Game, Set and Match
Since most sporting events are localized in India, their licensing potential are limited to the country. To leverage these opportunities, brands have to select events that are synonymous with their overall objectives.
Till a few years ago, licensing in the retail business largely pivoted around fashion and lifestyle brands. According to the findings of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association’s (LIMA) Annual Global Licensing Industry Survey 2018, apparel led all product categories with $40.67 billion in revenue, or 15% of total global licensed retail sales, followed by Toys at $36.12 billion (13.3% share), and Fashion Accessories at $31.04 billion (11.4% share).
However, times, they are a-changing.
There is a lot more interest in sports licensing business globally, and in India. The latest Global Licensing Industry Survey shows that sports licensing accounts for nearly 10% of the global market, and the Indian sports licensing market was worth close to 18 million USD in retail sales in 2016.
Talking about the uptick in sports licensing, Gisela Abrams, SVP, Global Partnerships of LIMA said, “Fashion is a big part of the Indian retail business’ DNA. Along with fashion, toys and entertainment are the other two industry pillars when it comes to licensing, followed immediately by sports. Sports companies don’t look at consumers as consumers but at fans.”
GROWING SPORTING FAN BASE
The last part of Gisela’s statement rings true since there is a growing interest in other sports in a country that has traditionally favored cricket. This is largely due to the democratization of entertainment channels, which brought international and local sporting events to the TV sets and mobile screens of viewers giving them a look at the real-time action, rather than re-runs.
This development spurred the entertainment economy, which in turn also gave rise to the sporting licensing and merchandising industry. What helped the sports licensing business register a healthy growth in the initial period was that it grew from a smaller base and became more broad-based as more sporting events were added to the overall portfolio.
Hence, in addition to the FIFA 2018 World Cup, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, NBA, Wimbledon and French Open, fans could also enjoy the Asian Games, Chess Olympiad, Indian Premier League and even localized programs like Pro Kabbadi and Rugby Premier League on various TV channels and OTT platforms than just the national broadcaster. This growing consumption by fans was reflected in an increasing interest for sporting merchandising and retailers were quick to fulfil this need.
Retail chains including Shoppers Stop, HyperCity, Lifestyle, Max Retail and Central showcased sports-related apparel and merchandise, a trend that smaller retail stores emulated. Even online players got into this game.
TREAD WITH CARE
While the sports licensing business is on the upswing, with growing demand for merchandise from fans, LIMA’s President, Maura Regan, had a word of caution for retailers. “One has to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all model in the licensing industry. Retailers wanting to leverage their brand around a sporting event for entry into a market, have to identify and pick an event that will resonate with their brand,” she said.
This means that a harnessing a wrestling championship in north India might give a national brand more bang on their buck, especially if they want to mark their presence in the region.
Elucidating on her statement, Maura explained, “In India, many sports are very regional, local so the teams are also local. Soccer might have global appeal, but it might not echo the product categories the retailer has. Instead, retailers could select a local soccer team that has an affinity for their brands.”
This will also ensure that the retailer builds a scalable licensing business model, which they can extend to licensed merchandise including apparel (kids and adults), novelties, school products, bags and gifts. They can keep updating this as their target customer evolves and changes their preferences for the sport or characters. They also need to ensure that their merchandise is of excellent quality, because ultimately this that will stand as testimony to the brand’s standards.