A Sporting Try

By Jun 01, 2006

This summer, racing fans can chomp on NASCAR burgers or spread NASCAR-branded barbecue sauce on ribs while cheering for their favorite drivers at a trackside tailgate party or backyard picnic.

The sports-licensing deal is one of several that will be showcased this month at the 2006 Licensing International Show in New York City, not least because it plays at the leading edge of a trend: Sports, corporate brands, movies and mobile content are commanding attention in the $175 billion world of licensing.

Corporate licensing currently accounts for 25% of all retail sales of licensed goods in the U.S. and Canada, per The Licensing Letter. For example, Pepsi is rolling out a new line of apparel with a nod toward hip-hop artists via the Pepsi Clothing urban collection. The line, which includes 120 SKUs of retro tops and street wear, hits 800 retail stores and specialty shops this year. Mountain Dew plans to launch new dorm room products — dubbed House of Dew — in 2007. The collection captures Mountain Dew’s high-energy flavor with edgy graphics.

“These are brands consumers know and trust and have grown up with,” says Debra Joester, president and CEO of The Joester Loria Group, the New York City-based licensing and marketing agency that represents Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

The trade show, June 20-22 at New York’s Jacob Javits Center, is expected to draw some 5,700 properties and brands and more than 23,000 attendees.

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Theatrical films — especially potential big blockbusters — continue to draw licensees. Warner Bros. Consumers Products will follow-up on last year’s Superman Returns push with a host of products and toys, in addition to touting its animated film Happy Feet this fall and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007.

“People see a movie, they want to start collecting things,” says Karen McTier, executive VP of domestic licensing and worldwide marketing, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “It becomes part of the culture.”

DreamWorks Animation will tout Shrek the Third, which opens in May 2007 followed by Bee Movie in November 2007. The studio also plans to highlight upcoming releases Madagascar 2 and Kung Fu Panda due out in 2008.

Start your engines

NASCAR will make a big splash promoting its summer theatrical release based on a fictitious driver. Some 11 licensees are backing the Sony Pictures film, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, due out Aug. 4, with movie-themed T-shirts diecast cars, mugs, bedding, watches, mugs and collectibles.

“It’s not often you can bring a large number of licensees behind one program,” says Blake Davidson, managing director of licensed products for Charlotte, NC-based NASCAR.

Beyond the racetrack and big screen, NASCAR will expand its palette of food products with a new line of frozen hamburgers by Birchwood and Checkers/Rally’s (the sport’s official QSR). By fall, NASCAR will unveil a new line of barbecue sauces by 2 Brothers co-branded with famed chef Mario Batali’s name. The brand is building on its meat products (NASCAR hot dogs, bologna, smoked sausage and lunch meat) it began rolling out this year.

“We’re extending into…as many categories as we can,” Davidson says. “NASCAR is a lifestyle brand. We think it will extend naturally into the home.”

Likewise, World Wrestling Entertainment is seeking new food partners to expand its domestic presence in candy and fruit snacks, among others, says WWE’s Senior Director of Global Licensing Florence DiGiorgio. The company is reviving its apparel program with loungewear and boxers by American Marketing Enterprises, New York.

Sports licensing saw significant growth (5%) in 2005 with $13.3 billion in retail sales, per The Licensing Letter. The Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA) will present its 2005 licensing figures at the show.

Brands with multi-platform content are finding new life in licensing. The varing mediums offer fresh and different ways to launch licensed properties, says Tamra Seldin, senior VP-consumer products for American Greetings Properties. American Greetings will debut nine online shorts based on its newly relaunched Twisted Whisker brand (formerly a greeting card property) on APGBrands.com. Eventually, the shorts will be available for licensed content in theaters and other locations.

“Media is changing and more and more eyeballs are being taken away from traditional media like TV [and pushed] onto digital platforms,” Seldin says.

Offline, DreamWorks Animation is out with cell phone wallpaper, mobile games and screen savers based on its popular characters. “Casual games emphasize the fun and humor of our characters,” says Rick Rekedel, head of U.S. licensing for DreamWorks Animation. “It’s the newest platform where people are looking to put their content.”