SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NHL licensees discuss labor, latest offerings

After the second consecutive Stanley Cup Final that yielded a bumper crop of hot-market sales, playoff per caps that were up 11 percent, a seven-game championship series that included a Game 7 that was the NHL’s highest-rated telecast since 1974, and a fiscal year in which, by the league’s own calculations, sales of licensed products increased about 15 percent, it was understandable that the mood of the 100-plus NHL licensees gathered on the floor of the Air Canada Centre last week was buoyant. However, for many of the larger licensees, who hold rights across all of North America’s biggest sports, the pending NFL settlement offered yet another reason to be happy.

WinCraft Chairman and CEO Dick Pope said his company, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, had been feeling the impact of the lockout since May. “There was a lot of caution, but at the same time no one thought they weren’t going to play, so now we can use our domestic capabilities to fill the pipeline,” he said. “Everyone on this floor is happy to get back to selling NFL.”

“Big stores weren’t buying holiday yet, or, if they were, it was much lighter,” said Adam Pennington, owner and CEO at watch licensee Game Time. “Now it’s back to business.”

“I kept being asked if [an NFL work stoppage] would benefit us,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president of marketing, “but uncertainty hurts everyone in this business and those dollars were not going to automatically be coming in our direction.’’

ALL PHOTOS BY TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Boston Bruins championship merchandise is enjoying explosive sales.
Now the concern is being directed toward the NBA’s labor uncertainty, with most fearing canceled games.
 
KILLER Bs: Heading into the championship, sales of Bruins product was strong, but not overly so, and licensees and retailers were wondering if the championships in Boston were becoming so routine that consumers were getting blasé. However, once Boston took home its sixth Stanley, sales exploded, to the point where league officials now say it will end up being bigger than the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 hot market.

“Even in the finals, retailers were saying it was good but not spectacular,” Jennings said. “Now we’re looking at it as one that will beat Chicago handily, be one of our top five [ever] and something with a long tail.”

“There was definitely a slow build for Bruins merchandise,” said Ken Goldberg, a licensed buyer for New England-based Roster Stores, “but the momentum is still building for us.’’

Jennings’ early forecast is for next year’s sales to jump 5 to 7 percent, but he warned that the cost of raw materials like cotton and increases in costs for gasoline, and therefore shipping, will affect consumers. “Suppliers have been eating those costs for a while,” he said, “but we’re beginning to see those expenses being passed on to consumers. So it will be interesting to see how consumers react.”

NEW AND DIFFERENT:
New apparel licensees were working hard to appeal to a different segment of hockey fans. Viral, a division of RMP Athletic, whose Ripzone brand was official supplier to Team Canada’s snowboarding team, was showing snowboard/skateboard inspired hoodies, T-shirts, and what we believe are the first board shorts to be licensed by any of the big four. “It’s a lifestyle play for consumers that also like hockey,” said RMP President Russ English.

Mad Engine was showcasing a new line of NHL apparel, cross-licensed with Disney’s Phineas & Ferb animated characters.
Apparel companies were making lifestyle plays on different consumer demos.

“It’s about finding new consumers and new distribution by getting into retail in places we haven’t been before,” said Jim Haskins, NHL group vice president of consumer products.

Levelwear, another Canadian-based licensee, was one of many firms taking advantage of printing and transfer technology allowing new, different and more indelible images on a variety of fashion/lifestyle licensed products, both apparel and hard goods. Another such example was St. Louis-based Three60 Gear apparel, which, having added an NHL agreement to its MLB and NBA rights, was showing off its line of Under Armour-esque performance T-shirts (for about $35) with “dye sublimation” player images so vivid that comparing them to a regular T-shirt was the equivalent of comparing an HDTV to an analog set. Each shirt has a number through which the buyer can get more information on the particular photo on the shirt, so there’s also a collectible element.

HST Synthetics set up a display of its logoed hot tub covers, which sell for $550.
LICENSING LINES:
Easy winners in the “never saw a logo on that before” competition were the logoed hot tub covers and jackets from HST Synthetics, which set up a spa with a Maple Leafs cover on the floor of an arena normally reserved for ice. The “marine grade vinyl” covers are priced at $550. “We’ve found that sports fans are hot tub owners, so we’re working on NBA and MLB licenses,” said HST’s Jason Tiler. … Another entry in that heretofore unlogoed department is Wild Sales’ logoed bocce ball set, fashioned from resin and priced at $120, which should be available for holiday gift-giving with all of the big four licenses. “We’ve done great with nontraditional games [like the licensed beanbag toss],” said Wild Sales President Jack Queally, “but this puts us squarely into traditional sporting goods distribution and we’ll follow up with licensed horseshoe sets.” … Our “why didn’t I think of that before?” award goes to Fan Fever, for its battery-operated licensed goal light and
horn, operated by a puck-shaped remote control and priced at $45. Fan Fever already has extensions of the goal light, with a keychain version ($8 MSRP) and a string of goal chain holiday lights ($23). “It’s enough fun for hockey fans that we think it can be a great gift or impulse item,” said Fan Fever’s Eric Stoneman, adding that the inspiration came during the 2010 playoffs, when he had a red light bulb in his basement that had to be turned on manually each time the Hawks scored on their way to a championship. … Pangea Brands, the company behind the ProToast licensed toaster, is looking for a nostalgia play with a sports licensed version of Shrinky Dinks, the kids craft set in which flexible sheets become hard plastic when heated and can then be used to make key chains and costume jewelry. They’ll be priced at $15 for a pack of a dozen “dinks.”
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