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Sales of Sports-based Licensed Goods Up 2.7% Worldwide in 2017

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Worldwide licensed retail sales of sports-based merchandise reached $21,154 million in 2017, according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey.

The bulk of that growth came from the U.S./Canada, where sales swelled 3.2% to reach $15,915 million—or three-fourths of the total worldwide figure. International sports-based licensed retail sales, on the other hand, grew just 1.2% to reach $5,239 million in 2017.

At 14.9% of all licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada, sports is the third largest category TLL tracks, behind only corporate trademarks/brands (26.7%) and fashion (20.0%). Compared to the other top property types, however, sports-based licensed grew the fastest over the last five years—18.4% compared to 10.8% for both corporate trademarks/brands and fashion.

In 2017, sports was one of the few property types to outperform the territory-wide average of 2.3% growth in licensed retail sales.

Retail Sales by League in the U.S./Canada

The major American sports leagues, such as the NFL, MBA, and up-and-comer MLS (which enjoyed high single-digit growth), enjoyed an impressive year as their retail strategies in developing physical locations, ecommerce partners, and event-based merchandising continued to pay off.

The NFL jumped 3.2% in 2017 to reach an estimated $3,642 million in licensed retail sales. This is compared to a 3.7% rate in 2016 and 3.4% in 2015—considerably lower than the 5.2% rate observed in 2014, but still outpacing most of the top five sports leagues TLL tracks in the U.S./Canada. Note that sales of products based on licensed player properties (under the purview of the NFLPA) account for roughly one-third of total NFL-based sales as calculated by TLL. In total, the NFL counted a $113 million increase in sales for 2017.

MLB tops the ranking of licensed retail sales for the third year in a row, despite a slower 2.6% growth rate in 2017 (compared to 6.3% in 2016). With a total of $3,835 million in licensed retail sales, the league added $97 million in licensed retail sales to its total 2017 figure compared to the previous year.

The NBA jumped 3.0% in 2017—and following an 8.3% boost in 2016 and 9.1% in 2015, that growth could be considered almost flat. Nevertheless, the league hangs on to its top three ranking with a total $2,829 million in licensed retail sales in 2017.

Following tepid 0.9% growth in 2016, NASCAR swerved back in the licensing big leagues with 2.2% growth as its investments start paying off. With a total $863 million in licensed retail sales, such stability is largely positive news for the league, which saw a 10.1% boost in 2015 and a -7.3% decline in 2014.

Despite its smaller $1,093 million footprint, the NHL is recording steady 3.2% growth in 2017.

PGA Tour sales grew at 2.0% in 2017 after contracting 0.5% in 2016. The $7 million boost compared to 2016 (total $349 million) can only be described as steady but modest growth for the smallest of the top five leagues that TLL breaks out in the U.S./Canada.

MLS sales were up 8.0% in 2017, a drop from the double-digit growth rates seen over the last couple of years (the league was up 11.7% in 2016) but the highest growth rate amongst the five major leagues. Note that TLL counts European and Latin American “football” teams, in addition to MLS, within the U.S./Canada calculation.

Retail Sales by Product Category

The biggest areas in sports licensing are the product category “tripod”—soft lines, hard lines, and digital/multimedia.

Apparel, accessories, and other soft lines accounted for just over half of all licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada for 2017. As usual, traditional authentic and replica jerseys were the workhorse of the soft lines, chugging along at a steady rate.

  • Sports-based apparel sales were up 3.6% to reach $6,735 million in the U.S./Canada.
  • Accessories grew 4.0% to reach $1,311 million in sales.

Growth in hard lines like trading cards, figures, sporting goods, home furnishings, and paper goods stayed the course compared to 2016, which was a particularly solid year. In particular, novelty goods performed quite well, growing 6.2% to reach $986 million in retail sales in 2017. Sporting goods was also a strong performer, jumping 4.0% in 2017.


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