This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
The big sporting tournament this Summer is the Football World Cup taking place in Russia. Football really is the global game and the tournament reflects this with competing nations including England, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Peru and Senegal. A tournament of this size and scale is very much on the licensing radar. But it is also a licensing opportunity that licensees and retailers handle with care.
One of the most high profile licenses associated with the tournament is also probably one of the longest running licensing partnerships in the market which is Panini’s sticker collection. This is a big part of the consumer experience of the World Cup. Panini have recently launched the official sticker collection – the collection has been TV advertised and is widely available at retail with displays including FSDUs making it a very visible example of licensing. Panini start early as they have to recruit collectors before the tournament starts so consumers have time to collect and they can take advantage of the pre-tournament publicity.
A key challenge for licensees associated with an event like the World Cup is predicting the outcome of the event and also which players will be in it. In terms of players Panini have to make some intelligent guesses to predict squads as their collection goes to market before the squad’s have been finalised. They must cross their fingers that players stay fit and in favour. Another challenge is the actual performance of the participating countries.
From an England point of view recent performances in tournaments suggest England will not remain in the tournament for long – licensees and retailers have to weigh this up when deciding how to use the World Cup from a product and marketing point of view.
Another licensee Carlton Books chose the London Book Fair to showcase their official World Cup tie in books. Interestingly they launched a range that included titles that would appeal to children and adults with different price-points – a recognition that the World Cup is a licensing opportunity that has wide appeal. Prior experience is important in this context. Panini and Carlton have gained knowledge from prior tournaments which will help them in their sales forecasts and print runs.
It is likely that we will see other licensed products in categories like apparel and gifting. Again the licensees and retailers have to be careful in handling quantities, timings and distribution. A further complication peculiar to the UK is that England are in the tournament whilst other home nations such as Wales and Scotland aren’t – national retailers will need to bear this in mind when making buying decisions.
The World Cup is also an opportunity that companies such as FMCG ones use for on pack and in pack promotions – the tournament organisers police promotions carefully to ensure companies aren’t leveraging the tournament commercially in an unofficial way. Many global brands use the World Cup for promotions and also to create a focus for trade PR.
In the UK there have been some interesting new arrivals in the sports license market with US sports brands such as the NFL, NBA and MLB making in roads in categories such as accessories and apparel. UK retailer Sainsbury’s recently launched a range of NFL t-shirts in their adult wear department. This is in part a response to the growing popularity of American Football in the UK – live games sell out at Wembley Stadium and Sky Sports have had success broadcasting live games from the US. The NBA and MLB have scored well in fashion especially in street fashion. Licensees such as New Era have made great use of MLB licenses turning baseball team franchises into fashion icons. Recently vintage NBA jerseys by Mitchell &b Ness featured on a billboard campaign on the London Underground whilst New Era have a flagship store on London’s Carnaby Street which is currently showcasing a MLB range in its’ windows. Domestic sports such as cricket need to be mindful of how these US sports are becoming popular with younger consumers almost by stealth.
Whilst sports themselves are generally experiences it is also worth noting how sports are being extended into other experiential channels – for example The Design Museum in London is currently hosting an exhibition about the car brand Ferrari which includes more than a nod to Ferrari’s sporting heritage whilst the National Football Museum in Manchester celebrates the history of football and often hosts “pop-up” exhibitions linked to football brands. Iconic sporting stars such as Muhammed Ali and Pelé have featured on the licensing radar as well. Nostalgia, sport and licensing go well together – British comic publisher Rebellion has developed a style guide to celebrate iconic football comic character Roy of the Rovers. The character celebrates its 65th birthday in 2019 and Rebellion are market ready to tap into the nostalgia that will surround the anniversary.
There is arguably more that can be achieved in licensing with sports – there are challenges associated with licensing in the sports arena particularly around tournaments but sports clubs and stars are fast becoming brands. The US experience which shows how brands such as the NBA and MLB have become immersed in the fashion world shows the potential. Licensing probably needs to up it’s game in regards to sports licensing in terms of ideas, product design and timing but it is certainly part of the licensing landscape that is well worth exploring further particularly in a retail economy that is challenging.