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What next for sports licensing?

With the 2020 sports calendar effectively ripped up, what does this mean for sports licensing? Simon Gresswell gives his view.

With the sporting calendar and sports business in tatters, and only 53% of major sports events likely to take place this year (projection by Two Circles), it’s definitely ‘squeaky bum time’ for sports licensing.

Given we don’t yet know for sure when, how and in what format sports, retail and consumer spending will return, I can only gaze into a rose-tinted crystal ball right now.

In fact, there are very encouraging signs in how clubs, leagues, events and federations are reacting to the crisis, maintaining and spawning licensing opportunities. Looking forward, the key words as ever are adaptability and creativity.

At major event level, it’s encouraging to see UEFA and the IOC/Tokyo OC making sensible decisions about using the 2020 logo for licensed products for next year.

Future contracts will include differently-worded clauses or additions to the force majeure and alternative approaches to branding and logo design might be considered.

The Open focuses on the number rather than the year in its branding.
The Open focuses on the number rather than the year in its branding.

The R&A must be particularly pleased it changed ‘The Open’ brand a few years back, focusing on the number rather than the year, to re-establish the event’s credentials as the oldest and most prestigious Major and with one eye on the 150th being played back at the ‘Home of Golf’, St Andrews. It still will be, just one year later, meaning the R&A has had one less issue to worry about than the above-mentioned federations.

At league and club level, the community initiatives put in place by all Premier League clubs and the corporation, have been fantastic. You can check them out by clicking here.

As an example, Manchester City via its #CityzensatHome initiative, is providing online fun and educational activities for all ages, a selection of players’ favourite recipes (like Aguero’s Avocados) and free access to its (usually paid for) CITY+ content channel. It’s not a huge leap of faith to see how some of these initiatives could be converted into licensed products.

Manchester City's #CityzensAtHome initiative is providing online activities for all ages.
Manchester City's #CityzensAtHome initiative is providing online activities for all ages.

At national team level, the FA’s #FootballsStayingHome campaign across England’s digital channels, has brought ‘together players of the past and present – as well as experts from our national football centre, St. George’s Park – to produce content that engages the nation at this difficult time’.

At elite athlete level, it’s brilliant to see Team GB athletes re-enacting their PBs on TikTok, via their Isolation Games, entertaining fans and also supporting their official charity partner the British Red Cross. In both the above cases, new content = new licensing opportunities possibly.

At a product level, new products might reflect our different activities during lockdown… anyone for Liverpool FC Red Velvet Cake kits, Man City ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’ mindfulness exercises or Crystal Palace colouring books?

Cyclists have multiplied beyond belief in these last few weeks, thanks also to the amazing weather, so we might see more football and summer sports event cycling jerseys on the roads in future.

Could scaled down versions of the RFU's thank you to the NHS be licensed for fans?
Could scaled down versions of the RFU's thank you to the NHS be licensed for fans?

Inspired by the likes of the RFU and Wimbledon’s thank you messages to the NHS on their hallowed turf, could sports licence scaled-down versions? Fold-out stencils and (washable) paint, to customise your grass, walls or roof?

Across the pond we can take inspiration from Fanatics, re-purposing its baseball fabrics into masks and gowns and similarly, FOCO US cooperating with the NBA, to create team face masks… undoubtedly a lifestyle, licensed category of the future.

And I know Mr Downes [Start Licensing] will be frustrated that he can’t sing, chant and roar down at The Den at the moment, but I’m sure he’d like a sound chip mug that lets him ‘singalong-a-Millwall’ with the Lions’ more light-hearted ditties.

At a fan level, federations and broadcasters are using online voting to determine which classic matches to show… so could we see more voting for merchandise designs in future? With less physical attendance at sports events, could consumers have more say in the design of the products they will buy in future?

And finally, if you’re a Liverpool fan and if the season is completed and the likely Champions are crowned as such, might a winners’ collection include a nod to the NHS to recognise the real heroes of 2020, their selfless and brave work and that overall ‘this means more…’ than any sport or club, in reality.

Simon Gresswell runs sports licensing consultancy, SGLP, and has supported the licensing, merchandise and retail strategy for the Rugby League World Cup 2021. He can be contacted by clicking here.

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