SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

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  • NASCAR sales shift into overdrive at Wal-Mart’s stores

    NASCAR is only halfway through the second year of its licensing deal with Wal-Mart, but industry sources said the retail giant already has seen a 25 percent increase in merchandise sales.

    The growth has been driven by factors including an expanded NASCAR product line, a major marketing push ahead of the Daytona 500 and a better understanding of the NASCAR market.

    NASCAR officials declined to confirm the size of the increase. Wal-Mart did not return a call for comment.
    “There’s still a long way to go and a lot more upside left, but we’re in a pretty good place now,” said Blake Davidson, NASCAR’s vice president of licensing and consumer products.

    The uptick is welcome news for the sport, which saw licensing slump significantly between 2006 and 2009. Motorsports Authentics, which was the sport’s primary licensee, reported revenue of $200 million in 2007 but that number was cut in half by 2009. The company was later restructured, and NASCAR formed a licensing trust. It cut a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Wal-Mart before the 2011 season that enabled the world’s largest retailer to make apparel, home goods and other products bearing NASCAR, driver and team marks and imagery.

    The first year of the partnership was somewhat unremarkable because Wal-Mart didn’t have much time to ramp up its promotional and merchandise efforts. That changed this year when 2,000 Wal-Mart stores ran a program called “Race Time” and showcased race-themed displays and NASCAR-themed merchandise ahead of the Daytona 500.

    T-shirts, hats and apparel such as loungewear have formed the backbone of NASCAR merchandise sales to date, but Wal-Mart has had success selling backpacks, coolers and other items. It rolled out its first collectible item this season — popcorn tins featuring team logos — and had a great deal of success. The retailer is looking for other collectibles in the future, Davidson said.

    Wal-Mart has also seen a spike in sales of its “Family Track Pack,” which offers four tickets, four sodas, four hot dogs and a program for select races. Sales have nearly doubled from 2011, and NASCAR is only halfway through its season.

    Wal-Mart’s sales success with the $99 package was exemplified by Michigan International Speedway, which saw an 817 percent increase in sales of the package. MIS President Roger Curtis attributed that to better promotion by the retailer.

    “It’s been a huge home run,” Curtis said. “They’ve activated more. They know what they’ve got, they’re working closer with tracks, and the social [promotion] has been far greater on both sides.”

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  • ‘Underserved audience’ for fantasy getting its own convention

    Terry Lefton
    Tapping into the sought-after demographics of the estimated 35 million or so who are playing fantasy sports is the launch of a convention targeted to the space. The Fantasy Football Fest will be held Aug. 18-19 at the Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center and put on by Reed Exhibitions’ Comic Con division, a New York-based group dedicated to comics and video games.

    The initial attempt at Comic Con for fantasy will include ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry, who will deliver a keynote and also run several panels at the event. Fantasy players are being encouraged to hold drafts on site, which will also include player appearances and panel discussions from the likes of Phil Simms, Michael Vick, Lawrence Taylor and Tony Dorsett, along with memorabilia and video game tournaments.

    Greg Topalian, Reed Exhibitions senior vice president, is hoping for 20,000 to 25,000 attendees with pricing at $40 for one day and $55 for two. Sponsors include Steiner Sports, Fathead, SiriusXM Radio and a smattering of endemic sites, like FantasyGuru.com. Marketing support will include ads on sports radio and an outdoor campaign.

    Big Lead Sports founder Chris Russo recalled a Las Vegas “Super Draft” a few years back but added, “This is still an underserved audience, so the opportunity to program for them comprehensively and possibly do some media extensions out of that is very intriguing.” Big Lead, the former Fantasy Sports Ventures, was sold to Gannett/USA Today this year.

    Premier Partnerships will study naming-rights possibilities for the Alamodome.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    DEEP IN THE HEART OF NAMING RIGHTS:
    Could the 19-year-old Alamodome in San Antonio get a corporate moniker? That possibility now exists, as San Antonio’s city fathers recently gave Premier Partnerships a green light for a study to assess valuations for sponsorship sales of both the city-owned Alamodome and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Sports in the dome include the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the Valero Alamo Bowl, the AFL San Antonio Talons and University of Texas-San Antonio football. However, the facility still hosts 150 events a year, so optimistic estimates of what the Alamodome could fetch for naming rights per year went as high as $2 million a year among other naming-rights sales executives.

    San Antonio officials point out that the Alamodome is one of the few domed facilities without a naming-rights deal. Premier Managing Director Jeff Marks noted that the company’s relationship with the city of San Antonio began when Premier secured Petco as a naming-rights partner for a city animal shelter.

    SIGN LANGUAGE: LED stanchion signage in NBA arenas will be a reality next season, according to Chris Granger, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations (SportsBusiness Journal, May 14-20 issue). “It is a go,” Granger said, adding that teams will do their own valuations of their stanchion signage. However, the addition of LED signage from Van Wagner Sports does not necessarily mean the elimination of its predecessor: the static signage from ANC Sports that has been used in NBA arenas since 2007 and was in 21 NBA arenas during the 2011-12 regular season, all carrying State Farm marks. Some of those team deals are long-term enough that both forms of signage will occupy baskets in some arenas.

    FINDING COMFORT: Brown-Forman’s Southern Comfort 100 spirits brand is in for a year as the first presenting sponsor of the World Series of Poker’s secondary Circuit Tour, which WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart referred to as “our Nationwide Series.” The 100-proof version of Brown-Forman’s 138-year-old liquor will activate against a “Raise The Stakes” tag line and gets branding in and around the set. The tour culminates in New Orleans, where Southern Comfort was born.

    Activation also includes on-premise events and an “instant poker night” retail bundle that will package poker chips and playing cards with the liquor bottle. “We like their activation and the brand fit is dead on,” Stewart said.

    COMINGS & GOINGS: Rodnell Workman departs Madison Square Garden for the CMO post at the New York Racing Association. He had been with MSG since 2009. … Donna Goldsmith, former WWE COO and NBA licensing vice president, has left her post as general manager of operations at the 2014 NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee after nine months.

    Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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  • Under Armour keeps its footing with launch

    With the help of some its most highly visible endorsers, including Tom Brady, Lindsey Vonn and Kemba Walker, Under Armour rolled out its latest footwear play, the lightweight Spine shoe. The line launches at retail July 9, backed by a new “This Is How We Run” campaign from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which includes a spot that features Brady, NFL Rookie of the Year Cam Newton and Walker. UA founder and CEO Kevin Plank spoke with staff writer Terry Lefton about his company’s footwear efforts.

    Seven years after your first footwear hit retail, how do you grade efforts in that market?

    PLANK:
    Like anything, it just takes time. From the beginning, you have to learn, and we have learned so much about design, factory relationships and who you work with. Seven years in, we are still learning. But I look at our [overall] Japanese business, which went from zero to $35 million in 1998 to 2007. After that, we hit the tipping point, and now Japan is a $200 million business. So we know it is about patience and we have the brand power and the equity with consumers where they will keep trying us. We are now known as innovators in cleated footwear. Running is only in year four and we will be patient and build.
     
    Lindsey Vonn, Kevin Plank, Tom Brady and Kemba Walker introduce the Spine shoe.
    Photo by: COURTESY OF UNDER ARMOUR
    How much of total sales are footwear?


    PLANK: It is still around 10 percent. I made a big statement once that someday our footwear should be larger than our apparel, and that is honestly the way I still feel. When that happens, I can’t predict. Our competitors are pretty good and they aren’t giving up their space easily.
     
    What’s driving people into footwear retail? For you and the competition, a lot of the buzz has been on lightweight for a while …

    PLANK: Lightweight is a big story, but we don’t want to get caught chasing trends. It has to be our innovation. We don’t want consumers saying, “They have a nice logo, so let’s buy that sneaker.” It has to be our take on footwear. We are driving hard to be innovators.

    Everyone’s honing their media mix now with the rise of social media. What kind of campaign and mix are you putting behind your new footwear?

    PLANK: The campaign will be north of $10 million, and we are working with Crispin on the TV creative and it is awesome. On the digital side, it is funny, because you end up hiring a 22-year-old to tell you about digital and social. We’re still experimenting there, like everyone, but we are starting to learn the science there and the art. The balance between old and new media is what’s critical, and we will be in every channel and try to be thoughtful about the mix and the duration.

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  • Who smells profits? MLB does

    The New York Yankees cologne and perfume introduced in April are hitting home runs.

    The licensed fragrances from The Cloudbreak Group are exceeding initial Macy’s projections to the point where the upscale retailer is increasing stores where the fragrance is available and baseball officials are pushing to have more MLB-licensed fragrances.

    Yankees  fragrances are a hit.
    Industry sources said Cloudbreak will sell $12 million to $14 million of the Yankees cologne — $62 for a 3.4-ounce bottle — and the similarly priced “Yankees For Her” perfume by year’s end. Cloudbreak Group CEO Tom Butkiewicz would not confirm dollar figures, but said sales were on track to exceed initial projections by an astounding 40 percent.

    Some individual retail stats are also noteworthy. At Yankee Stadium, where the scents are priced at a premium to the prices at Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, sales of the men’s cologne are twice original projections and perfume is outselling cologne by 50 percent. At Macy’s, demand for the Yankees perfume was strong enough that the retailer went from not stocking it to selling it in 110 stores. The cologne line is targeted to eventually be in 129 stores. Launch week at both department stores was their most successful first week for a men’s fragrance.

    “More than anything else, this speaks to the power of the Yankees brand,” said Butkiewicz. “We thought it was powerful regionally and good nationally, but we found out it’s a national brand, so we’re expanding into stores in places like Massachusetts, Florida, and even California is very strong.”

    Distribution will stay at the department store/specialty store level with the addition of Bloomingdale’s and Sephora later this year. Still, with this much success early on, you’d have to wonder about tapping into the sporting goods channel, especially around the holiday season.

    “We’re going to keep that distribution clean and at a high level,” said Butkiewicz, noting that the Yankees fragrances have their own sales site — www.nyyankeesfragrance.com — but are not yet sold at the team’s online store and are just now available at Yankees Clubhouse stores in Manhattan.

    Distribution will remain in department stores and specialty stores for now.
    Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
    To stimulate holiday sales, Cloudbreak has created a gift set, packaging a Yankees-logoed watch with 3.4-ounce and 1-ounce bottles of cologne for $75.

    “They just did everything right, from packaging to product to promotion and got the right marketing assets,” said Howard Smith, MLB senior vice president of licensing. “We’re actually holding it out as an example to our other licensees. Now it’s just a question of what’s next for them. … We’d like to see two or three additional teams at a minimum next year.”

    Whenever sales of a licensed item are hot, similar products are routinely launched. There has been some talk, but nothing substantial, of NFL-licensed cologne from Cloudbreak, though it’s doubtful that the most powerful property in America would allow any licensee to debut with only one team, as was the case with MLB and its fragrance effort. Butkiewicz said additional MLB scents won’t come before next spring, at the earliest.

    “Retailers are definitely asking for other teams,” he said. “We’d like to get it right before we go there, and we haven’t even tested ourselves much internationally.”

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