BRANDS AND LABELS: THE ISSUES
SPORTS LICENSING PREPARED TO STRIKE BACK
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — With more women shopping for branded goods and counterfeits taking their toll, licensed sports apparel has lost some of its punch.
However, sports licensing — which accounted for $13.8 billion in sales in 1994 — should get a shot in the arm from the major sports leagues this year when they intensify their focus on women.
In the early Nineties, many female consumers were attracted to licensed sports apparel carrying the logos of their favorite pro teams. But now proprietary powerhouse brands like Nike and Reebok are leading the field.
Licensed activewear has also taken a hit from worldwide counterfeiting, an estimated $300 billion underground industry. The highly identifiable logos are easily knocked off by counterfeiters who have become more sophisticated.
Knockoffs have advanced from simple silk screening done by mom-and-pop operations to detailed, embroidered replicas produced by huge operations. Federal authorities have linked some counterfeit goods to organized crime groups in Korea and the U.S.
To build on the branded business, some sporting good stores scaled back on licensed apparel, although licensed activewear seems ripe for a revival.
As reported, the licensing arms of the pro football, basketball, hockey and baseball leagues plan to introduce licensed activewear designed for women in 1996.
MLB Properties is showing more interest in its women’s business, since women now account for an estimated 49 percent of fans attending games annually. This fall, MLB Properties signed a licensing agreement with Marisa Christina to produce a line of knitwear separates that will hit department stores, specialty stores and catalogs in January.
Logos of 10 professional baseball teams will be featured on sweaters, shorts, pants and tops. Wholesale prices will range from $30 for woven cotton shirts to $85 sweaters.
“We see it as a growth category,” said Marla Miller, licensing director for adult wearables for MLB Properties. “We target companies that match what we aim to do. We’re looking for unique quality products from financially stable companies.”
Some licensees are equally selective.
George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Active Apparel Group, which produces and markets licensed activewear for Converse and Everlast for Women, said offering quality goods and fresh looks with timely shipping, controlled distribution and a cohesive marketing and advertising plan are critical to a successful licensing deal.
“We don’t want to be a house that takes a new license every week,” he said. “We treat each license as if they were our own company.”
Licensed goods mean a great deal to brand-conscious consumers, said David Berger, ceo at Athco Inc., a Sarasota, Fla.-based manufacturer that has produced licensed activewear for Wilson since 1992.
“Today consumers are concerned about price, but they’re more apt to pay higher prices for branded apparel than generic,” he said. “If you want to have any kind of long-term relationship with customers, you need a brand you can build a business around.”
Berger said providing quality service to retailers, controlling distribution, reacting to market trends and maintaining long-standing relationships with key retailers are essential to successful licensing deals. He said to build brand awareness, Athco features Wilson sporting goods in all of its apparel advertising.
Nick DeMarco, president of International Apparel Marketing, which manages licenses for Nautilus and Duckhead apparel and accessories, also said that maintaining a cohesive brand image is important.
“It gives them a unified look. They meet the same standards of quality and control,” he said. “It also enables you to control distribution.”
When looking for licensees, DeMarco, who previously worked as director of licensing at Pierre Cardin, said he targets financially sound manufacturers with a good design staff, strong sourcing abilities and sound avenues of distribution. “We won’t license anything unless we know it will add to our overall business,” DeMarco said. “It needs to be a growth area that relates to what the brand means.”
Licensed activewear is becoming more important and more segmented, DeMarco commented. Today, there is a growing selection of activewear that borrows from the entertainment and sports fields.