This article was written by Simon Gresswell, Sports & Brands Licensing (Consultant & Coach).
Well The Ashes did not disappoint! Momentum swung back and forth throughout every Test and through practically every session. The series was nearly extinguished altogether by the Great British weather and with the final Test threatening to be snuffed out by an uncharacteristically unadventurous Australian side in their first innings at The Oval, up stepped Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali in their second, to change the game and nearly but not quite, steal the thunder from the retiring ‘Ashes Warrior’ and Aussie favourite, Stuart Board!
The Ashes and Test cricket are alive and well here. Chapeau to the Baggy Greens too, who probably didn’t play their best cricket, but still came out even-stevens and ultimately turned it on when needed, to retain The Ashes. As for all the nonsense talked over certain run-outs and catches, I think things even out over the course of a series, which is what makes the whole drama such a delight to follow. You have to take the rough with the smooth. That’s sport.
However, no series win for Stokesy’s men, did mean no limited edition bucket hats with ‘Bazball is Life’ on, or tea towels emblazoned with Sky Sports paint splash Ashes graphics… maybe ideas in the locker for next time. This didn’t stop the ECB selling 10,000 England bucket hats themselves however. I alluded in another recent article to the challenges related to licensing The Ashes ‘brand’. Every 2 years, for a relatively short window, it’s true it has a lot of heritage, history and amazing stats behind it, as a series, but the little urn and the series’ name are probably more evocative as media tools, than for consumer products. That said, the Test grounds did stock some Ashes souvenir products, but it seemed mainly for our guests from Down Under, including beer cooler sleeves and a little-known product Down Under, called umbrellas. The England Women also came a close 2nd in the multi-format series, despite valiant efforts, but were outdone by the other World Champions!
Other iconic, annual events came and went in recent weeks…
Wimbledon hit new sales records every day and launched an in-house designed The Wimbledon Collection, “[breaking] new ground in sports merchandising”… The Open used fly through footage to promote a pristine retail store which was indistinguishable from a concession-crammed department store and both events even offered bucket hats, albeit Ralph Lauren’s Wimbledon bucket hat, might need you to empty the piggy bank! You can check all this out online.
Bridging both British events were, firstly the unique Tour de France, swiftly followed by the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, in their 110th and 2nd years respectively. Organisers the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), operated their own event merchandising for the first time at each starting town/city and also included 4 mobile stores (branded merch vans, that covered the whole course, every stage, every day).
As I write, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is well into its third week and although it’s on the other side of the world and therefore understandably low key in merchandise terms here, I do think that the rise of the Lionesses and indeed the Red Roses in England Rugby, could offer increased opportunities for more innovative lifestyle apparel and accessories design, from kit partners, licensees and retail partners, potentially following the stadium to street wear trends in US sports.
The last couple of weeks saw the [Women’s] Netball World Cup in South Africa, with the hosts kitted out very nattily by PUMA and guess who coming out on top again… yep, Australia… and the ongoing The Hundred kits and team brands have evolved quite distinctively in year 3. Personally, I would love to see the snack sponsor brands maximise their brand stretch and creativity in combination with the teams’ branding… along the lines of Greggs x Primark thinking.
The UCI Cycling World Championships, the first of its kind simultaneous, multi-disciplinary cycling event, rolled out in Glasgow from 3/8, a new challenge on the merchandise front, but great see the Highland Coo mascot hats and bespoke tartan, 100% lambswool blankets and scarves featuring for August in Scotland! After an exciting and record-breaking return to the erstwhile Olympic Stadium a weeks ago, the World Athletics Championships 2023 hit Budapest from the middle of August, in a stadium very reminiscent of London2012. Notoriously tricky for merchandising, I’m not sure the slightly Halloween-esque colour palette for the event branding helps with the challenge and although fun, a Racka Sheep mascot called Youhuu, might struggle to excite international visitors.
When you read this, the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France will be just weeks or days away (Friday 08 Sep 2023 – Saturday 28 Oct 2023) and as almost a dry run for Paris 2024, both events have focused heavily on their sustainability initiatives, credentials and legacy, so it will be interesting to see if this filters through into the merchandise programmes, given the comparatively modest contribution merchandise makes to the overall commercial pot of such major, quadrennial events. Great to see the always best-selling 20 Unions caps expanded into a multi colours range this time around and personally very grateful that Asahi have taken over as the Official Beer of RWC. With RWCs and Champions Cups in rugby, I’ve had enough Heineken over the last decade…
And amidst the 7 weeks of RWC, we can expect to see one of the most fervent bi-annual displays of fandom at The 44th Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf Club, Rome. Perhaps odd then not to see a Ryder Cup bucket hat on the online shop at present, but they may well be on the water! Will just be good to see all the major players reunited after the LIV Golf ‘experiment’.
Early October to mid-November sees the next iteration of the ICC Cricket World Cup in India, with England facing New Zealand on the opening day, refreshing their rivalry from The Final in 2019. With bold purple, pink and yellow branding and graphic assets and the biggest captive audience in world sports bar none, but also inherent challenges of affordability and a fast-moving retail landscape, it will be interesting to see how the tournament unfolds for merchandise growth in India, given its fragmented development over recent years.
Then as we head into next year, keep any eye out for merchandising masterclasses from the likes of the Australian Open in January and the Super Bowl in February… with Nickelodeon having just announced a partnership with CBS Sports (the 2 companies share a parent company in Paramount) that will deliver an alternate broadcast of Super Bowl LVIII, following an agreement between the National Football League and CBS Sports.
The children-focused production will be the first time a simulcast of the NFL’s championship game has ever aired in the US, and the broadcast will also be distributed overseas in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, on a delayed basis. Will we see even more innovative digital merchandise products and experiences evolve… I expect so.
Then in a class of its own, is The Masters golf in April, where you can only buy the coveted stash, if you attend the event… for the ultimate in bragging rights for golf fans.
With TikTok partnering with both the Women’s and now Men’s Six Nations, I hope and expect to see evolution of merchandising and retail for fans in those and other emerging digital channels, over the coming years. With a Rugby World Cup around the corner and Autumn/Summer Series of international matches, now fully under the jurisdiction of Six Nations Rugby Ltd and with a World Nations competition also on the horizon, rugby in general has a wider, almost year-round potential to build on, across all commercial aspects.
And whilst major event mascots have always been a subject of some debate, it’s good news to see an innovative mascot development partnership, that UEFA and Fanatics have struck with Toikido and their Roblox game and characters, Pinata Smashlings for Euro2024 in Germany.
The as-yet unnamed bear mascot (which surely has to be called Wunderbar…) will no doubt have strong and innovative promotional & digital plans in place, after lessons learned from the disastrous merch-misconception that was Goleo IV, created for the FIFA World Cup, Germany in 2006.
Not such good news for us this side of La Manche, is that the Euros finish on the 14th July, Bastille Day, so Les Bleus and Monsieur Mbappe look destined to do well… again.
Look forward to sharing more thoughts with you soon. Always open to suggestions, connections and comments via email at — simon[@]sglp.co.uk