SBJ/Aug. 5-11, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

NHL licensees upbeat, plan new products

The 95 or so NHL licensees gathered last week in Pittsburgh for the league’s annual licensing confab were in much better spirits than what might have been expected after a lockout reduced the regular season from 82 to 48 games. Still, after a matchup of Original Six teams in the championship round, many licensees, especially those not as dependent on arena sales, were happy.

“Having Boston and Chicago in the Finals made everyone on this floor smile, and we still are,” said Cary Schack, president of hard-lines licensee Rico Industries.

“We were surprised,” said Edward Wu, vice president at Aminco International. “At the beginning of the season, no retailer would stock much, but by the end of the playoffs, fans were back buying.”

Sports Licensing Solutions President Onur Kececigil was one of many hard-goods licensees reporting a year-to-year increase in their NHL business, fueled by a robust playoff market and one of the best championship markets ever. In a season ravaged by a labor dispute, the Blackhawks found the remedy: start the season with a record winning streak to get fans back on board early, and finish with a championship. For a league with a legacy of never catching a break, it was the ultimate antidote.

“Playoffs were strong and the NHL stood by licensees like us with extensions on minimums and guarantees,” Kececigil said.

“Missing the holiday season is not something that you want in any retail business,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president of marketing, “but our postseason was more than we could have hoped for.”

Last season looked even rosier when the 2012 Stanley Cup hot market was compared with 2013. Hunter Manufacturing sold about 1,200 of its 8-inch-high Stanley Cup championship replicas when the Los Angeles Kings won. After the Blackhawks’ victory this season, it has sold more than 6,000 and is hoping for more orders from Asia.

Behold the Stanley Cup-shaped popcorn popper, a new product from Pangea Brands that retails for $99.99.
All photos by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Even with the Blackhawks’ bountiful sales boost, more than one licensee was wondering when a Canadian NHL franchise would win again, knowing the resulting sales would set records. Montreal was the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup — 20 years ago.

Jennings would not say how big a hit the league’s consumer product business took because of the lockout. With six games planned for large outdoor venues next season, however, sales forecasts for 2013-14 “well exceed” those from the pre-lockout year. “We’re set up as well as we could hope for as we turn the page,” said Jennings, whose 23 years at the league have included four work stoppages.

CUP OF CORN: Our eternal quest to find a
Fabrique Innovations displayed licensed skins for water bottles.
licensed product we’ve never seen a logo on before found several worthy entrants in Pittsburgh, including Little Earth Productions’ heavy-duty cleaning gloves (MSRP $8.99). Fabrique Innovations is hoping consumers’ rediscovery of water as a means of hydration will propel sales of its licensed skins for the five-gallon plastic water bottles (MSRP $9.99) that fit into office/home coolers, and a smaller size (MSRP $4.99) for personal water bottles. However, the most striking new product was the chrome-plated Stanley Cup-shaped popcorn popper (MSRP $99.99) from Pangea Brands, which previously produced sports-licensed toasters.

Jeremy Kelley, Pangea vice president of operations, said it took nine months to get approval from the NHL to turn the league’s most sacrosanct image into a kitchen appliance. Could the concept be expanded elsewhere, like, say, the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy?

“We asked,” said Kelley, while handing out some freshly popped kernels. “An hour later, they called us back and rejected it.”
Faux jewels highlight the Bling Straw Tumbler from Boelter Brands.

Until recently, the NHL was also reluctant to license the image of its championship chalice. Now there are a handful of licensees, though none reproducing the engraving on the Cup, and none in the still-expanding drinkware/barware categories. “It’s a beautiful replica,” said NHL hard-lines chief Dave McCarthy, ”and it’s something families can use while gathering around the TV to watch our game,” he said.

TRENDICATOR — NEON AND BLING: Directions in fashion inevitably make their way into licensed products. The neon pinks and yellows seen widely on athletic footwear, general apparel, and sports apparel shelves over the past year were very evident on the floor of Consol Energy Center. Some
 
The trend of neon colors was evident on New Era’s 9Forty caps (left) and Concept One’s Tracker backpacks.
examples: WinCraft’s shimmering lanyards and pennants, Concept One’s striking Tracker backpacks (MSRP $24.95) with team logos available in 150-watt green, orange and yellow; New Era’s iridescent 9Forty licensed caps; and Gear for Sports’ vibrant T’s.

Blingy licensed apparel, like Soft As A Grape’s offerings, are still widely available, and the eye-catching appeal of sequins, crystals and the like has spread to licensed-sports hard goods, including ladies’ watches from Sparo, and Boelter Brands’ Bling Straw Tumbler, each decorated with faux jewels. Aminco is playing both sides of the fashion fence, offering lanyards in neon and bling, along with blingy licensed luggage tags.

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