LICENSING ADVICE CLINIC: Successful sports licensing

The tricks you should know to ensure your brand is a hit.
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Sport is a dynamic and exciting branch of the licensing sector and one that is growing all the time. Major teams and organisations are becoming increasingly aware of the potential offered by off-field revenue streams and licensing is now an increasing part of the makeup of sports properties.

CPLG Sport manages the licensing programmes for a range of sporting brands including major governing bodies such as the Rugby Football Union (RFU), football club brands West Ham United and Fulham FC, competitions including Rugby Super League, the Wold Rally Championships and the iconic golfing venue of St Andrews Links. We have an in-depth knowledge of the challenges of the sector which are in many ways these are very different from the challenges experienced by character and entertainment brands.

Sports clubs and governing bodies have a diverse range of objectives and revenue streams such as sponsorship, broadcast rights, ticketing and hospitality and licensors are to a certain extent still discovering the potential of what a licensing programme can offer in terms of brand exposure and revenue generation. Having worked with our sports brands over a number of years we have developed programmes that now represent a significant revenue stream to the licensors and include hundreds of different licensed products across brand appropriate categories.

It is often the case that the job of licensing falls to someone in a club or organisation who has other main responsibilities, typically for their own retail operation. Our role as licensing agent is to market their brand in a proactive rather than reactive way, which is what we do every day as an organisation. We aim to take branded product out of traditional outlets such as club stores and into wider retail, increasing brand exposure and often reaching a different fanbase, as well as generating a revenue stream that is incremental to the licensor’s own retail operation.

We have worked with some of the most successful sports brands to identify new and innovative licences that might not necessarily be typically linked to sport but that interest and excite both the retailer and consumer. An example of developments in the sophistication of licensed product available in sport is the current trend for using personalised content. Fans being able to print their name on the back of replica playing shirts has been common for a long time, however innovative licensees are now developing new and exciting forms of personalised content.

For example we have recently signed a deal for a range of personalised bottles of wine and champagne for Fulham FC, a range of personalised paper products for West Ham and personalised newspaper reports for England Rugby and West Ham.

Digital is another sector that has huge possibilities for sports brands. Access to technology is increasing at a phenomenal rate and we are currently working with our clients to ensure that they can capitalise on this digital revolution and move into what is a rapidly developing market. Sports brands are increasingly looking strategically at what could be big in licensing and assessing how it can work for sport rather than just relying on what is tried and tested.

A significant challenge that we face in sports licensing is to increase the visibility of a sports brand and ensure that it has year-round appeal that extends beyond the actual season and any major sporting events.

A good example of this is what we have done with the England Rugby brand, which benefits from a huge fanbase yet perhaps previously may have only seen sales of licensed product around major events. The England team, however, play throughout the year and the team’s performance and its prospects should always be part of the national consciousness, meaning that the brand itself is valuable at all times. Over a number of years we have worked with licensees and retailers to ensure that the brand has a more consistent presence on the shelves.

There will, however, always be spikes in licensed product sales around major tournaments and we still work hard with our licensors to capitalise on these. For example, we are currently experiencing significant interest in the England Rugby brand in what is a World Cup year. We are also ensuring that potential partners are made aware that the competition is taking place in the UK in 2015, which is a huge opportunity for licensees and retailers.

The same applies to Rugby Super League, with the Rugby League World Cup coming to the UK in 2013, and the plan for West Ham United to inherit the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 London Games. These events will all lead to significant exposure for the brands in question and it’s our role to ensure that licensees and retailers are aware of the commercial possibilities associated with such events.

One change we are seeing at retail that has benefitted some of our sports brands is an increased ability to take a regional approach to licensed product merchandising. Rugby Super League for instance is hugely popular along the M62 corridor and consequently their licensed products would perform very well in Lancashire and Yorkshire, so it makes sense for retailers to promote branded products in these areas.

Similarly we encourage retailers to concentrate efforts for our London football brands West Ham and Fulham FC on stores in south-east England. We also work with retailers on a global bases for example our golf property, the iconic St Andrews Links, has a partnership with the international retailer Brooks Brothers and their exclusive range of men’s and women’s apparel is now available in key markets across the world.

One other very big challenge for anyone involved in sports licensing is generic products and counterfeiting, especially with regard to national teams. Generic product using the St George’s Cross will always be available, especially around major tournament times, however we work to educate retailers about the fans propensity to buy official product rather than unofficial. One thing that we also need to concentrate on is the fact that bodies such as the RFU are not-for-profit and all revenue is ploughed back into the development of the game at grassroots level. Another way to counter the effect on licensed product sales that generic items can have is to develop more sophisticated style guides, which give the licensee increased design options and therefore allow them to present more innovative and exciting ranges to retailers.

Being successful in sports licensing demands a unique approach - just like sport itself, the sector is fast moving and unpredictable and you have to know how to play the game to become a winner.


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