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What's Next, Raiders' Deodorant?


Sports Business

WHAT'S NEXT, RAIDERS' DEODORANT?

Minutes after Atlanta Braves outfielder Otis Nixon bunted into the last out of the 1992 World Series, a handful of harried editors in South Hackensack, N.J., were furiously spinning 96 jumbled hours of videotape from 20 different cameras into 60 minutes' worth of what they hope will be gold.

The frantic team at Phoenix Communications Group Inc. is producing, marketing, and distributing the World Series highlight tape in partnership with Major League Baseball Properties, big-league baseball's licensing arm. Executives there know that the popular appetite for products that are tied to a specific sports event, even one as big as the fall classic, fades fast. "Every week is important," says Don Sperling, vice-president of NBA Entertainment Inc., which has its own line of briskly selling basketball tapes. "There is a certain window when it's hot, then it dies out. It has to get out quick."

NORTHERN EXPOSURE. How quickly? Phoenix slapped together a finished master tape in a scant 10 days. The $19.95 video, which incorporates narration, key-player interviews, and crowd color with footage shot by both CBS Inc. and Phoenix, hit the stores on Nov. 16--less than four weeks after the Toronto Blue Jays won their first Series by besting the Braves in the wee hours of Oct. 25. Executive Producer Geoff Belinfante thinks he has a hot seller on his hands: "Nothing succeeds like winning for the first time," he says. Especially when the Jays, "Canada's Team," belong not just to Toronto but to the entire Great White North. Richard Domich, Phoenix' vice-president for home video, expects to move 175,000 tapes to Canadians alone. And Phoenix should know how to sell in Canada: It also makes videos for the National Hockey League.

The Blue Jays' win couldn't have been better timed. Sales to far-flung fans are the only way the major-league-sports merchandise industry can sustain the rapid growth of the past few years. Since 1987, sales of products licensed by the National Football League, National Basketball Assn., NHL, and Major League Baseball have increased roughly fivefold, to an estimated $6.6 billion in 1992. That's a lot of "We're No. 1" foam fingers, shiny stadium jackets, and Stan Musial commemorative figurines. The market is so hot that counterfeiters have moved in. The big sports leagues formed an ad-hoc coalition to fight the knockoffs.

Evidently, no one has told sports fans about the global economic slowdown. Retail sales of all licensed sports products--including goods tied to other sports, the Olympics, and college teams--shot up 11% last year, to $11.1 billion. Sports-team apparel can now be found at department stores and includes not only the traditional jackets, jerseys, and caps but also children's togs and women's clothes from such top designers as Nicole Miller.

Pro leagues, under pressure to mine new revenue sources as their television contracts expire in 1993 and 1994, cannily use game broadcasts to fuel sales of everything from videotapes to trading cards and souvenir programs. MLB Properties sprinkled ads for its wares throughout the World Series broadcasts. "The products sell each other," says Karen Raugust, editor of The Licensing Letter, a trade publication. "The games are part of the advertising, really."

TURKEY HOOPS. The leagues are working mightily to expand their merchandising presence beyond North America. The NFL saw sales of licensed goods tied to its newly launched World League of American Football hit $250 million in 1991. During the last year, the NBA, which airs games in 102 countries and hawks merchandise in more than 35, has begun a concerted foreign-merchandising push. It launched an international catalog, opened the first NBA retail shop in Australia, and started operations in the hoop-crazed countries of Mexico, Taiwan, and Turkey.

The NBA estimates that such deals will double its foreign retail sales to $250 million in 1993. "As licensed merchandise becomes more popular, we get an even better time slot," says Rob Millman, vice-president for international licensing at the NBA, which plays a couple of regular-season games each year in Japan. And MLB Properties, jointly owned by the 28 major league franchises, has sales in more than 60 countries. That's double the total of two years ago.

As aggressive major-league merchandisers are learning, where there's a satellite dish, there's a potential customer. They haven't had news that good since the invention of the adjustable cap.Elizabeth Lesly in New York


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