SBJ/Dec. 2-8, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Cross-licensing, niches take spotlight for MLB

After a fiscal year in which licensed sales were flat, MLB is looking to niche areas for growth.

MLB consumer products chief Howard Smith said sales of Red Sox championship gear were comparable to the team’s last championship in 2007, getting the fiscal year off to a nice start.

MLB hair bows from USA Licensed Bows
Photo by: MLB
However, Smith said that the untold licensing story of the playoffs was the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who produced a spike in sales after qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.

Having a retailer as large as Dick’s Sporting Goods based near Pittsburgh doesn’t hurt, but now Smith is wondering if the Pirates are ready to make a jump to more of a national brand. “On-field success after so long and stars like Andrew McCutchen really made a difference,” he said.

At the licensing show during the recent MLB Industry Meetings, MLB was showing a number of cross-licenses, where more than one license is used on a product. A Hello Kitty line of apparel and hard goods, which was tested last season with some West Coast MLB teams, is being expanded to a full MLB license. “If there is something in pop culture that allows me to offer fans a different way to connect with baseball, we’re going do it,” Smith said.

A cross-license with the “Peanuts” comic-strip characters also is being developed as a tie-in to the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, which will be played in Minneapolis, where “Peanuts” creator Charles Schultz was born. The city of St. Paul has held “Peanuts on Parade” tributes since 2000 and a similar one is being planned for 2014 to celebrate the All-Star Game with co-branded “Peanuts” character statues and other products.

Under Armour has not shown great passion for the licensed sports business, but MLB has found a way to capitalize on the brand’s still surging popularity through a deal to combine marks with longtime apparel baseball licensee Gear For Sport. Smith said the deal was not complete; however, industry sources said the products to be sold online and at MLB venues will include T-shirts, fleece, hoodies and golf shirts, items already manufactured by MLB partners.

Other new products displayed at the meetings included high-end, MLB-logoed boots from Eastland, and a variety of women’s jewelry and accessories, among them licensed MLB hair bows from USA Licensed Bows.

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