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Sports

Sports Up 4.3% in 2016 to Reach $15.4 Billion in Sales

For the third year in a row, sports is the second-strongest property type with 4.3% growth in 2016, according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. Retail sales of licensed sports-based merchandise reached $15.4 billion in 2016, up from $14.79 in 2015. Collegiate is also enjoying strong traction at 2.5% growth, reaching $3.5 billion in sales.

The 4.3% increase surpassed the overall increase in U.S./Canadian licensed sales for 2016 (3.2%) as well as the U.S. GDP (1.6%) and Canadian GDP (1.2%). Sports accounts for 14.5% of all licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada, trailing only corporate trademarks (26.7%) and fashion (20.1%) in market share.

Retail Sales of Licensed Sports Merchandise, U.S & Canada, 2015–2016
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Property TypeRetail Sales, 2016Retail Sales, 2015Change, 2015–2016Share, 2016
Sports$15,422$14,7864.3%14.5%
Total$106,538$103,2763.2%100.0%

Retail Sales by League

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

NFL sales were up 3.7% in 2016, as compared to 3.4% in 2015. These growth rates are considerably lower than the 5.2% growth observed in 2014—the last two years were good, but not extraordinary. Note that sales of products based on licensed player properties (NFLPA) account for about one-third of total NFL sales.

For the second year in a row, MLB topped the ranking of licensed retail sales by league, growing 6.3% in 2016 to reach $3.74 billion. As in 2015, apparel was a strong growth point for baseball. Although a smaller share of total sales, the strong performance of novelties and accessories was a boost.

The NBA grew 8.3% in 2016, following an astonishing 9.1% boost in 2015. With sales topping $2.75 billion, the NBA now makes up 17.8% of all sports-based licensed sales.

NASCAR saw tepid growth of 0.9% in 2016 after growing the most of any league other than MLS in 2015 (10.1%). It was one of the only leagues to decline in 2014 with -7.3% growth. The turnaround began in 2015 with a “walk in” set-up for licensed merchandise, and the strategy is paying off with steady sales.

While the NHL is one of the smaller leagues, note that the steady 3.4% growth in 2016 followed a year of dramatic change in the league’s licensing program. In 2016, the NHL has a stronger presence in e-commerce and greater involvement in its own merchandise.

The PGA Tour sales contracted 0.5% in 2016, following years of steady but modest growth—sales were up 2.8% in 2015.

MLS sales were up 11.7% in 2016, the highest growth rate amongst the five major leagues. The growing popularity of soccer meant that European and Latin American teams, in addition to MLS, are seeing a rise in retail sales within the U.S. and Canada.


Retail Sales of Licensed Sports Merchandise, Share of Total, By League, U.S & Canada, 2015–2016
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Billions)
LeagueRetail Sales, 2016Retail Sales, 2015Change, 2015–2016Share, 2016
National Football League$3.53$3.403.7%22.9%
Major League Baseball$3.74$3.526.3%24.2%
National Basketball Association$2.75$2.548.3%17.8%
NASCAR (teams & drivers)$0.84$0.840.9%5.5%
National Hockey League$1.06$1.033.2%6.9%
PGA Tour$0.34$0.34-0.5%2.2%
Major League Soccer$0.72$0.6511.7%4.7%
Other$2.44$2.48-1.6%15.8%
Total$15.42$14.794.3%100.0%

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 roughly 50% of sales. As usual, traditional authentic and replica jerseys were the workhorse of the soft lines, chugging along at a steady rate. The biggest growth trends for 2016 in apparel (up 3.7%) were athleisure and sportswear; in accessories (6.6%) trends included headwear (caps, both fitted and not, remain a fashion staple) and socks (which have grown year-on-year at a triple-digit rates since 2014).

Growth in hard lines like trading cards, figures, sporting goods, home furnishings, and paper goods was up from 2015, which was a relatively flat year. In particular, novelty goods performed quite well, growing 8.8% to reach $924 million in retail sales in 2016.

Digital and multimedia, which includes video games/software (up 4.8%), is one of the fastest-growing prongs. While console video games remain king, growth of licensed mobile games remains strong and is eventually expected to surpass the former.

Retail Sales of Sports-licensed Merchandise, by Product Category, 2015–2016
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Product CategoryRetail Sales, 2016Retail Sales, 2015Change, 2015–2016Share of Market, 2016
Accessories$1,267$1,1896.6%8.2%
Apparel$6,409$6,1803.7%41.6%
Consumer Electronics$348$349-0.3%2.3%
Domestics$223$2163.2%1.4%
Food/Beverages$431$4144.2%2.8%
Footwear$708$6892.8%4.6%
Furniture/Home Furnishings$242$2324.2%1.6%
Gifts/Novelties$924$8498.8%6.0%
HBA$223$2163.2%1.4%
Housewares$207$1928.2%1.3%
Infant Products$303$2923.7%2.0%
Publishing$241$2342.9%1.6%
Sporting Goods$571$5592.1%3.7%
Stationery/Paper$85$88-3.2%0.6%
Toys/Games$686$6722.1%4.4%
Video games/Software$1,728$1,6494.8%11.2%
Other$826$7667.8%5.4%
Total$15,422$14,7864.3%100.0%

Retail Sales by Distribution Channel

Although e-commerce is the fastest-growing distribution channel at 11.2% (up by two-tenths of a percent since 2015), brick-and-mortar still makes up the majority of retail sales.

Mirroring industry-wide patterns, mass/discount is the largest channel, accounting for 36.9% of all sales, followed by specialty at 32.9%. The roughly 37/33 split between these two channels has remained constant since 2012. Both saw a slight decline (one-tenths of a percent) since 2015.

Historically, specialty stores, including big box sporting goods retailers like Dick’s and Modell’s have been the mainstay of the industry providing a steady and reliable outlet for jerseys, caps and other licensed merchandise. But over the last two years, leagues have increasingly relied on their own stores, both of the “pop-up” and permenant varieties. The leagues are increasingly casting themselves as “lifestyle” and “destination” brands and are pushing out liminited-edition merchandise in connection with special events.

Institutional/venue sales, which includes stadium sales and merchandise sold at events, were also up by two-tenths of a percent to reach 8.2% of all sports-licensed retail sales.


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