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Licensees see drop in NFL sales

Licensees see drop in NFL sales

By Terry Lefton, Staff Writer

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The NFL’s licensing business is experiencing its softest market in years.

For the first time since the 2008-09 recession, when every licensee was suffering, there were widespread reports at a recent licensing show of declining sales of NFL-licensed products. Some licensees reported sales dips of 20 percent or more. Others shared tales of retailers being told by their customers that they would not shop in stores selling NFL-logoed products.

Ascribing blame for the NFL’s softness is difficult. However, while many were loath to address the issue without anonymity, the No. 1 scapegoat for licensees is the controversy generated by national anthem protests.

“That’s the only reason I see for declining NFL sales,” said the president of one longtime hard-goods licensee. “A lot of people on this floor will be going to the league and saying they can’t make their guarantees.”

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While 75 of Major League Baseball’s biggest non-apparel licensees gathered in Las Vegas earlier this month, much of the chatter was about the NFL, a license also held by many of the MLB business partners on the floor.

Hard-goods giant WinCraft was one of the few licensees reporting an uptick in NFL sales. “Our NFL is up, but it was still heartbreaking for me to see some players not honoring the flag,” said John Killen, WinCraft president and CEO. “It is impacting sales, but we’ve been fortunate.”

“My NFL business has been struggling,” said Bill Skinner of Team ProMark, which added small “Ambassador Flags” in MLB, NFL and colleges to the plethora of licensed auto flags on the market. “As a veteran, I’m bothered by the national anthem protests, so I’ve watched much less NFL.” Still, he said, “I’d be crazy to blame it on one thing: Brick-and-mortar retail is a mess, and the third parties that used to sell our products online have been largely eliminated by the league. It makes you nervous; for most of the guys here, the NFL is their most important license.”

Those saying oversaturation was the culprit pointed to soft NFL TV ratings and an accompanying consumer mindset. “I’m wondering if they’re watching anything other than their favorite [NFL] team anymore,” said Jim Hotze, president of Fremont Die.

While holiday sales will be the big test, licensees seemed offended that the NFL was not taking action. “The fact that the league hasn’t taken a stronger stance is upsetting by itself,” said one longtime licensee.

“NFL is a bit of a challenge,” said Rico Industries President Cary Schack. “Certainly, the [protest] issues aren’t helping, but other things are contributing,” he added, naming head-injury concerns, injuries to star players and media oversaturation as major factors.

“You wonder if it has reached a pinnacle,” said Schack, who attributes half of his licensed sales to the NFL. “I’m sure they are feeling it more on the apparel side, which is most of their sales.”


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