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Sports: A Closer Look

Licensed retail sales of sports-based merchandise grew 4.3% in 2016 to reach $15.4 billion in the U.S./Canada—the sixth straight year of sustained growth. This year, it remains to be seen if this kind of momentum can be sustained, at least in the first quarter—in part because the impact of the two biggest sporting events, the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics, remains unclear.

Super Bowl Rumble

According to the generalists, all is supposed to be well for Super Bowl-related spending. The National Retail Federation projects that Super Bowl fans will spend nearly 8.5% more than they did last year, for a total of $14.1 billion in retail sales.

Just over half of U.S. adults plan to watch the big game this year, according to Fluent, a data-driven marketing firm. But there are some who are opting out; of the respondents who said they won’t watch the game but did last year, a quarter said it’s because football has gotten too political. Another 20% said they won’t watch the Super Bowl because of President Trump’s past comments regarding the NFL.

Of those who will be watching the game, here are a couple of notable brand activations:

The NFL partners with Rovio to release a Super Bowl-themed take of Angry Birds. Games involved include both Angry Birds 2 and Angry Birds Evolution with the jersey and kits of 32 NFL teams available in-game. Meanwhile, a new bird type titled ‘Quarterback’ is being added to the siege game.

At least one of the highly-anticipated Super Bowl ads will be superpowererd—Lexus will air a 30-second spot during the third quarter and release a 60-second extended digital version of its ad—created in partnership with Marvel Studios’ Black Panther. The spot is titled “Long Live the King” and pairs the luxury sedan 2018 Lexus LS 500 F SPORT with the Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman.

Winter Olympics

If the Super Bowl has gotten too political for some, where does that leave the Olympic Games? Since many events in Pyeongchang are timed to take place during prime-time American TV slots, it will be interesting to see how kindly the Olympic Committee will adapt to American viewers’ demands in the future if viewership and spending go down—and there is increased focus on Asia. Tokyo will host the next 2020 Summer Olympics, while Beijing will be home to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Olympic years are said to provide an overall “feel good” boost to consumer spending—indeed, over the years many respondents to TLL’s Licensing Survey commented that they expected to see, and later actually saw, an increase in retail sales related to the Olympic phenomenon for retail sales. While our data supports this theory for the years when the Summer and Winter Games were held in the same year (1992 and every 4 years prior), more recently, the rate of growth in licensed retail sales has not fluctuated visibly in the years of the games.

But that’s not to mean that there is no economic impact—and this year, the winning trends might come from some strange places.

As you may know, the NHL has refused to interrupt its regular season games and send its player to the U.S. Olympic Team to compete. It’s an odd move that the NHLPA and individual players have called the League out on. On one hand, the move hardly matters in terms of American glory—the true gold-medal favorite for hockey is, in fact, the celebrated women’s team, which has been practicing for the Games all year. The women’s roster features a mix of professional NWHL, WCHA, and HEA league players as well as the Minnesota Whitecaps (who aren’t currently part of a league).

The U.S. Olympic Committee culled its men’s hockey team from relatively unknown collegiate and European professional leagues. Fifteen men have NHL experience and four come from the NCAA roster. Which invites the question—will it be possible for the historic “Miracle on Ice” for the 1980 Olympics to be re-created? Then, a ragtag team of amateur American hockey players beat the Soviet Union and Sweden to win the gold medal in Lake Placid, NY. (For the last time.) Not quite.

In part because of sanctions placed on the Russian Olympic Committee (five players submitted by Russian Hockey officials won’t be able to compete), the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” team will be led by some of the NHL’s most dominant players at the Pyeongchang Games. (And some of the top American players are coming home from playing in the Russian league.)

Several other Russian medal contenders are also out, including short-track speed skater Viktor Ahn (who gained citizenship in time for the 2014 Olympics to win all of the gold medals; he formerly competed for South Korea and was expected to retire after Pyeongchang). Other notable quirks of the ban: in figure skating, 1 athlete each in the pairs and dance disciplines were not allowed to compete, effectively striking four athletes out of competition for the price of two.

Other strange sights during the Olympics include a unified Korean team—12 women’s hockey players will train and at least 3 will compete during games in the South. Also expected to compete under the Korean re-unification flag are 10 other athletes in figure skating (pairs), short track speed skating, Alpine skiing, and cross-country skiing.

It will be interesting to see the ragtag men’s hockey team can help boost interest in its athletes’ leagues—and if women’s hockey can finally become a thing that people watch. At any rate, the NHL won’t lose out—a search for officially licensed goods for either team will ultimately land you at the Fanatics webpage for NHL merch.

Niche, But Growing

As for those who aren’t tuning into the most traditional of American sports? Leger released its latest study on the viewing habits of adults and esports, noting that—as of December 2017—one out of five U.S. adults reported watching an esports event, with YouTube the leading way for them to do so. Meanwhile, between June and December 2017, awareness of esports jumped from 36–50% among U.S. adults.

In keeping with the times, LPGA Women’s Network launched at the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show. The network aims to be the biggest forum for female golfers of all skill levels and backgrounds; it features articles and op-ed pieces from key names and thought-leaders in the world of golf for women.


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