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Volume 20 No. 42
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Loss of holiday season fails to hold back NBA licensed sales

Terry Lefton
Considering the excitement generated by an NBA campaign in which the lockout cut 16 games from the 82-game schedule, there were a number of NBA observers who wondered if starting the season on Christmas every year would be a good idea. We never thought we’d hear that from the merchandising side of the house. However, even after a shortened season that cost the league retail orders that come with the start of the season as well as into the critical holiday retail period, we’re starting to wonder.

NBA consumer products chief Sal LaRocca said that retail figures established during the Miami Heat’s five-game NBA Finals win over the Oklahoma City Thunder included the highest per-cap for a clinching Game 5 and the highest average per-cap for a three-game Finals at one venue. While LaRocca said it was too early to state definitively where hot-market sales from the Heat’s second championship will net out, “early indications are that we are possibly looking at one of the top two or three in our history and certainly within the top five.”

The NBA’s hot-market sales standard was set by the Chicago Bulls’ second “three-peat”

It’s early, but the Miami Heat’s latest title looks solid for a spot in the NBA’s hot-market sales top five.
championship in 1998, “but that was well before we’d built our business globally and before the advent of the Internet,” LaRocca added.

Even with the truncated season, it looks downright rosy when it comes to licensed product sales. LaRocca said he expects domestic NBA sales to increase over last season. Incremental sales generated by a vibrant postseason, the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the relocated Brooklyn Nets are leading reasons, but not the only catalysts for the NBA’s unexpectedly quick licensing rebound.

“There was a lot of retail apprehension last summer heading into the season, but as soon as we said we are going to play, a lot of national retailers came back quickly,” LaRocca said. “You can’t make up for that holiday business once you’ve lost it. However, business came back to us in a pretty big way from major retailers like Champs, Wal-Mart, Modell’s and Sports Authority.”

Online sales are also producing major returns. sales from the start of the league’s fiscal year in October have already eclipsed the prior fiscal year’s record haul.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER: Since it is the top-selling Canadian brew in the United States, most of Labatt’s U.S. sponsorship budget supports hockey platforms. It has team deals with the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a USA Hockey sponsorship and a pond hockey tournament in 10 markets that is entering its sixth year.

However, in key Northern U.S. markets, Labatt does step out of the box with other sports. Accordingly, it has signed a three-year extension of its Detroit Tigers sponsorship, usually supported with team-logoed cans and other packaging. Also renewed for a year was a long-standing sponsorship of the Buffalo Bills, the city where Labatt USA is headquartered.

Hockey generally carries the flag for Labatt Blue in the U.S., while Labatt Blue Light has been affiliated with other properties, but the lines have been blurring.

“Hockey will also carry the flagship for the brand’s Canadian heritage, but in key markets, Labatt wants to show it’s as important to consumers as any brand,” said Peter Stern, whose New York-based Strategic agency handled the deals for Labatt.

Terry Lefton can be reached at