SBJ/November 26-December 2, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Lockout wreaks havoc on NHL consumer products business; licensees circle wagons

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The NHL’s consumer products business will have to be rebuilt after this year’s lockout.

Even if a deal is reached immediately, licensees would still miss the vast majority of holiday sales and then be faced with the daunting task of having to reclaim shelf space at retail in January and February — the worst months of the year for most retailers.

“Our NHL business is off substantially,” said Mitchell Modell, CEO of the 150-store sporting goods chain which bears his family name. “The dollars are small relatively, but the percentages are big. Thank God for the NBA, because it came back strong last year [after that league’s lockout] and they are more than offsetting our NHL sales.”

Last spring’s strong NHL playoffs resulted in impressive sales for NHL-licensed products, especially notable since the Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup Championship was such a bellwether for the league. Accordingly, year-to-year sales of NHL merchandise for licensed sports ecommerce specialist Fanatics.com increased 14 percent from January into this month. However, sales of those same goods from July through last week on Fanatics.com showed a 14 percent decrease. Fanatics operates ecommerce for the league, but those totals do not include sales on NHL.com.

Licensees with agreements across multiple sports properties have been through all this before, having faced lockouts from the NFL, NBA, and now the NHL.

“With any of these [work stoppages] it gets to a situation where no retailer wants to pre-book orders, or if they do, it is 300 pieces, instead of 3,000,”  said Adam Pennington, owner and CEO of Game Time, which has a license for watches from the NHL, along with MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL. “We’re way down, even in Canada — [but] that’s what happens when there’s no game on. The good news is that the other leagues [NFL and NBA] bounced back well and our overall business is strong. We’ll survive this because the NHL is a smaller piece of our business. But any licensee that has most or all of their whole business in hockey is going to be hurting, if not out of business.”

Rookies drive the trading-card business and a lockout means no access to rookies in the uniform of their new teams. So Panini has not been able to issue cards for the top overall NHL draft pick, 18-year-old Nail Yakupov. Jason Howarth, Panini vice president of marketing, said the company had released three NHL sets so far this season of the 11 anticipated, but had not yet made a decision on reducing future releases.

“If there’s a positive to any of this, it’s that we’re getting better at managing these situations,” he said.

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