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How the World Cup is scoring in new ways in licensing

On the eve of the FIFA World Cup 2022, SGLP’s Simon Gresswell takes a look at how the licensing and merchandising crosses both ‘old and new’ worlds and opportunities.

It’s nearly Christmas and somehow we find ourselves on the eve of a FIFA World Cup.

It’s perhaps no surprise that retail space just isn’t big enough for these two titanic trading opportunities (unless your name is Asda). And, while Christmas products are winning comfortably in general on the physical shelves, the latest global football ‘fandemic’ is being fuelled via every other possible medium… and to me, it seems the old is still proving as powerful as the new.

Just check out the amazing World Cup TV ads from Nike and adidas. Both include multiple elements of the ‘old’ combined with the new – be that tech, players, fashion, designs or props from previous eras. Watch them, enjoy and tell me that looking back isn’t as good as looking forward.

Asda has dedicated significant space to World Cup merchandise.
Asda has dedicated significant space to World Cup merchandise.

Since 2018, this current ‘World Cup cycle’ has seen the development of the comprehensive digital destination that is FIFA+, a world of football, built for fans, where you ‘can watch and stream for free, featuring original documentaries, World Cup archive, live scores, breaking news and more, available in 10 languages’. The depth of content will whet the appetites of lifelong and new fans alike, with a boundless array of classic clips, footage and magic moments past.

Deeper within FIFA+ are more injections of innovation, from the continually evolving FIFA Sound, to the more recent ventures such as FIFA+ Collect, where you can ‘bring your football fandom to life’. It’s less ‘eat, sleep, play, repeat’ and more ‘eat, sleep, own, repeat’.

The metaverse looms large in a dedicated, sponsored Play Zone, where fans can play everything from requisite Fantasy games to FIFA World on Roblox, AI League, Upland as well as indulge in Panini’s digital iteration… packs opened, several zillion.

FIFA World on Roblox is one example of the digital spread of the tournament.
FIFA World on Roblox is one example of the digital spread of the tournament.

I’ll leave you to discover these webilicious worlds for yourselves, but it’s clear they’re all part of FIFA’s ‘commitment to developing new and diverse football gaming opportunities for fans’ (I assume you know why).

All this feels like FIFA is making significant progress on its strategy to make FIFA a year-round brand, leveraging the vast array of IP and assets… and all this is without even mentioning the esports tournaments FIFAe, FIFAe Club Series and FIFAe Nations Series of the last few years.

I can’t predict if all the above will be successful, but the fact is that they are attempts to break new ground from FIFA for existing and new football fans, which is what fans must want and so the FIFA teams responsible should be applauded for these developments.

So, does all this mean the death of traditional merchandise? No, I don’t think so (nor seemingly do Fanatics and Next after this week’s deal announcement).

The FIFA Store launched earlier this month with a solid event range, tapping into both local and pop cultural trends, with strong base designs and a black and gold palette that I’m pretty sure hasn’t featured on any World Cup merch during my lifetime. It’s bold and bling, all in one, gotta love it.

WC2The store allows range searches ‘By Nation’, which include the core event designs adapted to each respective competing nations’ colours too, covering all participating teams, with essentials from tees, caps and hoodies to beanies, gym sacks and boot bags.

In Qatar, there is also a plethora of bespoke, host nation-inspired products and collaborations, with a high number of licensees participating to deliver culturally-significant products such as Qinwan Premium Dates and Al Jazeera Perfumes (which celebrate some teams under the product name of ‘Winners’), as well as Black Arrows gifts, celebrating the traditions of Qatar and a collaboration with Qatar National Museum and local/international artists on individually designed metal water bottles.

Chocolates and perfumes are among the products on the FIFA Store.
Chocolates and perfumes are among the products on the FIFA Store.

Okay, so that’s a lot of new Simon… where’s the old?

Back on the FIFA site, sitting under FIFA Collections, are the eponymous sub-brands of ‘Rewind’ and ‘World Cup Trophy’ which leverage classic assets of all World Cups, featuring each host nation’s official logo, poster and mascot across many decades. To me they’re superb and am sure we’ll see more of this from FIFA, the IOC and other Federations. A compact black and gold label range features the current World Cup, the Jules Rimet trophy and discrete FIFA taping and labelling. These ranges cover only essentials products, but highlight the enduring power of retro sports imagery and the memories of great tournaments that fans have lived and loved.

Back in British retail, I do have to give honourable mentions to other ‘old’ football IPs that have crept into my football conscious in the build-up. Smart of Licensing Link and Beams International to bet on the apocryphal ‘Football’s Coming Home’ mantra for gift packs (Lionesses be like, ‘we got it ourselves thanks’). Advise you buy one if you see them in Asda and Tesco, as you never know! And Pretty Green and 12th Territory are both working credibly with Subbuteo in the terrace fashion and mainstream sports lifestyle spaces. Back of the net for brand owner Hasbro, with these two partners.

WC4This will, of course, be a very different World Cup in many respects… the first hosted in the Middle East, the first staged in November/December and the first time Wales have qualified in 64 years. But on the ground, much of the ‘merch & retail’ experience is there – with event retail and kiosks, megastores and mall activations all being managed by expert sponsors and local service providers and the now famous FIFA Fan Festivals taking place at six cities around the globe, including one in London (not telling you where, as tickets will be very limited!).

And finally yes is the answer to the biggest question for any travelling fan, beers will be available, albeit not at stadiums. Now all I need, is to get Michael Sheen’s spine-tingling, call to arms out of my head!

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