SBJ/January 28-February 3, 2013/Mareketing and Sponsorship

Licensees hope NHL follows the NBA’s bounce-back model

Terry Lefton
When licensees of the biggest sports properties in America gathered this month in Las Vegas, they were again assessing the damage of a labor impasse. Following last year’s NFL and NBA lockouts was the recently settled NHL work stoppage, which shortened the regular season from 82 to 48 games and rendered the holiday sales season moot. Now somewhat inured to labor problems, most licensees were taking a stoic attitude.

“We’ll chase whatever [regular-season] business remains and see how much more gets generated by the playoffs,” said John Killen, president and COO of hard goods licensee WinCraft. Killen said WinCraft was “approaching a half-million in sales” of NHL licensed product since the lockout ended. “We don’t know the overall impact yet, and because of the Olympics next year, we won’t have an All-Star Game two years in a row, but we all look at how strongly the NBA business came back [last season] and hope that happens again.”

The NHL ends up with a situation where the postseason could yield more total sales than the regular season. “The licensees we’ve spoken to here are willing to turn the page,” said David McCarthy, NHL vice president of consumer products marketing. “None of them have been pounding their fist for markdowns. We remain optimistic that we’re a growth brand for many licensees and retailers.”

> BIG BOUNCE BACK: The NBA gathered its licensees, 61 in total, in Las Vegas during the days before the show. Awards were presented, and in a magnanimous gesture that underscored the rapid retail recovery from last season’s lockout, all 30 clubs shared Team Retailer of the Year honors. Sal LaRocca, NBA executive vice president of global merchandising, noted that as a combined entity, NBA teams are the second-largest retailer of NBA licensed product, behind only Wal-Mart.

Through a vote of all 30 teams, retro apparel specialist ’47 Brand won Licensee of the Year, based on its product assortment, service and delivery capabilities. In a season bereft of fad items and fueled by the meteoric rise of a player like Jeremy Lin, LaRocca cited the strength of core licensees like Adidas, Panini, Spalding and Take-Two as the pillars supporting continued strong business.

Top league executives have been calling the 6,000-square-foot NBA Store at 590 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan “temporary” since it opened in October 2011. Now, with a lease that ends in August, LaRocca said the league is negotiating with landlords of two nearby locations with hopes of opening a 20,000-square-foot store in time for the 2013 holiday shopping rush, if not the 2013-14 NBA season.

Women’s shoes for NBA fans were big at the show — really big.
Meanwhile, the recent “Big Color” holiday promotion exceeded league expectations, generating sales of 50,000 of the monochromatic Adidas jerseys. LaRocca said a repeat of the effort is a slam dunk. “Tying the [Big] league marketing thematic to an apparel program on the day [Christmas] when we are the only games on TV obviously paid dividends,” he said.

The NBA has always been less enthusiastic about the women’s market than other big properties, which can get downright evangelical about their licensed offerings for women. However, one couldn’t help but notice three separate women’s shoes licensees at the NBA’s Team Retail Expo, upstairs from the Licensing Show. Most notable were the varied boot offerings from the Cuce’ Twins, who have created a lot of buzz in that market. We also were amused by Herstar’s $275 spiky six-inch crystal-adorned platform heels, even if we were unable to figure out how any woman could walk a step in them.

Jeff (left) and David Strumeier have moved from licensed apparel to licensed tech.
> THE BROTHERS ARE BACK: The last time most people in the sports licensing biz heard from David and Jeff Strumeier was when Fruit of the Loom purchased the Pro Player apparel brand, where they worked, in the mid-1990s. The brothers have adjusted with the times, because they were in Vegas pushing a line of electronic accessories and other products for Mizco Sports, which has a new NFL license for travel accessories including a home-and-away charger set (auto and home chargers bundled), iPad and iPhone cases, along with collapsible luggage, bottle sets, ponchos, travel pillows, and blankets. Product should be available in March. Collegiate marks via CLC should result in product for the back-to-school market. “When we were selling apparel, the latest sneakers and some [licensed] jersey or outerwear were the first things a kid would buy,” said David Strumeier, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “Now, kids are all about technology, so we’re tapping into that.”

While electronic accessories continue to be one of the most over-licensed categories, pitching the collection with a travel positioning seems smart enough to us, since it should ensure incremental distribution and guarantee survival when that category experiences the inevitable shakeout.

Forever Collectibles showed off a selection of its Apples on Parade, based on statues tied to the All-Star Game.
> CORE BUSINESS: With this year’s MLB All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, baseball-themed Big Apple statues will be the icons seen throughout New York City, with various baseball-themed “apples” to be placed throughout the boroughs to promote the midsummer classic. Licensee Forever Collectibles normally does a brisk business in desk-sized versions of the All-Star Game icons, and several of the Apples on Parade were on display. The fervor surrounding the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium pushed sales of Statue of Liberty icons to a remarkable 60,000 units that year. As always, it will be interesting to see how the Mets and Yankees fare head-to-head.

> NEW COMPETITION?: Would you rather attend a licensed sports trade show or a licensed sports “gathering”? That was the question being asked by industry veteran Chris Leslie, who with gift show organizer Urban Expositions is organizing the Licensed Sports Gathering, a trade fair with a “smaller is beautiful” bent planned for Nov. 3-5 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando. Based on a similarly named show that serves national parks, amusement parks and aquariums, the concept is to invite the top 50 licensees and the top 100 to 125 retailers (who would attend gratis) to a self-contained three days of meetings, trade show, golf and meals in the same facility. Meetings with top retailers would then be all but assured, Leslie hopes. Licensees including The Memory Co., WinCraft, Tervis Tumbler and Baby Fanatic have signed on, in addition to retailers and Bed, Bath & Beyond, Leslie said.

This year’s licensing show just completed its sixth year, and only in recent years did it receive requisite support and traffic. Since that show was just bought by Nielsen Expositions, and since every sizable sports property has its own annual licensee gathering, the need for yet another industry trade show was questioned by some, along with its November timing, a period in which most retail executives would ostensibly be preparing for the crucial holiday sales period. “There’s enough business to support it,” insisted Leslie, a former sales exec at SC Sports and The Memory Co. “We’re giving the industry an alternative as far as quality, intimacy, size and location, and the timing will allow buyers to get a jump on the coming year.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at

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