SBJ/March 10-16, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

From helmets to ’Hawks, summit looks ahead

This season, NFL fields will be without branded helmets for the first time in 25 years.

The rights had belonged to Riddell since 1989, but liability issues and pending litigation from former players have the league adopting a “white-label” policy, where players can continue to choose whatever helmet they wish, but none will carry the helmet manufacturer’s brand. About two-thirds of NFL players wear Riddell helmets.

Since Riddell is a defendant in a class-action lawsuit brought by retired players, legal and player-safety issues are the primary issues driving the white-label decision.

However, the marketing implications are also intriguing. This development means there are two pieces of on-field equipment — coaches headsets and helmets — that used to carry advertising but no longer do. While the potential liability issues might be enough to discourage any potential advertiser, you have to wonder how much a helmet nameplate would be worth as advertising inventory, considering some of the league’s largest sponsorship pacts include either on-field or sideline branding.

Sources said the NFL offered promotional rights to a variety of helmet manufacturers, including an arrangement through which payment would be made to a charity, but the league ultimately came to a vanilla solution.

“The irony here is that it’s the most valuable branded real estate on the field and it is going away,’’ said 16W Marketing principal Frank Vuono, who headed licensing at NFL Properties when he fashioned the 1989 contract granting Riddell what was until now was a perpetual exclusive. Riddell will continue as the league’s retail helmet licensee and will still manufacturer NFL team-logoed replica and mini helmets.

LOGO WATCH: A first look at the next Super Bowl logo revealed an amalgam of the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the University of Phoenix Stadium, which will host the 2015 game. The design ties together the trophy with the sun and the silver of the stadium, and draws on how the desert light plays off of the Glendale, Ariz., facility.

Meanwhile, league employees used “Super Bowl 50” in a presentation referring to the championship two years away. But Leo Kane, NFL senior vice president of consumer products, said the weighty design issue of whether to use the Roman numeral “L” or the Arabic “50” is still being determined. Complicating matters is that “L” is now often associated with “Loser.” “That Super Bowl will be about looking back and looking forward, so we’ll make our decision based on that,” Kane said.

The Seahawks’ national reach was on full display in the range of licensed goods.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
GOING GREEN: In 2006, when Pittsburgh played Seattle in the Super Bowl, Rico Industries President Cary Schack recalled the discrepancy for potential sales between the Steelers winning and the Seahawks winning being the largest ever for the title game. This year, the Seahawks were the favorite of every licensee. “The Seahawks are going national, and the amount of noise their fans make is now a standard,” he said.

Even for a champion, the amount of Seahawks championship products at the summit was overwhelming. The team’s neon-green continues as a trend on its own.

Kane said that Nike’s Seahawks jersey with the number 12 and “Fan” on the nameplate will be the fourth or fifth best-selling jersey of the year. Brian Lowe, national sales manager at sock licensee For Bare Feet, said there are around 100 Seahawks sock designs in the market, and the company was displaying 14 of them at the summit. Doug Orwiler, Seahawks director of retail operations, said his team opened three pop-up stores for the playoffs; two closed at the end of February, while one in Bellevue, Wash., won’t close until the end of March. The team is looking to open more permanent retail locations to sell a combination of Seahawks and Seattle Sounders merchandise. “We chased demand pretty successfully,” he said. “Any problems we have are good ones to have.”

For Super Bowl merchandise, generic and team-specific, Kane confirmed projections that sales this year hit record levels.

“Ugly” is looking beautiful to NFL retailers.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
WHO’S UGLY?: If you weren’t invited to an ugly Christmas sweater party in December, you surely know someone who was. Still, you didn’t turn that trend into a licensed product. But after decades in the licensing business, Team Beans/Forever Collectibles President Michael Lewis can discern and exploit a trend quicker than any licensee — and so it was that the new hit product last week was licensed “ugly” sweaters, mixing team logos with holiday marks, like pine trees and snowflakes. The acrylic knit Ugly sweaters come in three styles and have retail price points from $60 to $70.

Licensed sports e-commerce leader Fanatics was among the first retailers to “get Ugly,” buying the sweaters both for its own site and for NFL.com, which it administers. “Right on trend and a perfect answer to the question of what to buy a sports fan,” said John Sabo, Fanatics senior vice president and general manager. Tom Dura, Forever Collectibles national sales manager, said the company has already sold 200,000 units and is looking to build the business to $10 million this year. (Now that’s not ugly at all.)

While we’re certain that Lewis is the first to mix sports licensing and holiday garb of questionable taste, the ugly Christmas sweater trend has become an institution. Upscale designers, including Dolce & Gabbana, and retailers like Bloomingdale’s joined the ugly parade several years ago.

LICENSING LINES: Other new products of note: another licensed toaster from Pangea Brands, which launched the original ProToast in 2010. Now, the company that also brought you the Stanley Cup popcorn popper has ProToast MVP, a pebble-grained, football-shaped toaster, available in August at a suggested retail price of $49.99. … NFL blanket/throw licensee Northwest is extending its expertise in warmth with a line of NFL hand warmers ($19.99) similar to what’s worn on the field. … We also liked Sports Logo Lights’ NFL-licensed Mini Tailgate RC Truck, and we’re certain retailers will love its $7.50 wholesale pricing. … 3M is following up its NFL-licensed helmet tape dispensers with logoed, football-shaped Post-it note holders that will be available in July, at $14.99. … Winners of the Never Seen a License on That Before Award go to a pair of automotive products that allow fans to customize their cars. Stockdale’s vinyl racing stripe allows fans to adorn their vehicles with a stripe that includes a team name and logo. If that’s not enough, fans can trick out their tires as well, with Team ProMark’s Tire Tatz ($19.99), a lettering kit available in May allowing the application of rubberized white letters, a la those whitewall tires of the past. … The NFL honored new members to its “million-dollar club,” those who generated $1 million or more in royalties for the first time: luggage and bag specialist Concept One Accessories; home and garden furnishings marketer Evergreen Enterprises; and gift/accessories licensee Siskiyou.

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