SBJ/January 30-February 5, 2012/Super Bowl

Rematch inspires high licensing expectations

Everyone looks for comparables when making a business evaluation, but the last time there was a rematch in the Super Bowl was 1993-94, when the Buffalo Bills played the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the Bills’ remarkable zero-for-four Super Bowl run.

Eli Manning was a teenager then, and Internet use was restricted to supercomputers — so no one’s quite sure if this year’s rematch of the 2008 Miracle in the Desert will be a sales bonanza for NFL licensees the way it has been for those peddling secondary tickets and hotel rooms in Indianapolis.

Some licensees said the NFL discouraged any “rematch” graphics.
“Of the teams that were left, this was the best scenario for business, so we have reasonably high expectations now,” said John DeWaal, director of marketing at Lids, the cap and licensed-product retailer that has around 1,000 North American locations and is headquartered in Indianapolis.

Lids will open what could be described as the world’s biggest “pop up” store downtown during Super Bowl weekend in Indianapolis: a 23,000-square-foot temporary retail space on the second floor of a former Nordstrom store. “It’s our hometown, so we thought it was worth the gamble,” DeWaal said.

While a Super Bowl rematch is unusual, this year’s AFC representative is certainly not. Over the last nine Super Bowls, including this year’s, the AFC team has been either New England, Pittsburgh or Indianapolis. The NFC has sent a different team to the Super Bowl every year of that span — with the exception of the Giants in 2008 and again this year.

“You’ve got the first downtown situation for a Super Bowl since New Orleans [2002] and two strong-market teams that travel well, so we think we’ll do very well,’’ said Milt Arenson, CEO of Facility Merchandising Inc., which will handle licensed merchandise sales at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Echoed NFL licensing chief Leo Kane, “We’ve got the whole New York-Boston thing going, and a downtown retail base like we’ve never had, so there are lofty expectations.’’

FMI is also running the 25,000-square-foot official NFL Shop downtown within the NFL Experience. With the expected downtown foot traffic, that store has expanded its days and hours this year. It was set to open last Saturday and remain open through Feb. 6, the day after the Super Bowl. For the first time, shoppers can access the store without having to buy a ticket, as they will be able to go through the NFL Experience fan fest.

Arenson added that any comparisons to last year are unfair.

“Remember, we’re coming off a Super Bowl in a 90,000-seat stadium [Cowboys Stadium] that was won by a team [Green Bay] with a strong national following. But I still see strong sales this year because of the downtown location and great story lines,” he said.

As a subplot, this is Reebok’s last year after a decade as the NFL’s on-field rights holder. Kane said Reebok sold the last of its Patriots and Giants jerseys to retailers, including Modell’s.

“This is bigger than the last time the Giants were in the Super Bowl and maybe bigger than the Yankees [2009 World Series win], because basically you’ve got a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry translated to the NFL,” said Modell’s CEO Mitchell Modell. “We can’t keep our Victor Cruz salsa T–shirt [which has “Cruuuuuz” on the front and salsa dancing instructions on the back] in stock.”

Some licensees said they were discouraged by the league from designing graphics touting “rematch” in favor of selling more generic Super Bowl merchandise with images of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, something the NFL has been pushing hard in recent years. As for “if-win” orders, licensee reaction was universal: They are expecting about the same size orders regardless the victor.

“With more people, you’d think New York market demand would be bigger, but you’ve got two teams that won relatively recently, so we’re seeing pretty similar numbers for each,” said Jim Pisani, president of VF Corp.’s licensed sports group.

Like many licensees, VF not only wasn’t hurt by the lockout, its NFL numbers are up from last season.
“You wonder if it was pent-up demand, but we’re healthy now,” Pisani said. “We have exceeded our own projections on NFL sales.”

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