licensing and merchandising

Walking Surtex, Stationery, and Home Shows 2016: Design, Product & Packaging Trends

NEW YORK, NY; May 16, 2016—The joy of Surtex, which focuses on art, about half of which is available for licensing, the other half for sale, is its co-location with ICFF, a show for contemporary and avant garde furniture and design, and the National Stationery Show. The three shows crossover with the licensing world on both the design and manufacturing levels, and feature interesting packaging ideas as well. It takes a great deal of walking, but there is a wealth of creativity to be seen and inspiration to be had.

There is also fluidity across the shows in that some exhibitors would be wholly comfortable in different areas — particularly some of the artists found in ICFF and the Stationery Show who might be best served by the Surtex audience of manufacturers and retailers. That’s what makes a 5+ hour walk here fascinating (and I didn’t make it to the downstairs furniture show which in the past has been heavy on upscale living and bedroom offerings, lighting, and the like).

Most interesting finds this year were the first two exhibitors at the far end of the hall on the third level in an area dedicated to emerging designers.

Mike Joyce is an established graphic designer whose Stereotype graphic design agency features a portfolio strong on album art (Katy Perry, Iggy Pop, others) and advertising (Volvo, Visa, etc.).

Swissted Surtex 2016

Mike Joyce and his Swissted posters

His “personal project,” Swissted, started in 2012, combines his “love of Swiss graphic design and punk rock by redesigning old” concert posters into International Typographic Style posters. He takes information such as the band lineup, date, venue, and ticket prices from the originals (which he collects) and creates entirely new designs. He sells museum quality prints on 140 lb. cover stock in multiple sizes from $50 (17”x23.75”) to $150 (36”x50.5”) but is looking to “carry it to the next level” and is open to licensing the work.

Next to Joyce is Airplantman Josh Rosen, who creates vertical garden frames and tabletop “vases” — I hesitate to use the word (he calls them vessels) to house airplants.

The plants are dipped in water for a few hours about once a week. Easy to see the frames or vessels licensed by botanical gardens or other nature-oriented or environmental properties, and certainly sold in those venues. The frames, available 11”x11”, 11”x18”, and 24”x18”, are powder coated aluminum with nylon coated stainless steel cable that holds the plants in place. They retail for up to $135.

Other creative executions:

  • Cardboard six-pack beer carrier with attached greeting card from Beer Greetings. It’s the beer equivalent of the ever-popular wine bag with card on the carrying handle. In this case the card is the side of the package. Retails for $4.95, which is the same as a mid-range greeting card these days. The company has been selling the item direct for about a year and a half and started wholesaling the line about six months ago.
  • Monster Factory has been making licensed Volkswagen children’s play tents for some years (I remember seeing them at Bed Bath & Beyond); now they’ve added a VW van pet carrier, a cooler, picnic blankets, and a pet bowl.

General trends:

  • New coloring books are still pouring forth, despite the fact that the market is reportedly cooling.

    Galison, exhibiting in the Chronicle Books booth, has a recently-released Andy Warhol coloring book with the Warhol Velvet Underground album cover banana on the cover (Galison has a range of Warhol items, including soup cans and a coming Time Capsule kit). Paris-based Omy, distributed in the U.S. by Ameico, has pocket maps, postcard books, fanny packs, pencil cases and other items. Hester & Cook has placemats and placecards. Sourcebooks offers calendars, dream books, and such. The list goes on.

  • Flash drive manufacturer Mimoco, which specializes in licensed drives, says sales of classic Star Wars models have cooled off, though younger fans are still interested in the newer characters.
    Mimoco Star Wars Surtex 2016

    Mimoco Star Wars flash drives

    If Star Wars, its best seller, indexes at 100, the second best-selling line, Marvel, would index at about 75, a sales rep says. The company has confidence that Star Wars has longevity while it expects the Marvel line to drop off over a five to six year period.

About three and a half hours into walking these shows, I was starting to think there were substantially fewer letterpress companies exhibiting than the last few years, and that Brooklyn had lost its cache. Not at all. Minutes later I made it to a dedicated letterpress area in the stationery show—and within about 10 minutes and two or three aisles had come across I Am Here Brooklyn (jewelry), Boundless Brooklyn (DIY paper sculpture kits of water towers, bridges, etc.), Gold Teeth Brooklyn (greeting cards), Umlaut Brooklyn (cards and wine bags), and the representative from French chocolatier Marie Belle, which has a New York store in Soho, immediately informed me (with no prompting) that they now have a store in Brooklyn, too. Not to mention that many of those letterpress firms are located in Brooklyn even if the company names doesn’t shout it out.

On the packaging front, two exhibitors made great use of cork-stoppered glass vials: Japan’s YHM Jewelry, which also has a Brooklyn store but which mostly sells online, uses glass vials about 6” high that have a little greenery at the bottom and eyehooks in the cork from which are suspended necklaces or earrings. It’s a beautiful presentation (and the much of the jewelry is quite nice and very original). Similarly, the aforementioned I Am Here Brooklyn uses much smaller vials for its hammered metal pendants with an initial on them. Again, makes for a nice display concept.

Unto itself Surtex, which is relatively small, isn’t formally a curated show, but it’s always seemed to attract a high quality of exhibitors. Plenty of seasonal art, children’s, florals; many agents, some of which have a certain consistency of taste across the artists they represent, some of which are totally varied in an effort to have something for every retail need; many new artists each year looking to test the waters. Surtex is as good a barometer of what’s available for licensing for textiles and other goods as you’re going to find. The bonus is that the co-located shows might not be as focused on textile-oriented designs, but are full of licensable ideas — from designs to products to packaging.

The shows opened at the Javits Center here yesterday, and run until 6 p.m. today and until 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Next up: I’ll be at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas June 20 (day before the show opens), 21 and 22. I am available to conduct personal tours of the show based on your needs. Two slots remain. For information about the personal tour, please contact me at I’m also leading a workshop, How to Work With Licensing Agents and Consultants, as part of LIMA’s Licensing University on the 21st. My panelists are an all-star team of Gary Caplan, Gary Caplan Inc.; Carole Postal, CopCorp; and Ilana Wilensky, Jewel Branding. To register for Licensing University, click here.


How Far Will Nickelodeon Take Its Sports Identity?

NEW YORK, NY—MARCH 7, 2016: Is Nickelodeon carving out a new hybrid major league sports-entertainment genre for itself? Others have made efforts in this arena, but none on a platform as wide as Nick’s.

Nick went through a long dry spell as far as developing new, licensable IP. Not for lack of trying, but it isn’t an easy (or scientific, no matter how much testing) process.

Now Nickelodeon is expanding its two-hour Nicktoons sports programming block with the introduction of two high-profile new series produced by Rob Drydek, and one unique licensing program combining a sports figure and a hit animated property:

  • Crashletes is a video clip series hosted by New England Patriots’ player Rob Gronkowski;
  • Jagger Eaton’s Mega Life is a reality series starring teen skateboarder Jagger Eaton;
  • NBA star Carmelo Anthony, aka Melo, is behind an exclusive-to-Macy’s TMNT x Melo fashion line built around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Asked whether Nick will be able to create licensed merchandise incorporating Gronkowski and Eaton, the network’s Pam Kaufman told me at the Nick Upfront that they certainly hope to. “We’re figuring that out.”

turtles_x_melo_Joint licensing of sports and entertainment isn’t a new idea, but TMNT x Melo carries the concept several steps beyond the usual Warner Bros. or classic Disney characters on jerseys, teddy bears, and bobbleheads.

Success will breed plenty of imitators; that’s inevitable. But Nick can use a concept that has built-in renewability; its mix of sports and entertainment can expand with new athletes and be applied to new hit properties as they emerge.

It’s 17 years since SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on Nickelodeon. Sixteen years since the first Dora the Explorer episode. It wasn’t until 2012 that Nick revived TMNT, and 2013 that Paw Patrol began its run and that the revitalized Power Rangers re-emerged in their 20th season as Power Rangers Megaforce.

From a licensing perspective, that left Nick with a more than decade-long lull where, because there was no new breakthrough animated IP, the network’s consumer products division had to do its best reinventing SpongeBob and Dora to carry it. Warner Bros. has faced similar issues over the years, with DC Comics (Batman, especially, but Superman as well — even in non-movie years), Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry (at least outside the U.S.) and other classics tiding them over.

“Cross-licensing, primarily involving character/entertainment properties along with leagues, teams, and/or players, has long had a presence in the sports sector,” wrote Karen Raugust last month in her excellent trend-rooted RaugustReports blog. “Going back at least to the mid-1990s, the four major U.S. leagues were partnering with classic characters such as Peanuts, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Looney Tunes.

“The trend,” Raugust noted, “tends to ebb and flow cyclically, but has been on the upswing lately, with characters from Hello Kitty and Tokidoki to Domo and Betty Boop all being featured with team or athlete imagery on a range of merchandise, in association with the leagues and/or their players associations. The technique also has expanded internationally; examples range from Sesame Street and the Australian Football League to Smeshariki and the Zenit St. Petersburg soccer club in Russia, to name just two.”

With few exceptions (Disney had an NHL/Phineas & Ferb deal in 2011, and there have been several crossovers in Europe), these deals are character rather than program-driven, and are often promotional rather than based on long-term consumer products campaigns.

As for Nick’s current stable of properties, Paw Patrol — produced by Spin Master with Nick and Canada’s TVOKids — is the big recent new hit property and the reconstituted Turtles and Power Rangers have proven resilient as shows and on retail shelves with licensed merchandise.

Whether Nick can parlay Gronkowski’s and Eaton’s live action shows into merchandise, or whether they and other athletes can be teamed, so to speak, with others from Nick’s animated stable to build on this niche, remains to be seen. Nick is well-positioned, though, to make it happen.

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for marketers; takes clients on retail tours; and offers courses on licensing to corporations and at colleges and universities. You can reach him by clicking on the “Contact” button above left.

Walking Toy Fair 2016: Trends, Start-ups, and Licensing Opportunities

NEW YORK, NY: FEBRUARY 16, 2016—My favorite parts of Toy Fair are invariably the far aisles on the main floor upstairs and the downstairs exhibits. That’s where many of the start-ups and smaller players are and where you get a sense of the ideas that are propelling toy inventors and designers.

Here are my idiosyncratic impressions after two days walking the show at the Javits Center, with a few added comments based on a recent spate of store visits.

Star Wars isn’t disappearing any time soon. Sphero will have competition for its BB-8 later this year when Spin Master brings out its own version of the robot. The creator of the Spin Master BB-8, Thomas Tretter, was doing the product demos, happily admitting he “gets paid to do what he did as a kid.” Also via Spin Master, Air Hogs will have an expanded Star Wars line.Thomas Tretter BB-8

But SW was ubiquitous, if anything moreso than even last year and eclipsing even the strongest of the strong. Manufacturers uniformly report that Star Wars is still going gangbusters, and many are still developing new assortments. Marvel is Marvel, DC is DC, and they’re next in line. I was surprised not to see more new Minions on the boards, as retail is still going strong with that as well. Max the dogUniversal’s Secret Life of Pets clearly has momentum, though, with Spin Master’s Best Friend Max wobbly-walking dog from that upcoming film a candidate for next Christmas’s must-have toy (Elmo beware). Commonwealth and Spin Master are also working Angry Birds in anticipation of that film.

The expansion of Melissa & Doug, once exclusive to specialty toy retail, is nothing short of astounding. The company used to eschew licensing, but has some Disney and other properties. However, unlike LEGO, which reinvented itself (and came back from the walking dead) through licensing, Melissa & Doug hews true to its origins even if distribution has expanded to mass, education stores, and more.

JoyLabz had perhaps the oddest display among the robotics/electronics startups: Makey Makey was demonstrated using a piece of tin foil folded on a table, with hand-written marker instructions, and five bananas with connector leads in them hooked up to a laptop. Makey MakeyTouch the foil with one hand and use the other hand to hit the bananas (“it could be anything conductive; we just used bananas,” the demonstrator noted, though their sales materials feature bananas too), and you get music from the laptop. The kit can also be used to make game controllers, instruments, and “inventions.”

There’s really no breakout company in robotics. If I were a buyer, I’d be hard pressed to decide who to go with — both whether they have the wherewithal to deliver, and what might make the product stand out. Most seem to create different lighting or noise patterns from generic component parts, and there’s little guidance for what you can do further. As a group, they’re coming of age, but they’re not there yet.

Among the more traditional science kits, Smart Lab used licensed Star Wars and Disney Princess to distinguish itself. Based on retail visits as well as the show, Smithsonian and National Geographic are dominating this sector at specialty, in book stores, and at mass.

3Doodler and Creopop are among several companies offering handheld 3D printer pens. 3Doodler has had an adult version on the market at $99; the new child version is $49. Different colors of instant-hardening plastic are available. Using the pens requires pretty serious fine motor skills; not clear to me exactly who the market will be for kids versions. 3D printers are also rapidly coming down in price to where they might have potential as consumer items, but again, the killer app that could transform them from “having potential” to “must have” has yet to surface.

A year or two ago formable sand products for home and school were relatively high end, sold by Brookstone initially; the variety is expanding rapidly now under a variety of names (Kinetic Sand from Spin Master, but Magic Sand, Aqua Sand) — in colors (including glow-in-the-dark from Sands Alive), packaging, and price.

Zing’s StikBot Studio — a toy-size green screen with little characters you can use to create your own stop motion animated videos — expanded its one-year-old line with a more extensive “Pro” kit. Zing also has Wet Head, which is a hat with a little reservoir for water and stick plugs coming out. It’s essentially “Russian roulette with water,” as a demonstrator put it — the hat is filled with water, players spin a wheel to indicate which plug to pull out, and eventually one of the pulled plugs releases the water.

AzIAm Girlz yoga dolls, which first shipped this past December, is growing its line.

There’s growing availability of sophisticated tool sets. New at the show this year was Toydriver from the “smart screw specialists.” Toydriver is a mini powered screw driver designed for the small screws used in children’s toys but also for small hands. Sidenote: Toys R Us carries an extensive line of Home Depot-branded tools and child-sized workbenches and the like that are truly standout.

On the gardening front, Triumph Plant has been doing a beautiful job with Crayola for a number of years. My First GardenThere’s a My First Plant series, and a Color A Plant Pot kit. And they’re re-introducing a Charlie Brown tree to go with their Charlie Brown Grow a Pumpkin kit; the tree had been around for a few years, but the company wasn’t able to get the seeds for the last two years. Triumph’s Jim Johansen also said the company has licensed the Garden State Parkway for a wildflowers line. It’s an outgrowth of Lady Bird Johnson’s highway beautification program and could be expanded to cover other states’ highway wildflower programs.

Morphmallow’s Spaghetti Headz hair accessories remind me of the coiled shoe laces that were a fad for a couple of years. Generic versions of Spaghetti Headz have been on the market at $9.99 list for about two years; Spaghetti HeadzMorphmallow, exhibiting at Toy Fair for the first time, is now adding licenses including Care Bears, Garfield, Betty Boop, and the upcoming Steven Spielberg film The BFG selling at $12.49. Target is tweens to young teens, with the designs with feathers at the end appealing to the older end of the spectrum.

Capson and Zoofy, to name just two, are outfitting caps (brand name Brick Brick) and backpacks, respectively, with boards that work with Lego and other similarly sized building blocks as well as with miniature versions so kids can customize their look. Cap w:Lego DisneyCapson had the Disney logo, an As logo, and a Hello Kitty image to show what you can do, but was quick to say they don’t license those images, “they’re just to demonstrate what someone can do.” In fact, they don’t even sell blocks — those are user-supplied. Zoofy used generic designs to illustrate the potential on its backpacks.

Pinbox 3000 is likely typical of many toy startups these days: They used a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $15,000 they needed to make the diecuts they needed for the first run of their cardboard “pinball machines” which are blanks. PinBox 3000The examples they showed demonstrate how you can draw or photograph your own backgrounds, use discarded toys or household objects, and so forth to create your own game. Make, an online magazine ( wrote about the product last July and started selling it. That sent them back for a second run. They’ve also developed special education and library market versions. The basic kit is $49.95; a large “double kit” is $89.95.

Speaking of make your own: Yottoy, which is both a publisher and makes plush and collectibles with licenses for Babar, Madeline, and others, signed on as an Eloise licensee about a week before Toy Fair. A beautiful lunch kit was hand painted to get it on display in time, VP creative director Peter Doodeheefver showed me proudly. Sales of licensed Madeline merchandise benefited enormously from a museum exhibit at the New York Historical Society, as did sales of Paddington goods with release of the Paddington Bear movie. Next up for them is The Little Prince movie; but Yottoy typically has these properties long-term; the movie and museum shows are bonus opportunities.

Not a toy per se, but a fun product: Fan Hands (company and product name) — special gloves designed to make a loud clap when at a sports event. Marc Jones, President/CEO and inventor of the gloves, has had the patent since 2013 and has been selling a generic version. But if this isn’t a product designed for licensing… Jones has a relationship with CLC for another product line he developed; he’s looking to expand that to Fan Hands, and to add MLB and NHL “to start.” NFL, he says, is too complex and too expensive to deal with starting out.

Colorforms and Highlights are two children’s brands that have been largely dormant for a number of years. Both are re-establishing their reach through licensing programs the results of which were in evidence at Toy Fair this year and should be more in evidence at retail over the next 12 months. Colorforms is owned by Out of the Blue; Highlights is independently owned.

Peppa w:IraThe success of eOne’s Peppa Pig — which itself is expanding its licensee roster through U.S. master licensee JazWares — is prompting a small surge in other pig properties. Not that pigs haven’t always been popular, but this year sees the addition of Pass the Pigs dice from Winning Moves, among others. Note to Warner Bros.: Is it time for a Porky comeback?

That’s all folks!

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for marketers; takes clients on retail tours; and offers courses on licensing through colleges and universities. You can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button above left.


Walking NY NOW: Licensing Opportunities, Updates and (By Gum) Fun!

NEW YORK: FEBRUARY 3, 2016 — From the floor of NY NOW, the Emerald Expositions tradeshow for “home, lifestyle and gift” products:

Opportunistic Vote. FCTRY has been selling its Hillary Clinton action figures for about a year. “After Iowa, we’re rushing Bernie [Sanders] into production.” Hillary

Reviving a Regional Brand. Louis Sherry. Boomer New Yorkers know the name from fine chocolates and ice cream, and its eponymous owner’s posthumous role as one half of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel name. “The brand never totally disappeared,” Louis Sherry, Inc. President Tim Tippin told me. Tippin was standing behind an array of tins sporting the original colors, designs, and logos from Louis Sherry confectionary. Beatrice Foods was the last “major” owner (Beatrice and its assets went through multiple hands after KKR bought them in the late 1980s). Tippin acquired the brand about nine years ago and, together with his fiancé, whose grandfather was involved with the original company, oversees the operation producing hand-made chocolates. Louis Sherry“It takes a long time to research the original packaging and come up with the right products,” but he’s been selling the chocolates in recent years to upscale resorts and department stores including Saks and Henri Bendel. “I’m open to a ‘better’ coffee or tea licensee, and a premium ice cream licensee,” he says. Ironic note: Back in the early 1960s, Tippin adds, “Louis Sherry distributed Haagen Dazs when it was just starting out.”

From Sourcing to Licensing. Cufflinks Inc. has been around since 1999, which is about when we first met Marc Ostrofsky, a venture capital investor in Cufflinks and, and author of “Get Rich Click!: The Ultimate Guide to Making Money Online.” He was walking Licensing Expo at the time and wasn’t sure about licensing as a business model for the company vs. sourcing others’ goods for sale via his then-new online-only venture. Fast forward to 2006 and Cufflinks started manufacturing its own products. Today, the company licenses NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA teams; Marvel; Disney; DC; and, of course, Star Wars, and sells on its website but also through traditional retail channels. “We put aggressive projections on Star Wars last January [2015],” President Paul Song told me. “But we sold out of many Star Wars SKUs in December, and it’s still going strong.” Substantially stronger than any other property, Song notes. Cufflinks also offers licensed socks and ties, and has its own Ox & Bull brand and original designs at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and others.

Doodle Me This. Three year old Eat Sleep Doodle out of Salisbury, England, typically frames the area where you doodle on its sheets, aprons, soft sack back packs and other items with special washable markers. Founder/CEO Chrissie Probert-Jones is open to the notion of licensed images (most likely entertainment properties, or publishing classics) that could be permanently outlined and then colored. Given the adult coloring craze, the time might be right for adults as well as kids.

Pedaling Line Extensions. I recognized Vital Industries’ screen printed (by hand) bicycle glasses from the Brooklyn Museum shop. Late last year Vital added porcelain plates made in Poland to the line, which also includes clothing and accessories. Some of the designs (there are more than bicycles, but that seems to be their signature) are ripe for licensing — those bicycle-design plates would be well suited for picnic gear, paper plates, cups, and napkins.

Under Cover. The Gussy is a printed rain cover for women’s purses. Founder/President Jamie Hantman is open to using licensed designs and to private label. The covers sell for $10 wholesale, $20 retail.

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for companies in the licensing business; you can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button above left.







Coke Tastes The Licensing Feeling

NEW YORK; JANUARY 27, 2016 — Coca-Cola’s new “Taste the Feeling” ad campaign “will be focused more on the functional and emotional benefits of Coke the product” rather than the loftier brand equity-rooted celebration of the brand’s “role as a social facilitator and symbol of peace, love, friendship and brotherhood” of the prior “Open Happiness” campaign.

That’s Stuart Elliott’s take in his MediaVillage column this morning. Elliott wrote The New York Times advertising column for 23 years, and has been contributing to Jack Myers’ MediaVillage for just under a year (and it’s great to have his voice back!).

Coke bottle cap tray

One of my favorite licensed Coke products, from Coolgear.

From a licensing perspective, the question is how that new theme will manifest itself in merchandise, and while not mentioning licensing per se, Elliott indirectly addresses the key to a sound licensing program as well as a good ad campaign: emotional resonance.

Elliott wonders “if ads that play up what’s inside the bottle will overlook the specialness of the bottle and the other unique qualities and attributes of Coca-Cola that have contributed to its status as perhaps the world’s best-known (and most-liked) brand. . . . A thirst quencher, yes, but also an intrinsic element of American popular culture and a symbol of American life.”

Licensed Coke products reflect that, and Elliott couldn’t do better than singling out, as he does, the shape of the bottle, vintage ads, the Coca-Cola Santa, and other advertising slogans, as well as songs and movies where Coke has played a starring role. Not to mention the polar bears.

As I told the students in my Branding & Licensing class at LIU Post this week (part of a Branding & Licensing minor inaugurated by the university with LIMA and Beanstalk’s Michael Stone last semester), Coke’s is a classic case study in how licensing can support a core brand. Relative to revenue, licensing is a rounding error at Coke, albeit a highly profitable one. With licensing under the guidance of Kate Dwyer in Atlanta for almost seven years now, Coke tastes that feeling just fine.

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for companies in the licensing business; you can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button above left.

Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Sports Licensing 2015-2016

NEW YORK, NY; DECEMBER 15, 2015—Sports licensing rarely has a runaway hit that moves the needle up for the entire segment the way Star Wars is doing for entertainment licensing this year (see Fearless Forecast: Entertainment Licensing).

Historically, sports are more likely to face a negative impact from a strike, lockout or other labor dispute, or a public relations crisis (abusing girlfriends/wives, health issues such as concussions) than to experience a sudden surge.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 2.30.59 PMSports licensing is also spread across leagues, teams, and players most of whom have more or less local followings. So an uptick from, say, a team that hasn’t won a major title in some years or a player who achieves a record in his or her sport isn’t going to have as big an impact on the segment, nationally, as a whole.

All of which adds up to why sports licensing has essentially plateaued. For most leagues, teams and athletes, upsides are incremental and opportunistic. In the most extreme cases (a no-hitter, running record yardage in a single game, and so forth), the opportunism turns into a game of beating the pirates — lower case “p” intentional — who invariably seem able to be on the street with t-shirts before the game is over; this compares to licensees who will take days if not weeks to celebrate a sudden occasion.

Most of the upside activity in sports coalesces around a handful of trends we’ve seen over the past several years:

  • Personalization. Put your name on your favorite player’s team number and colors. Embroidery, heat transfers, and various types of instant printing are available in-store while you wait (not long) and online.
  • The Players Associations are becoming more aggressive. Many of their efforts center on marketing tie-ins that may or may not have licensing components. But even NFL and MLB Players Associations’ presence as exhibitors at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas this past June spoke to the higher profile they are seeking.
  • Co-branding players using both their pro team and college insignias; PGA co-branded college, NFL, MLB , NBA and NHL golf gear; cartoon characters and leagues, and so on.Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 2.32.12 PM
  • International. American sports aren’t as developed internationally as are entertainment properties, but the NBA has been notable for its efforts at exposing kids in other countries to basketball. And the NBA, MLB and NHL all have some games being played in other countries as part of their efforts to increase overseas audiences and, ultimately, merchandise sales. Hockey merchandise sales continue to grow. Soccer is growing, albeit from a very small base; professional soccer has made slow but steady inroads in the U.S. but is invariably looked to as “the next big” whatever. (Some of us remember when global superstar player Pele was going to turn soccer into a mainstream American sport.)
  • Women. Alyssa Milano can’t be given enough credit for changing the attitude of the major leagues about what women will buy. It’s not about an oversized jersey women can wear as a nightshirt. And it’s not about pink. It’s about apparel designed and fitted for women, with a fashion-forward look that also appeals to the fan interest. Growth in the segment is slowing, but it still has substantial momentum. When it plateaus, it will be at a high level.
  • Growth in the stature of additional sports ranging from hockey and soccer to tennis and golf to lacrosse and jai-alai. (I recently heard of several schools offering bocce; I don’t see a big licensing opportunity there. Yet.)

Kids are the mystery ingredient for sports merchandising’s next growth spurt. For kids who play sports, the family budget is allotted to little league uniforms and gear. And its difficult to differentiate kid-oriented licensed sports merchandise in the way that women’s merchandise has achieved.

Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Barring any major catastrophes, labor stoppages, health issues or morals-based PR challenges, and thanks mostly to price increases, retail sales of licensed merchandise based on sports properties will continue modest growth of 2%-3% annually for 2015 and 2016.

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for companies in the licensing business; you can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button above left.

Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Entertainment Licensing 2016-2017

NEW YORK, NY; DECEMBER 9, 2015—Over the next few days I’ll post some prognostications on various sectors of the licensing business. While I (and everyone else on the planet) have written plenty about Star Wars in recent months, that is unquestionably the story of the moment. So let’s start with a look at the impact Star Wars is having on entertainment licensing and where the market is headed.

Star Wars at Hudson News in JFK Airport Thanksgiving weekend

Star Wars at Hudson News in JFK Airport Thanksgiving weekend

Looking at 2015, Star Wars has been the best news in entertainment licensing and, assuming the movie performs as expected, will likely be the entertainment segment’s blockbuster for 2016 as well.

But Star Wars has also been the worst news in licensing for 2015, sucking the juice out of every other pop culture property this year, likely keeping even hot newcomers such as Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol from realizing their full potential, and holding back other retro properties that have had difficulty gaining placement at retail, such as Iconix’s Peanuts. Minions has held strong. But Superheroes? Maybe their powers aren’t infinite, at least in the licensing universe (and maybe those powers were diminishing even before the Star Wars onslaught).

From Hudson newsstands at airports to Nordstrom’s children’s department to Walgreens, Star Wars is ubiquitous and has been since back-to-school.

Nordstrom boys clothing department at Old Orchard mall, Skokie, IL

Nordstrom boys clothing department at Old Orchard mall, Skokie, IL

I wasn’t monitoring the licensing business in 1977, but this is the movie credited with initiating the modern licensing business. Given the institutionalization of licensing today, and the Disney machine behind Star Wars now, we’re no doubt looking at a licensing blockbuster of a whole different order of magnitude.

Today, for manufacturers and retailers waiting to release merchandise with the new movie’s art — remember, so far, with a few notable exceptions such as the BB-8 Droid, it’s been all classic images — it’s a matter of waiting for the force to awaken and do its part.

What will the net effect be on entertainment licensing  for 2015-2017? Star Wars does not appear to be carrying the rest of the business up with it. Rather, it is displacing just about everything else. Still, in the aggregate it is more than compensating for others’ lost growth or stagnation, which is why entertainment licensing overall will show substantial growth for 2015 and probably 2016.

Licensing today is generally a matter of who are you going to knock off the shelf in order to get on. Star Wars is different, though: In addition to usurping others’ shelf space, Stars Wars found new distribution  (such as at Nordstrom and Hudson) that hadn’t been given over to entertainment toys, apparel and collectibles to this degree before. That is enlarging the segment as a whole.

If the movie does indeed perform as expected, Star Wars will also be the worst news in licensing for everyone else in 2016 and, for Disney, an even worse story for 2017. Why?

Walgreens, downtown Chicago

Walgreens, downtown Chicago

Once Star Wars merchandising runs its course — and it will run its course — Disney will have to replace the Star Wars licensing juggernaut with something else. Even though there’s another movie scheduled for 2017, the second release in a series never generates the same in merchandise sales (and rarely at the box office) as the first. If superheroes are still in style — and that’s a big “if” — Disney will have Marvel to fall back on. Or perhaps they’ll have another Frozen. But it’s hard to bet on those scenarios.

The good news is that once Star Wars does run its course, that should re-open the shelves to other entertainment properties, and there’s no dearth of those in the wings.

Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Retail sales of licensed merchandise based on entertainment properties in the U.S. and Canada will be up 7%-9% for 2015.

Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for companies in the licensing business; you can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button at left.

Iconix Battles Its Own Star Wars In More Ways Than One++

NEW YORK—November 6, 2015: Iconix is re-stating its financials for 2013, 2014 and 2015 with a net impact of about $3 million. Ultimately not a huge amount for a public company, but enough to send the stock plummeting 58% today as of 1 p.m. Results for the quarter and year-to-date will be released Monday, but essentially the bad news is out. And it’s no surprise. (See IMG_1873my previous post on Iconix last August for more on the company.) The company also noted that an SEC inquiry into its 2014 financials continues.

Meanwhile, no one has been announced as a permanent replacement for founder/ex-CEO Neil Cole, and although the Peanuts movie opening today, which the company has been betting on to turn its fortunes around, is getting good reviews, they’re not money reviews. “Pleasant” isn’t the sort of adjective that brings out the masses (kind of the equivalent of “she/he has a great personality”), and Iconix is revising downward its forecast of licensing revenues for the year yet again because of Peanuts, because too many of its fashion brands aren’t cutting it at retail, and because of soft performance in key European and Chinese markets.

You’d think Star Wars was the movie opening today, but that’s got more than a month to go. Iconix is surprised that Star Wars is getting the amount of shelf space it is already. Hard to know what galaxy they’ve been hiding under. In a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn Heights, NY, there are 17 linear feet of tables alongside the escalator that are pure Star Wars, with another 3-4 places around the store offering still more. At Costco two properties dominate the toy aisles: Star Wars and Frozen, the latter the property Disney credits for its strong consumer products performance year-to-date.

Lucy with licensing agent Stu Seltzer of Seltzer Licensing in the mid-2000s.

Lucy with licensing agent Stu Seltzer of Seltzer Licensing in the mid-2000s.

About 10 years ago, when Peanuts was still licensed by United Media and I owned and published The Licensing Letter, I was granted permission to use a classic panel of Lucy in a lemonade stand to adorn our booth at Licensing Expo. We had invited various licensing consultants to be “Licensing Doctors,” advising newcomers on licensing strategy. We couldn’t change the wording on the actual panel, but we were permitted to attach a little piece of “fence” to get our message across. Feels as though there’s some irony in there somewhere.


Wonderful to wake up to a front page NY Times story about the success of University of Alabama licensing, the first two words of which are “Bill Battle.” Battle, now 73 and truly one of the stars of the modern era of consumer products licensing, played for Alabama in his day. In 1970, at 28, he coached the competition at Tennessee. He founded Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) in 1981, building the company to handling licensing for about 200 of the leading colleges, universities and conferences before selling to IMG in 2007 for a reported $100 million (IMG is now part of WME). Since 2013 Battle heads the Alabama athletics department. Great to see him get this kind of national recognition. The article, incidentally, notes that CLC guaranteed Alabama $9 million in royalty revenue from sales of licensed merchandise for this year (translate that to about $200 million at retail), and $103 million through the 2024-2025 season (in excess of $2 billion at retail over the next decade).

Activision Blizzard, which is acquiring Candy Crush developer King Digital, is forming a studio to develop movies and TV shows based on the properties it owns, including Candy Crush, Call of Duty, and Skylanders. Unit is headed by Nick van Dyk ex-SVP corporate strategy for . . . Disney.

China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce is endeavoring to stamp out counterfeiting of Disney merchandise. Unusual for a crackdown like this to focus on a particular company’s IP, but (a) Disney is such a huge chunk of the market and (b) the company is building a theme park in Shanghai. Seems like all roads, no matter where, lead to the House of Mouse.

Who Gets The Biggest Bump In Sales Of Licensed Merchandise From A World Series Win?

NEW YORK; October 22, 2015—Macy’s is on top of its game: The flagship Herald Square store rolled out (literally, on racks) a NY Mets display at the 7th Ave./34th Street entrance today. With Majestic, Nike, and Forever Collectibles t-shirts, sweatshirts, jerseys, and tote bags, it was a small array but prominent for sure. “This is all you have?” asked a woman who promptly went through the rack looking for the size she wanted.

Mets merchandise following its Pennant win at the entrance to the flagship Macy's in Herald Square.

Mets merchandise following its Pennant win at the entrance to the flagship Macy’s in Herald Square.

What does a Mets-Kansas City Royals or Toronto Blue Jays World Series matchup look like from a licensing perspective?

This should be a good year. What licensees don’t want is the same team winning two years in a row, or even two out of three years. As with a series of movies, fans buy their World Series memorabilia in year one; the second film in a series typically doesn’t do as well as the first. That follows for sports teams.

The Mets make it to the series on average every 15 years — 1969, 1986, 2000, 2015. Kansas City competed in the World Series last year, losing to the Giants, and hasn’t won a series since 1985. Toronto won back-to-back in 1992 and 1993 but haven’t been back since. So licensees are good on that count whoever wins. Plus, much of the merchandise during a Series is souvenir goods purchased at the venue and in local stores.

But which team in the 2015 World Series stands to see the biggest bump in merchandise sales? The Mets have a larger home market, though it’s hard to know if there are as many out-of-market fans as there are for the Yankees and the Red Sox. Still, that sizable home market means more customers for merchandise.Macys Mets Vertical 2

Most telling is that there are three Mets on Major League Baseball’s list of 20 most popular jerseys of the 2015 regular season: Matt Harvey (No. 9), David Wright (No. 11), and Jacob deGrom (No. 17). For the post-season, all three will clearly gain traction, with Harvey a good bet for topping the list if the Mets take the series. Maybe even if they don’t. Toronto’s Josh Donaldson is on the list at No. 12, but there are no Royals on the MLB best-seller list at all!

The irony: No. 1 on the regular season list is Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs. The Mets, of course, swept the Pennant series…from the Cubs.

Sidenote: The first jersey you see in the Macy’s Locker Room by Lids shop on the fourth floor is a woman’s Derek Jeter “team captain” model from Majestic. There’s very little Mets merchandise up there — it probably got moved to that high-profile location on the main floor, prompting one customer to be sent downstairs to find what he wanted.

NFL Kicks Off Super Bowl 50th Women’s Wear Looks

Using a mock fashion show-cum-blogger-reality-show-competition as a format, the NFL introduced the first Super Bowl 50th anniversary women’s wear tonight at a spacious gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The event featured three fashion bloggers — Christine Bibbo Herr (NYC Pretty), Liz Black (PS Its Fashion), and Heather Zeller (A Glam Slam) — designing outfits built around Super Bowl 50 shirts and sweaters for the models for athleisure, date night, etc. The Super Bowl 50 merchandise goes on sale October 15th.

Here are some of the shirts, along with a pair of non-Super Bowl shoes that would complete any look, and a few of the new team shirts for this year.

NFL shirt3 NFL shirt2 NFL shirt1

NFL Shoes NFL shirt5 NFL shirt4

Apparel licensees represented at the media event included Majestic, GIII, ’47 Brand, and Junk Food along with Lulu DK Tattoos. The latter retail for $9.99, are applied with water, and last 4-6 days.

The NFL estimates that 45% of its fans are women, though men’s wear continues to account for a much higher percentage of merchandise sales. I estimate the league did about $3.4 billion at retail worldwide in the 2014-2015 season.