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Ecommerce, Venue Channels Drive Sports-based Growth in U.S./Canada

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Of the $15,915 million in licensed retail sales attributable to sports-based brands in the U.S./Canada, almost 80% is from traditional brick-and-mortar sales, according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey.

The remainder—mostly comprised of ecommerce at 12.0% share, institutional/venue at 8.4%, and mail order at 1.0%, with some “other” channels—while smaller, are nevertheless the fastest-growing distribution channels in 2017.

In 2017, ecommerce gained 0.8 percentage points in share from the previous year, or $248 million in value. It was the only distribution channel to gain in share compared to all other channels, excepting institutional/venue, which grew 0.2 percentage points or a minimalist $121 million.

In terms of percentage change in dollar growth, ecommerce jumped 15% in 2017—the highest rate of growth since 2014, when the channel gained 15.5% in value. Institutional/venue grew at a slightly slower 10% pace after relatively flat 2.5% growth in 2016 and an unprecedented 19.8% leap in 2015.

The largest distribution channel at 36.9% share, discounters, jumped by $409 million from 2016—or a 7.5% boost in change in dollar growth. The second-largest channel with 32.7% share, specialty stores, gained $341 million in value, or 7.0%, in 2017. The roughly 37/33 split between these two channels has remained constant since 2012, with the most dramatic shifts in the range of 0.1-0.2 percentage points year-over-year.

In sports-based licensing, the most prominent specialty stores are big box sporting goods retailers like Dick’s and Modell’s, long-time industry stalwarts peddling jerseys, caps, and memorabilia among other merchandise. Major discounters, on the other hand, are the usual suspects in the licensing business—spanning Costco to Target to Walmart.

But despite these traditional retailers’ hold over the sector, the top five leagues in the U.S./Canada as well as brands like the Olympics have increasingly thrown their merchandising efforts behind alternative ecommerce channels like giants Amazon and Fanatics or self-made stores. Pop-ups and other nominally temporary, venue-based stores have become ubiquitous. And experiential experiences have proven a strong, if expensive, revenue generator.

Retail Sales of Licensed Sports Merchandise,
by Distribution Channel, U.S./Canada, 2016–2017
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Distribution Channel Retail Sales, 2017 Retail Sales, 2016 Change, 2016-2017 Share of Sales, 2017
Discounters $5,867 $5,458 7.5% 36.9%
Specialty Stores $5,207 $4,866 7.0% 32.7%
E-commerce $1,905 $1,656 15.0% 12.0%
Institutional/Venue $1,334 $1,213 10.0% 8.4%
Department Stores $846 $873 -3.0% 5.3%
Drug, Variety and Convenience $450 $429 5.0% 2.8%
Mail Order $156 $148 5.5% 1.0%
Other $150 $148 1.5% 0.9%
Total $15,915 $14,790 7.6% 100.0%

Representative Retail Stores By Distribution Channel

Mass/Discount/Club/Big Box: BJ’s, Costco, Kmart, Sam’s, Target, Walmart

Specialty Stores: Ace Hardware, Barnes & Noble, Bass Pro, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, Dick’s, Forever 21, GameStop, H&M, Home Depot, Limited, Lowe’s, Michaels, Modell’s, museum stores, PetSmart, Sherwin-Williams, Sports Authority, Staples, Zara

Department Stores & Mid-tier: Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus, Sears

Grocery and Drug: Ahold, Aldi, CVS Caremark, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Meijer, Publix, RiteAid, Safeway, ShopRite, Walgreen

Dollar/Value/Off-Price: Amazing Savings, Big Lots, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Ross Stores, Save Mart, Supervalu, TJ Maxx

Online/E-commerce: Amazon, Café Press, Gilt, Zappos, Zazzle

Variety and Convenience: 7-Eleven, Circle-K

TV Shopping: HSN, QVC, ShopHQ

Mail Order: Oriental Trading, Signals

Other: Kiosks, on-site, vending, and more


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