 100,000 if the factory hadn’t been closed for the Chinese New Year.”

 COOKING UP SOMETHING NEW: Two of the newest licensed products on display bear testimony to the dynamic connection between eating and spectator sports. For the legions of tailgaters that cram NFL parking lots in the fall, Original Mini’s debuted a line of chef coats with team logos on the front and back. Mini’s executive Marck Brock showed us two versions, one with embroidered logos and colored buttons, targeted at upscale distribution with a suggested retail price of $74.99, and a screen-printed line of chef coats, intended for sale at mass merchandisers, that will retail for $34.99. Both should be available for July delivery. Brock said he’s hoping celebrity chefs don the coats on TV.

Fresh goods: DecoPac’s logoed
pizza, and Boelter Brands’ pop-up
trash container

One might well wear that chef’s coat when serving guests an NFL-logoed pizza, from DecoPac, a longtime NFL licensee renowned for its decorations for licensed cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Moving from desserts to entrees, DecoPac’s newest offering is Pizza Fest, an edible, starch-based pizza decoration that melts onto and becomes part of any pizza. The product will be available for all teams and with a Super Bowl XLV logo. Retail pricing will be around $7 to $8 apiece, said John Gardner, senior marketing manager. While it’s an intriguing product, our thought is that DecoPac’s best play would be to team with Papa John’s, which had NFL rights from January through the Super Bowl, since we continue to hear the brand is hoping to sign a longer-term deal to be the league’s official pizza.

While we’re on the subject of food, less than a week before the show, Pangea Brands added an NFL license to the MLB, NBA and NHL agreements it’s had for its forthcoming Pro Toast toaster. Anyone wishing for a quick clean after all their pizza might consider Boelter Brands team-logoed pop-up trash containers. The tall kitchen size (22 inches x 15 inches x 10 inches) container pops up from a flat base and has a drawstring close for easy trash disposal at tailgate parties, which may help consumers stomach a $6 retail price point. Boelter has NFL, MLB and various collegiate licenses for the product, and availability is set for July, said Boelter President Jay Wilcox.

 LICENSING LINES: While Super Bowl product normally is not permitted in the championship game’s host market until August, many of the largest retailers and licensees were asking the league if an exception could be made, given the reverence football has in Texas. Kane told us so far, the policy has not changed. … Generally, the mood was buoyant, but underneath there was growing anxiety about a possible work stoppage. “It is a very scary scenario,” said Gregg McArthur, president at McArthur Towel & Sports. “But, not much any of us here can do but wait it out.” McArthur is not an apparel licensee, but it was showing terry cloth apres-shower shorts (suggested retail price of $24.95), which it is hopeful of selling with NFL logos and seeding in NFL locker rooms for next season. They already have an NBA license. … Tiffany, which has been crafting the Vince Lombardi Trophy since its inception, is getting more active as a licensee. An expanding line of crystal commemorative product should include some licensed jewelry within a year, though most products will be restricted to Tiffany’s own sales and distribution network. … KE Specialties is expanding its line of NFL-logoed health and beauty aids with logoed SPF 30 lip balm, liquid soap, and bar soap. … Other products that caught our eye were the wheeled coolers, golf bags and other luggage from new licensee Athalon, and the travel pillows from Wolf Manufacturing, available in adult and kid sizes.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

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