SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Matchup they're all talking about is at the negotiating table

Terry Lefton
When the sports licensing community gathers at this time of year, as it does annually in Las Vegas for the Sports Licensing & Tailgate Show, talk inevitably turns to which Super Bowl matchup would generate the most sales.

The news for a business already on the rebound is all good. It’s the enviable choice between two teams with well-established national footprints in the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with two large-market teams in the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, both without a championship in a generation. Any combination presented a happy choice for licensees, regardless of which teams qualify for the Super Bowl.

“They are all great matchups for business, but Bears over Jets is probably the best matchup for sales. But even though they are in New York, I don’t think the Jets would be quite as big as some people think,” said Eddie Miller of ’47 Brand, expressing what seemed to be the consensus of the licensing cognoscenti in Vegas. Others recalled that when the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986 with an 18-1 record, their sales momentum ended when the space shuttle Challenger disaster happened two days after the Super Bowl victory.

Mindful that Green Bay’s Super Bowl win in 1997 established an all-time sales mark, there was even some talk of achieving a record for Super Bowl hot-market numbers this year.

There was also, however, a dichotomy between ebullience and reality that was tough to ignore. The next gathering of NFL licensees is set for just after the CBA expires March 3, so it could be the most morose collection of licensees ever assembled. Even so, there was a fair amount of hope expressed on the show floor.

WinCraft President John Killen offered dual optimism — given the heady choice of possible Super Bowl competitors, he predicted a new high in Super Bowl hot-market sales for his company. He also sang an optimistic tune on the labor front.

“We’re assuming there will be some disruption, but I don’t see them missing [regular-season] games,” he said, recalling that it took his company’s MLB sales years to recover after the 1994 strike, which forced the cancellation of the MLB postseason. “They’ve got to figure it out. There is just too much at stake.”

“I am still assuming the worst is not going to happen,” said Charles Sizemore, founder and CEO of The Memory Company, showing an expanded collection of ceramics, glassware and other home products.

Whether all that optimism was based on anything, aside from the hope and faith that are endemic to sports and any business as sales-driven as licensing, is an interesting question.

Some wondered about having to pay their sizable NFL licensing guarantees during a time when the only news about the NFL may be CBA related. “A long labor stoppage would knock out at least 10 licensees on this floor, and remember that the sell-in for the fall football season is in the spring, when a lot of the back-and-forth will be starting,” said Adam Pennington, owner and CEO of watch licensee Game Time.

Many suggested college football stood to gain the most if the NFL loses games.

“If the NFL isn’t playing, college football will be the biggest beneficiary, and we are also looking at entertainment and other nonsports,” said Ralph Gabriel, director of merchandising at Great American Products.

“Everybody on this floor is hoping they [the NFL and NFLPA] get it together,” said Dave Kirkpatrick, vice president of non-apparel marketing at CLC. “If it were to go bad, some retailers have told us they will look to college to offset their [NFL] losses.”

Still, considering it is generally the same person making licensed-product buying decisions for retailers, the fear of an NFL work stoppage bled well beyond those who would be most directly affected.

“People have told me that [an NFL work stoppage] would be an opportunity for us, but I see it as a loss across the business,” said Dave McCarthy, NHL vice president of integrated marketing. “A rising tide lifts all boats, and in this case I’m afraid the opposite would definitely also be true.”

Pillow Pets, which scored during the holidays, are entering the college ranks.
• NEW LINEUP: Among the new products we enjoyed was the dancing snowman hat from Scottish Christmas, and like the many mechanical dancing snowmen and Christmas trees of years past, it plays holiday-themed music. It is available in all four big league licenses. While it can be worn on your head, it is billed as a tabletop novelty since Scottish Christmas is not an NFL hat licensee. It should be at retail this spring with a price tag of about $30. … Pangea Brands, which drew a lot of raves for its licensed toaster over the past year, is expanding its line of small appliances to include goods that could appeal to students and others without full kitchens. New to the lineup is a logoed waffle and panini maker, available this spring with a retail price of $49. Pangea was also showing a prototype of popcorn makers made in the shape of the ball matching the license applied, whether it be an MLB, NFL or NBA version. They will list at about $59 and are due at retail in the fall.

Spirit Fingerz give wearers 10 little pompoms to wave for their favorite pro or college teams.
A pair of toy and gift items hoping to replicate the success in sports licensing they enjoyed last year are PPW Toys’ retro wooden train sets and Fabrique Innovations doing licensed versions of the Pillow Pets that were such a hit during the past holiday season, which will retail between $30 and $40. PPW will market its wooden train in MLB and NFL versions for $13 and up, said Dean Gorby, PPW business development manager. The company has been selling sports licensed versions of Hasbro’s venerable Mr. Potato Head character for five years.

Annie Fink Designs is offering collegiate-licensed Spirit Sleeves, a fingerless glove/arm warmer that retails for about $18.
At least two companies were looking to place licensed products on a new place: women’s hands. Perhaps the definitive impulse buy are Spirit Fingerz, licensed acrylic gloves with small pompoms on the end of each finger, all the better for cheeringon your favorite squad. WinCraft is distributing the NFL-licensed versions, retailing for $25, while Imperial Headwear’s Merge Left brand has the collegiate-licensed version, about $20. “They’re just fun, and sports should be fun,” said inventor Teresa Denham. Annie Fink Designs was pushing LRG collegiate-licensed Spirit Sleeves, a combination fingerless glove/arm warmer that retails for about $18. This comes with matching leggings and headbands, all of which started
KE Specialties made a fingertip grab of the prize for new NFL women's licensed product.
being used for yoga, since Fink is a yoga instructor.

WinCraft also is developing a licensed version of Isotoner smarTouch gloves, which allow the use of BlackBerry and iPhones for wearers.

• AWARDS SHOW: KE Specialties’ team-colored nail polish was named the NFL’s top new women’s licensed product of the year, an award the NFL launched last year to stimulate more innovation in that category. A two-bottle set retails for about $13. “The price was right and clearly we filled a need,” said owner Stuart Pollak, who won Super Bowl tickets based on the product’s initial success. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz was named the NBA’s Team Retailer of the Year, while Majestic Athletic and WinCraft were named that league’s apparel and non-apparel licensees of the year, respectively, at the NBA’s recent Team Retail Summit.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

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