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Volume 21 No. 2
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Having survived lockouts, licensees enjoy a little optimism

Terry Lefton
For most licensees at the industry’s annual trade show held earlier this month in Las Vegas, labor pains are over and delivery wasn’t an ordeal. A year ago, talk on the floor of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center inevitably turned to what damage was going to be inflicted by lockouts, but after the NFL canceled only a single exhibition game and the NBA’s dispute was settled by early December, reports of collateral damage were slight.

“The first few fall months hurt in the NFL, but we’re ending the season where we should be,” said Dick Pope, chairman and CEO of leading hard-goods licensee WinCraft, which is staking a claim in the booming market for licensed electronic accessories with Technology Gloves. The product lets users operate a touch-screen device through metallic threads in the fingertips while keeping their hands warm.

“The worst part was the uncertainty,” said Jack Queally, an NFL licensee and president of outdoor game specialist Wild Sports, which is adding bocce and horseshoes to a collection of licensed outdoor games that began with the beanbag toss. “Early on, we saw some [major [retailers] go totally collegiate, but we ended with our best holiday season and e-commerce sales ever.”

To some degree, the extent of the damage depended upon the particular product category. Retro pennant and banner licensee Winning Streak Sports saw its NBA business increase, perhaps because its products are based on nostalgia, said national sales manager Jay Chaffee.

Likewise, Deuce Brand successfully introduced its new NCAA- and NBA-licensed “tube watches” to retailers, including Best Buy and Lids, before the lockout was settled. Not to be outdone, Game Time was showing similar MLB-, NHL- and NFL-logoed tube watches with a suggested retail price of $9.95.


Adidas shows off its new line of NBA warm-ups for next season.

Tailgate Productions’ licensed paper towels can soak up those parking lot spills.

3. Panini put rookie cards on hold after the season’s late start, so veterans rule.

4. The Blingz iPhone case from iFanatic adds some sparkle to a smartphone.

5. WinCraft’s Technology Gloves don’t come between wearers and their touch screens.
“We all sold a little less for holiday because retailers weren’t ordering in the summer, but the lockouts just didn’t bury us like we were scared of,” said Game Time owner and CEO Adam Pennington.

Since it missed much of the holiday retail opportunity, and had its season shortened by 16 games per team, you’d figure the NBA would be hurt the most. Sal LaRocca, NBA executive vice president of global merchandising, said sales will be off around 25 percent. However, that’s 25 percent off a record 2010-11 season, meaning 2011-12 will still be an increase from the 2009-10 season.

As expected, long-lead products like trading cards and video games, which rely on rookie talent to stoke sales, suffered.

Exclusive trading-card licensee Panini slashed its NBA card releases from 17 to five and won’t include this year’s rookies until next season, hoping for a multiplier effect from two years of freshman talent packed into one.

However, some of the most endemic NBA licensed categories, like Spalding’s basketballs and backboards and Adidas’ on-court apparel, showed sales increases for July to December of 2011 compared with the same span in 2010, LaRocca said.

“We’ve seen very limited damage [from the lockout], if any,” said Mike Lunardelli, director of NBA licensed at Adidas, which was showing a new line of NBA warm-ups for next season that incorporated Adi’s three-stripe trademark and some new tertiary team logos for 15 teams. “The NBA consumer has always been more tied to fashion, and right now, it is on trend,” he said.

As for basketballs, the most endemic of categories?

“The team stuff dried up for a few months,” said Brett Ray, Spalding associate product manager, between attempts at a Pop-A-Shot machine, “but Wal-Mart and Target still bought basketballs, and it’s all coming back now.”

Consequently, a room full of people whose business fortunes depend on sports were as happy as they could be, having lived through a year with two lockouts. “There’s no storm clouds on the horizon after some years of economic concerns and labor worries, so we can all get on with business,” said WinCraft President John Killen.

There is another impending labor battle: The NHL’s CBA expires Sept. 15. But as Killen’s comments reflect, there was little talk about that at the show, even in hockey circles.

“Of course we’re concerned,” said Keith Leach, Reebok’s director of NHL merchandising, inside a crowded Adidas/Reebok booth, “but I haven’t had a single question about it [the CBA] here.”

With sustained sales from the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship hot market and a boost from the reborn Winnipeg Jets, NHL licensed sales were up double digits for July to December 2011 compared with the same period a year earlier, and that prior year was record-setting. Dave McCarthy, NHL vice president of consumer products licensing, said he was dealing with labor questions as they arose. “We’ve heard caution from some retailers regarding September and the CBA,” he said, “but I wouldn’t call it a big cloud.”

ANIMAL HOUSE: No doubt because of the success of Fabrique’s Pillow Pets licensed plush, there were more mascot-inspired licensed goods on display than items with player names and numbers. Cloaked under black cloth in the corner of the hall was Forever Collectibles’ booth, showcasing a line of mascot backpacks along with mascot mittens and a remarkable variety of novelty headwear, including a mascot headdress, a “sock monkey dangle,” long and short “mohawks” and “troll hair,’’ and a licensed jester cap. They should be at retail for the MLB season, with other licenses to follow, priced at $20 to $25. McCarthy projected novelty headwear as “this year’s Pillow Pets.”

After a yearlong blowout, Fabrique itself is trying to keep Pillow Pets alive by offering various extensions. Among the new lines are smaller sizes, name-and-number editions, blue and pink versions as gifts for parents of a baby boy or girl, and plush baseballs and footballs that unfold into mascots.

“We still see a lot of life in plush,” said Fabrique’s Tom DeLuca.

A CLASSIC MATCHUP: While NHL officials at the show were mum, numerous league licensees said they expect the Detroit Red Wings to host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next Winter Classic, likely at the Big House, the University of Michigan’s football stadium. A 2001 hockey game between Michigan State and Michigan drew 74,544 to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. A 2010 rematch of those teams in Ann Arbor at the Big House drew 113,411. Detroit visited Wrigley Field and the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009 Winter Classic, and the Maple Leafs would mark the first appearance by a Canadian team in the showcase. Toronto would rate in the U.S. for NBC as well, if not better, than any other Canadian team, and the Detroit-Toronto rivalry is one of the league’s best. Coming into this season, the two teams had competed against each other in 643 games and seven Stanley Cup Finals, and they were tied for number of regular-season wins in that all-time series. Between them, the Red Wings and Leafs have won the Stanley Cup 24 times.

LICENSING LINES: Among the additions to our popular “Never seen a logo on that before” category: licensed paper towels from Tailgate Productions, which has a Lambeau Field license and several marks through Collegiate Licensing Co. on its Tailgate Towels. Considering those marks include BCS champion Alabama, which has 120 licensees producing championship products, there is a whole new way to “Roll Tide.” At $4 and up at retail, they are pricier than the generic competition, but with both tailgating and “homegating” continuing to grow, other licensed kitchen items, especially drinkware and cutting boards, were abundant. … We also noticed some of the growing market for women’s licensed products increasingly represented on the hard-goods side of the business, including Great American Products’ metallic women’s accessories, which include a logoed lipstick case, trinket box and compact, priced from $15 to $25; and iFanatic’s $55 Blingz iPhone case, with “Swarovski-style rhinestones.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at