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Licensed Sales Up 2.7% Worldwide; U.S./Canada Leads in Growth

Retail sales of licensed merchandise went up 2.7% worldwide in 2016 to reach $167.5 billion, according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. Generally, licensed sales outperformed GPD by a wide margin—despite low consumer spending power, retail activity was high.

In areas seemingly plagued by political and economic instability, retail some Survey respondents reported sales increases of anywhere between 20–30%. The bright spot was entertainment—in particular, A-list properties like the Disney stable and Universal’s Minions—which pushed most other brands (licensed and not) off shelves.

But that’s not to say that the entire picture was rosy—in most areas, growth was more flat then up. However, that flatness was generally an improvement over last year. Growth overall was more stable than in 2015. The worst performing region, Central and Eastern Europe, only recorded a 1.1% drop—compared a 8.7% plunge in 2015.

This year, as in 2015, the richest countries got richer—five countries generated almost 80% of all retail sales worldwide, and they saw a combined 3.1% growth in sales.

But the top countries are not enjoying the most rapid growth—that honor goes to India at No. 15, with a whopping 9.5% gain in licensed retail sales. Note that that figure is still below the country’s overall retail sales growth, which is estimated to be approximately 12% by the India Brand Equity Foundation. But even established economies had unexpectedly solid growth, such as the U.K. (3.6%), the U.S. (3.2%), and Germany (2.6%), to name a few.

Retail Sales of Licensed Merchandise, Worldwide, by Territory, 2015–2016
Note: Figures may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Territory Retail Sales, 2016 Retail Sales, 2015 Change, 2015–2016 Market Share, 2016
U.S. and Canada $106,538 $103,276 3.2% 63.6%
Western Europe $32,335 $31,739 1.9% 19.3%
Central and Eastern Europe $546 $552 -1.1% 0.3%
Asia $20,335 $19,846 2.5% 12.1%
Australia and New Zealand $2,319 $2,308 0.5% 1.4%
Latin America $4,075 $4,084 -0.2% 2.4%
Middle East and Africa $958 $930 3.0% 0.6%
Other $389 $387 0.5% 0.2%
TOTAL $167,496 $163,121 2.7% 100.0%


The region with the most growth was, once again, the U.S./Canada—which enjoyed its sixth straight year of growth and finally beat its pre-recession high this year. You can see more details about the region here, but as a quick recap: the U.S. enjoyed an aggressive recovery from the Great Recession, with entertainment brands leading for overall 3.4% growth in the country. While the Canadian economy was slower at 0.6%, that growth represents an increase from a 1.4% dip in 2015.

The top trends for North America generally hold up worldwide for developed countries, especially in Europe. The retail environment remained competitive, with more licensed brands and less shelf space. Consumers preferred discount/mass options over department stores—although they seemed more receptive to spend at specialty retailers, which in turn expanded their product offerings. Although ecommerce provided one avenue for frustrated licensing execs to peddle their wares, sites tied to established retailers had the same issues as physical locations.

And the top trend for products themselves: entertainment/character-branded goods, which were up 7.6% in 2016. The dramatic growth is being fueled by A-list properties—like those from the Disney stable and Universal’s Minions—with lesser-known entertainment brands and others like music, fashion, and celebrities being crowded out.


Although growth was roughly flat for the European region as a whole (up 1.8% to reach $32.9 billion in licensed retail sales), several countries outperformed that growth rate. Generally, the top trends within Europe mirrored the U.S.—entertainment brands from top franchises outperformed all others.

After three years of dropping sales, Western Europe “recovered” with 0.5% growth in 2014 and 1.5% growth in 2015. This last year, retail saw strong performance—but that doesn’t mean that shelf space grew, and competition worsened with a broader variety of brands being licensed. Respondents report that online retail sales are up, as well as business’ reliance on social media to make sales.

The U.K. saw the highest gain in retail sales (3.6% to $7.6 bllion), We expect some growth to be knocked out by lower consumer spending in Q1 2017 (and possibly beyond), but this remains to be seen. The most worrying trends in the U.K. center around Brexit—and some effects that can be seen today are in fluctuating exchange rates, costs of importing, changes in copyright law, etc. Generally, entertainment brands performed quite well (both domestic and international).

The No. 2 European economy for licensed sales, France, had a soft year of growth (1.5%) and some respondents reported that many Disney properties underperformed expectations. With the strong monopoly Disney has, any dip in sales for its properties have a dampening effect on other, less popular, brands as retailers become discouraged from stocking licensed products. Still, the country is on the upturn from its flat 0.5% growth in 2015.

Germany (2.6% to $5.5 billion) was the top European powerhouse in 2015 with 3.6% growth in that year. Licensed activity remains strong in categories like food & beverage, clothing, home goods, furniture and personal care goods.

Ireland/Eire (up 3.1%), Spain (2.2%), and the Netherlands (1.8%) were the only other countries to show appreciable growth—but considering how poorly they fared in years prior, it was a large show of growth. Greece, which dramatically plunged -25.6% in 2015, bounced back with -5.0% growth in 2016—the story there being that there wasn’t much further sales could fall.

Central and Eastern European countries actually performed quite well, with Russia (-5.6% to $214 million) dragging down the average. As in Greece, the dip was well above the 18.9% drop observed in 2015. Foreign investment continues to remain optimistic despite poor consumer confidence and inflation, among other things. Other countries like Poland (2.1%) and the Czech Republic (3.0%), which are relatively insulated from the Russian economy (they enjoy stronger ties to the Germany, which is doing well), enjoyed strong growth.


While Asian countries grew an overall 2.5%, outperforming last year’s growth of 2.2%, that rate still falls below the global average. The region’s share of worldwide sales remained flat at 12.2%, unchanged from 2015.

The Chinese market for licensed retail sales grew 7.0%, propelling it into the No. 5 slot for sales worldwide. While there was concern about the “slow” 6.0% growth in 2015 (down from the 9.2% and 8.0% gains of 2014 and 2013, respectfully), the country rebounded from its economic slowdown. Entertainment/character brands continue to do well, despite government limitations on the number of foreign brands that can be imported into film, TV, and books. However (and because of these limitations), local brands are performing well. Social media is becoming increasingly important in reaching consumers, as well as a source of licenseable merchandise.

Asia’s largest economy, Japan, remains stuck in its rut. The country saw -0.3% growth in 2016, the same as last year, after a 0.5% decline in 2014. The expectation is that the country’s economy will continue to hiccup and contract with no big boosts in spending. However, there are bright spots: tourism is up (especially outside the Tokyo area), and the Tokyo Olympics promises to give a boost to the economy.

South Korea shrank 1.9% in 2016 to reach $413 million in retail sales. While the territory is generally unremarkable on the whole (its economy was down thanks to a combination of political turmoil, unemployment, and low consumer confidence), it is interesting to note the areas that did overcome those factors. Pop culture increasingly includes TV properties like soap operas or KPOP stars (music), which don’t necessarily spawn licensing programs on their own. But they do impact trends that have generated a rise in sales for European- and Chinese-based brands.

India is definitely the country to watch in coming years, with licensed sales up 9.5% to reach $811 million in 2016. Currently, very little of spending is in licensed merchandise despite a large demand for branded goods. As the country’s economy and infrastructure continues to expand, ecommerce is facilitating spending among smaller players and improved roads, financing, etc. are allowing mass merchants to gain a bigger footprint.

Middle East & Africa

The top economic trend in the Middle East was low consumer spending power, slow GDP growth, and (despite all that) a consumer reluctance to lower retail spending, especially on branded goods. Overall, growth for 2016 (3.0%) was slower than in 2015 (3.4%) and 2014 (4.4%).

South Africa, the region’s largest market for licensed goods, was up 3.2% despite a weakening economy (0.1% GDP growth). Compared to 2015 (3.4%), its growth was slightly slower, and while investors continue to remain optimistic about the country, there are no clear signs of significant rebounds in growth. The country’s growth is behind developing nations in the region, such as Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia—whose consumption of licensed consumer goods is currently too low to make an impact on the world stage.

Australia & New Zealand

After declining (-0.6%) growth in 2015, Australia and New Zealand rebounded with 0.5% growth in 2016 to generate $2.3 billion’s worth in licensed sales.

Australia bounced back from a 1.0% decline in 2015 to flattish 0.3% growth in 2016 thanks to a more stable economy, less unemployment, and slowing inflation. Like Japan however, the country is expected to face a shrinking economy overall. On the other side of the pond, New Zealand continued to fare well (1.9% growth in 2016 versus 2.2% in 2015) as one of the most solid developed economies worldwide.

Latin America

Latin America declined 0.2% overall, with most countries recording flat or negative retail sales. Every country in South America has been plagued by economic instabilities and weakening consumer spending power to some extent. Most licensed spending in the region is associated with foreign entertainment and fashion brands, although domestic properties in entertainment and sports, in particular, tend to do well.

The region’s biggest economy, Brazil, fell 3.1% in 2016 after dropping 3.1% in 2015. Argentina dipped 1.0%, while Chile was the only South American country we track to retain somewhat stable, although depressed, growth at 1.1% (versus 1.5% in 2015). Smaller Latin America countries were also either flat or down—including markets that had been on the upswing such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Uruguay.

Mexico was the exception, growing 4.0% in 2016 after a 3.6% rise in 2015. The growth of mass merchants (who provided nice discounts), steady economic growth (GDP was up 2.1%), and growing consumer confidence all combined to increase sales.


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