In what is certainly likely to provide an added fillip to the music industry – TechCrunch reports that YouTube has decided to jump headfirst into the music merchandising business by enabling its community of influencers to offer a range of premium merchandise to their fans from “a shelf just below the video”.
The story goes on to report that “Merchbar today carries more than 1 million items from 35,000 artists, making it one of the largest music merchandise aggregators worldwide.”
When there’s an opportunity for innovation, can Marshmellow be far behind?
Earlier in the year, we had reported on his groundbreaking collab with Fortnite to host a concert from his bedroom!
Unfortunately fans in India will have to wait (as usual) since the feature is live only in the US. We have reached out to Satya Raghavan (Director, YouTube Content Partnerships, India) to get more details on the India launch date and shall keep you posted!
Adidas has partnered with AvatarLabs and Dick’s Sporting Goods to create an 8-bit “Snapchat” baseball title that unlocks access to purchase a pair of cleats in-game.
Called “Baseball’s Next Level,” the game is an old-school home run derby game that lets players swing away as some of Adidas’ MLB signed athletes. Playable characters include Aaron Judge (Yankees), Carlos Correa (Astros), Alex Bregman (Astros), Justin Turner (Dodgers) and Kiké Hernandez (Dodgers). According to Engadget, each of the athletes in the game have their own Adizero or Icon V cleats, which can be bought directly from the competition.
The Adidas partnership marks the first time “Snapchat” has sold real-life products inside a game. While the game is not considered a Snap Games title, such as the new “Subway Surfers” game from Sybo, Adidas has previously worked closely with “Snapchat” to create AR-based shopping experiences for its apparel and accessories. The AR experience lets users digitally try on the Adidas Ultraboost shoes directly in the “Snapchat” app.
To celebrate the 25thanniversary of the first women’s BABY-G shock-resistant watch, Casio has collaborated with The Pokémon Company – in particular Pokémon 025 in the Pokédex, Pikachu – to design a milestone watch.
Encapsulating 1996’s style, the BABY-G watch brings a polygon-style Pikachu, lightening marks and Poké Balls together for a bright new product for both kids and the original players of Pokémon Red and Blue.
Dubbed the BGD560PKC-1, the new brand licensing collaboration from Casio and Pokémon launches in November at select fashion boutiques, online at g-shock.com and at Macy’s.
Following a successful run in 2019, the organizers of Brand Licensing Europe have announced that fashion will be the sole theme for 2020.
This year’s event achieved record visitor numbers once again with a rise of 3 percent to 8,062 and exhibiting companies also increased from 264 to 268.
Next year’s event, which returns to ExCeL London on Oct. 6-8, 2020, will encompass all things fashion licensing: apparel, footwear, accessories and beauty. Early stage plans include a live catwalk, with dramatic-themed fashion shows beamed onto all digital screens throughout the venue.
“BLE has become infamous for its themes and we are so excited about next year’s, we’ve been planning it for months,” says Anna Knight, vice president of licensing, Informa Markets. “What I love about fashion in licensing is how inclusive it is. It’s accessible to every BLE exhibitor and its appeal is universal: it’s relevant to every demographic and is gender, race, age and generation neutral.
“We all have an emotional connection with fashion,” continues Knight. “For years, toys have traditionally been the gateway to consumer products for brands. But apparel is now helping to drive experiences and build brands, especially for categories like eSports, which have an older, hardcore, merch-driven, fanbase. At BLE 2020, we will be exploring fast fashion, haute couture collabs, sustainability, the economy and more. One of the reasons we moved BLE to ExCeL was the potential it offered to create a more experiential show. We proved that this year with our activations and Fresh off the Runway showcase. But next year, our fashion theme will highlight what BLE at ExCeL can offer exhibitors and visitors.”
BLE 2019’s activations included Beyond the Book (publishing), Arcade (gaming and eSports) and Heritage x Interiors.
“They were a huge hit with visitors: interactive, inspirational, bold and beautiful; a real testament to the impact creative, successful licensing programs can have at retail,” adds Knight.
Rainbow Production’s David Scott leads the tributes to the co-founder of CPL who sadly passed away last week.
David Cardwell was an inspirational man. Many of us know all about the successes of CPL (or CPLG as it is now called) over the past 45 years, but few people know that he worked his way up from an under-privileged background, leaving school at 14 and coming to London full of ideas, energy and ambition. He worked as an errand boy for the Daily Express, helped create the Elvis Monthly (and relished the chance to interview Elvis himself).
He then worked as a music journalist, including for NME, became a publicist and manager for new pop music acts, most notably The Paper Dolls and Pikketywitch, and then in 1974 mortgaged his family house to help fund the first big contract for the just-founded CPL, working with Cosgrove Hall to make a TV series of Noddy.
And that was before most of us in licensing had even met him…
In those early days, together with his business partner Richard Culley, and along with a very small number of other pioneers and competitors, they established the UK licensing industry. David was someone who has not only helped shape a sector of British business, but also our very way of life and how we consume and interact with entertainment and the media. There are generations of people who have treasured memories of their childhood characters who will never know that their pleasure was enhanced by toys, clothing and a myriad of other items that only exist as they do today because of the drive, vision and creativity displayed by David, Richard and their competitors/colleagues some decades earlier.
CPL grew to become a major player in, firstly, UK licensing followed by an expansion into mainland Europe via a joint-venture called ELG (combining latterly with CPL to become CPLG). Indeed, it became a global success with a worldwide reach and a key port of call for overseas and home-grown rights owners wishing to exploit their brands in the markets where CPL was established. Always at the forefront of the industry, CPL was a veritable academy of licensing and many of its old boys and girls have themselves gone on to become leading lights in the licensing business.
It was a sad coincidence that we should hear the news about David’s death during BLE as the very first licensing exhibitions, and the forerunners of BLE, were supported by CPL which was such a strong player in the licensing world by that time. However, it gave those of us who knew him a chance to meet and chat together and reminisce about David and relate our favourite stories. I have included some of these stories, and thoughts, all recounted with affection by people whose lives, like mine, were changed by their good fortune in knowing him.
I am indebted to Dr Sarah Cardwell Davies, David’s daughter, who kindly provided the details of David’s early years and below are comments from a small number of those who knew him.
David Cardwell – Reminiscences from Friends & Colleagues
“It was a bold decision when David and I set up CPL in 1974; back then character licensing really was in its infancy. Most of the outside world had no idea what we were talking about and had doubts we could make a living (Noddy on t-shirts? What next!). We proved them wrong, of course.
Our enduring partnership I believe lasted as long as it did, mainly because we complemented each other perfectly, were passionate about what we were doing and had the ability to make each other laugh. At the beginning David was the money man and I was acquiring rights and selling licences. It worked; we built from there. David became so knowledgeable I started to believe he’d crept off and done an accountancy degree such was his overnight ability to challenge more than one accountant, and mostly he was right.
Building the company together from scratch was challenging and exciting in equal measure. We had enormous fun over the years, took risks and many paid off. It became a little more serious when we sold to Mosaic and then went public, but at the start we really were living by the seat of our pants. One day David told me simply, we were running out of money. As luck would have it, I received a cheque that day for an advance on one of the first licences we’d secured. We celebrated in the very first branch of Pizza Express in Soho! The next week David issued a set of rules: no taxis, no couriers (all mail in London to be delivered by foot or bus), no business lunches and a freeze on hiring. He was right, of course!
I feel blessed to have met David, follow our dream and grow CPL with him into the global success it has become.” Richard Culley
“It’s difficult to dissociate David from the industry and my career – he gave me my first break in the business, as he did to so many. He had a strategic business mind and was a visionary – he was perhaps the first to see the opportunity for toy driven licensing/brand extensions. Knickerbocker Toy – which quickly became Hasbro Europe – was a client, with My Little Pony being one of the first of those properties to launch in the UK when I joined CPL in 1984. David quickly saw the opportunity as MLP became a craze and Hasbro could not keep up demand for toy products so licensed merchandise from CPL met that demand. Toy buyers were taken by surprise… one I remember calling it ‘My Little Warthog’ and refusing to stock it… oops!” Charles Day
“He was a visionary and a mentor to me, as he was to so many others.” Caroline Mickler
“David was one of a kind and I was privileged to have worked for him. He gave me an opportunity that I will be forever grateful for as it changed my life. There are so many memories to pull from such as weekly dinners at Chez Gerard or late nights at the Essex House bar in New York during Licensing Show, but my most memorable were the many meetings in the 12th floor board room on Percy Street where I would desperately try to breathe through a cloud of smoke as I hung my head out the window gasping for some fresh air which needless to say was always a challenge in Central London. They broke the mould with David and he will be missed.” Kirk Bloomgarden
“David Cardwell, a true entrepreneur and visionary, a great friend and mentor. I knew him as an industry leader and his unique business style was very apparent when in the space of one week, he agreed to let me open up the first CPLG office in Germany in 1996, after having bought the remaining shares of the ELG operation. In the early Nineties (1992-1995), he started a pan-European agency network, a testament to his vision of future market developments.
As a smoker I fondly remember his office in Percy Street being a bit ‘smoky’, unlike his business instinct and decisions. When he last bought back CPLG from a Swiss based sports licensing company, he offered several members of his team the possibility to invest in the company and I remember him pushing us to stop reading the 150 plus pages purchase agreement, as everything should be fine [and] we should just get on with it.
David never really was a patient man. The board meetings were always short and to the point and if anyone started to ramble on, he was quite quick to put a stop to it. However, when he was asked about the future of the licensing business or for his advice, he always took the time to explain. I am extremely thankful to have worked closely with David, he formed my insight into our business. He was great fun to be with and I have so many fond memories of our travel together, the business diners, the drinks and many cigarettes! David had a great sense of humour, a sharp intellect and loved to live a good life and I will miss him dearly, as many others will do. Cheers David.” Katarina Dietrich
“During my time at Copyright Promotions I held various roles, one of which was a new business one that encompassed developing new opportunities for licensing sales outwith and within the group, combined with seeking out new representations. Often I had to report directly to David. While he could be very direct in his feedback I welcomed his advice and encouragement.
He would always make pro-active suggestions, often fired up by products he had seen in the US and he, of course, had a great reservoir of knowledge of the licensing industry. He always knew someone, or else someone who knew someone. I really enjoyed chatting to him and listening to his anecdotes including ones from his time in the music industry. He was also very kind to me when my father was terminally ill and in hospital. He allowed me to leave work during office hours and actively encouraged me to leave the office to go and see my Dad. It was a thoughtful thing for David to do and to suggest. I remember David with fondness, respect and admiration. He helped shape our industry and helped a lot of us build our careers.” Ian Downes
“Deeply saddened to hear of David’s passing. A real master of the understated but an unwavering enthusiasm for his clients, people and business. RIP.” Simon Gresswell
“I have many fond memories of David. Aside from him accidentally meeting the Queen, one that always makes me smile is our morning cigarette in the Percy Street office while we waited for the kettle to boil and David describing how he made a jam roly-poly over the weekend. Only he forgot to remove the tea towel and rolled towel with the sponge! I will hold these little stories and moments in my heart forever, along with his random texts to check in over the years. No more texts my dear friend, thank you for everything you did for me – I will miss you very much.” Angeles Blanco
“My first job in licensing was head of PR at CPL and I very quickly recognised that I had joined an industry full of fantastic characters who really knew how to work hard and play just as hard. David was most certainly one of these! Something we all looked forward to was the annual Christmas party which, certainly at that time seemed extravagant affairs at which there was very little in the way of holding back. There is now a select group of licensing people who will always remember seeing David careering down the stairs at Shepperton Studios on a tea tray!” Jane Garner
“David offered me a job in 1992 with a struggling company called Rainbow Productions, which was a subsidiary of CPL in those days. He interviewed me on a Monday and I had the job of managing director by Friday (David was not one for hanging around) despite my not knowing what a costume character was, nor ever having visited the Rainbow premises. He was a hard taskmaster but always kept faith in myself and the Rainbow team until, in 1995, he went one step further and sold me the company – in the process changing my business career immeasurably for the better.” David Scott
Iconix Brand Group has extended its licensing agreement with Revlon for the Ed Hardy brand in the fragrance and personal care categories for an additional four years.
Revlon will continue to partner with Ed Hardy to create items including deodorant, hair care products, body lotion, body wash and aftershave. It will extend Revlon’s collection, which currently offers nine Ed Hardy fragrances and two upcoming new unisex fragrances scheduled for a fall 2020 launch.
The deal follows Iconix’s partnership with Vanilla Star earlier this year, which saw the launch of Ed Hardy-branded apparel in the U.S. and Canada.
U.K. clothing and homewares retailer Marks & Spencer has partnered with Disney for a holiday collection based on the upcoming film “Frozen 2.”
The line will debut in “Frozen 2” store sections across M&S brick-and-mortar shops and online. Sections will include kidswear costumes, pajamas, advent calendars and soft toys. The collection will also see selfie stations appear at 54 of the largest M&S shops. Each station will offer fans the chance to take special festive pictures of Elsa or Anna from the film.
“Growing M&S kidswear is an important focus at M&S as we work to appeal to family-aged customers,” says Nathan Ansell, director of clothing and home marketing, M&S. “’Frozen 2′ is a highly-anticipated film and when the trailer landed it was record-breaking so we know lots of our customers will be excited to visit our special ‘Frozen 2’ shops and check out our exclusive product.
As part of the collaboration, M&S will also be joining Disney in supporting the U.K. charity Together for Short Lives. The charity aims to support more than 49,000 seriously ill children and their families in the U.K. to receive the necessary financial, medical and emotional support. This holiday season, M&S will show its support for the charity’s work by selling an exclusive tote bag starting later this month.
“Frozen 2” opens in the U.K. Nov. 22. The film will arrive with a slate of licensing deals including some that were announced as part of an influencer event.
A new LEGO Speed Champions set has been announced during the unveiling of the new Jaguar I-TYPE 4.
Panasonic Jaguar Racing has revealed the new electric race car for season six of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship during a launch event at Jaguar’s brand-new design studio in Gaydon, Warwickshire, U.K..
The miniature replicas are eight studs wide rather than usual six stud wide format that has been used in the Speed Champions theme so far
Six Speed Champions sets were also launched earlier this year:
75895 1974 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.0;
75890 Ferrari F40 Competizione;
75891 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Race Car;
75892 LEGO Speed Champions McLaren Senna;
75893 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and 1970 Dodge Charger R/T and
75894 1967 Mini Cooper S Rally and 2018 MINI John Cooper Works Buggy.
“The start of a new season is an exciting time for the team,” says James Barclay, director, Panasonic Jaguar Racing Team. “After months of hard work we are excited to show the world the new Jaguar I-TYPE 4. We have applied all of our experience in Formula E to date and our latest innovations into the new racecar and the development team have created what we believe will be our most competitive Formula E car to date,” “We’ve learned how to win as a team and we are hungry for more in season six. We can’t wait to get racing!”
LEGO Speed Champions 76898 Formula E Panasonic Jaguar Racing GEN 2 car & Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY will be released on January 1, 2020.
Jazwares, a member of the Alleghany Capital Corporation, has acquired Wicked Cool Toys, the toy licensee behind brands such as Hasbro’s Micro Machines and Pokémon.
Jazwares has found success with master toy licensee deals for Entertainment One’s “Peppa Pig” and the upcoming Sony Pictures property “VIVO.” Together, WCT will join Jazwares as a division of the Company and stay in its current headquarters of Bristol, Penn.
“Led by Michael Rinzler, Jeremy Padawer and Thomas Poon, WCT has built an impressive reputation in the industry for spotting on-trend licenses, reinvigorating nostalgic brands, and collaborating with inventors to develop new products,” says Judd Zebersky, chief executive officer and president, Jazwares. “We are thrilled to partner with WCT and its talented employees, leveraging the Company’s offices in Pennsylvania, California, and Hong Kong. WCT will operate as a division of Jazwares and day-to-day operations will not be impacted by this transaction.”
For WCT, the decision to partner with Jazwares and Alleghany Capital was driven by the long-term investment strategy offered to it under its new parent company. Michael Rinzler, co-president and founding partner, WCT, also believes Jazwares makes for a cultural fit.
“We are excited to join Jazwares and the Alleghany Capital family of companies,” adds Michael Rinzler, co-president and founding partner, WCT. “Jazwares is a perfect strategic and cultural fit for WCT, driven by the vision and leadership of Judd and Laura Zebersky. “In addition, we believe that Alleghany Capital’s long-term investment horizon and strategy of supporting entrepreneurial companies such as Jazwares and WCT will accelerate our combined growth potential.”
It’s a world in which high-profile unaffiliated teams carry names such as FaZe Clan, Team Liquid, Cloud9 and Evil Geniuses; where stars with handles such as Ninja, Shroud and DrLupo are, in some cases, better known than the games they play; and where the playing fields are games as varied as Overwatch, League of Legends, NBA 2K, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty, among many others.
All three of those aspects segments – teams, players and leagues are at the core of an eSports business in which revenue from such areas as sponsorships, media rights, advertising, tickets and merchandise are expected to roar past the $1 billion mark this year, while event attendance and viewership (both online and via broadcast on such outlets as ESPN) also soars.
For companies in the licensing business, however, the road toward leveraging that interest with merchandise is still being built. It’s difficult to get a handle on the current size of the merchandise piece, but research firm Newzoo predicts that global merchandise and ticket sales revenue will increase 22.4% this year to $103.7 million.
Here’s a look at the current state of affairs for the eSports licensing business.
Who is the esports consumer, and how does this fan watch? How many of them are there?
The potential market is sizeable. Global revenues –largely from media rights, advertising and sponsorships – are expected to rise 26% this year to $1.1 billion as the eSports audience jumps 15% to 453.8 million driven by viewership on ESPN, Twitch and other streaming platforms delivered to PCs and mobile devices, Newzoo said. It expects total revenue to reach $1.8 billion by 2022 when the audience – a mix of enthusiasts and occasional viewers – is forecast to be 645 million.
The technology consulting firm Activate projects that by the year after next, eSports will have 84 million U.S. viewers, second only to the National Football League (141 million), and ahead of Major League Baseball (79 million) and the National Basketball Association (63 million). By next year Activate forecasts, 70 million people will be watching a single eSports final. Esports is most popular among the coveted 18-34-year-old consumers, who account for 73% of the viewers and are decidedly male, Activate said.
What’s the licensing play? What’s been done so far?
For the licensing community, there are three basic avenues into the world of esports: leagues, teams and players.
eSports leagues are built around specific games, such as Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty and Overwatch, Riot Games’ League of Legends, Take-Two Interactive’s NBA 2K, Valve Corp.’s Defense of the Ancients (DOTA-2) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (the latter of which is that basis for the Europe-based Electronic Sports League). So, in a sense, if a company has a license for one of those titles, it has an inherent connection to the game.
Many of the leagues have taken on the structure of other professional sports leagues with centralized licensing.
For example, Activision Blizzard designed trademarked logos and handles merchandise licensing for all league franchises in the Overwatch League through a central organization. It signed a deal earlier this year with sports licensing ecommerce and licensing powerhouse Fanatics to supply and market league and team apparel.
Twenty-one of the National Basketball Association’s 30 teams have franchises in the NBA 2K League – a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive. Licensing is operated by the existing NBA Properties organization, which developed distinct logos for each of the franchises. Companies with NBA 2K League licenses include NBA licensees such as Champion (team kits) and New Era (caps, t-shirts), while adding videogame-oriented companies such as Scuf Gaming (controllers), Raynor (gaming chairs) and HyperX (headsets).
Licensing of the League of Legends brand is administered by developer Riot Games. In conjunction with its League Championship series, walmart.com in May launched sales of jerseys from 10 teams, taking to Twitter to promote the collection through an LCS Fan Shop, and sounding much like it was promoting the NFL or NBA: “Wear what the pros wear as you cheer them on to victory,” Walmart said.
ESL, which among the oldest eSports leagues, handles licensing of its brand through its Cologne, Germany headquarters, but also is represented by Beanstalk’s Tinderbox division across Europe.
As already noted, licensing related to teams in the NBA 2K League and Overwatch League is handled centrally while there are 10 independent teams in League of Legends North America, 16 in League of Legends Pro League in China (and countless others competing in League of Legends tournaments around the world).The three-year-old ESL Pro League has 48 independent teams.
Those independent teams carry names such as FaZe Clan, Evil Geniuses, Team SoloMid, Team Liquid; they’re not directly affiliated with the leagues, but rather compete in lucrative tournaments around the globe. Most of them have squads to compete across multiple games.
One of the more developed independent teams is FaZe Clan, which has 29 players competing in as many as eight leagues at a time. It’s based in California and expects to have a licensing operation formed by late this year to represent both the team and individual players for merchandise deals.
The teams – whether as franchises in the centralized leagues, or as independents – have drawn investments from other parts of the sports and entertainment worlds. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers in December invested in the Pittsburgh Knights eSports teams which compete in several tournaments including those for Playerunknown’s Battleground and Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL 20. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones bought a stake in compLexity Gaming in 2017; the team is based at the GameStop Performance Center, which opened earlier this year at the Cowboys training complex. Owners of franchises in the Overwatch League have connections to such traditional sports teams as the New England Patriots (the Kraft family), New York Mets (Wilpon family), Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Rams (Kroenke Sports and Entertainment), among others. And athletes and rappers also have purchased stakes in teams. For example, former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and baseball star Alex Rodriguez having invested in NRG eSports, which fields independent squads competing across nine games, while rappers Miles “Lil Yachty” McCollum and Kiari Kendrell “Offset” Cephus have stakes in FaZe Clan.
For the most part, player licensing focuses on eSports gamers that aren’t affiliated with a team, but rather have built huge following on social media based on the fame they developed earlier in tournament play.
Among the top unaffiliated players is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, represented by the talent agency Loaded and licensing agency Brand Central, who has 22.4 million YouTube followers and 14.6 million followers on Twitch (before switching to Microsoft’s Mixer game streaming service earlier this year). Ninja has about a dozen licensing agreements including toys (Wicked Cool Toys) and housewares (Zak Designs).
Loaded also represents Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, who has 6.9 million followers on Twitch, while the agency ReKtGlobal has about 50 eSports gamer clients, including Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, a Fortnite player with 3.4 million followers Twitch.
“We believe the individual streamers have the ability” to translate better to retail than teams as “they have a media platform to appeal directly to fans who get to know them in the same way digital influencers have made an impact at retail,” says Brand Central CEO Ross Misher. “It is difficult for an individual eSports player to get recognized nationally since they are part of a team. Once players leave the teams and become streamers, that’s when their profile and popularity rises” and they become strong candidates for licensing.
An exception among teams may be FaZe Clan, which has positioned some of its players for licensing. For example, the team is positioning its first female member, 13-year-old Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler, who plays Fortnite and has 200,000 followers on Twitch, for women’s apparel, says FaZe Clan President Greg Selkoe.
“Through Twitter, Instagram and other social media, we seed the marketplace by having our players stream and promote their and our stuff in advance of a drop” in seeking to build demand for products,” says Selkoe.
That’s not to say the leagues aren’t preparing players for licensing – Minnesota Timberwolves Gaming point guard and NBA 2K championship series MVP Michael “BearDaBeast” Key is among those players viewed by the NBA as having licensing potential based on his personality and social media following, says an NBA spokesman.
“When you see a player like him [Key] it starts to make sense,” he says. “When you have a charismatic and engaging competitor, we want to align with him just like we would with any other [NBA] athlete.”
One attempt to leverage the influencers’ popularity is by Wicked Cool Toys, which plans to release this month five-inch eSports influencer collectible figures that are packaged with a QR card that “unlocks” a game developed by LAMO for play on a mobile device.
What’s happened so far at retail? What does the future look like?
There’s a relative trickle of eSports-licensed product making its way to retail so far, as licensees and merchants feel their way through a necessary learning process. For example, sales of Champion Athleticwear co-branded with six eSports teams (OpTic Gaming, Counter Logic Gaming, Dignitas, Spacestation Gaming and the Renegades) reportedly fell short of forecast at 75 Footlocker stores during May and June.
“There is definitely an appetite for eSports,” says one Footlocker executive, “but right now it is in its infancy, and we are going to continue to support and grow with it. Maybe what will trigger the business is merchandise tied to a specific event in a given market.” Footlocker sold the apparel through four of its chains – Footlocker, Footaction, Eastbay and Champs — with the latter having the most success with the line.
Adds Matt Waterman, VP-GM of Champion North America: “We see eSports as emerging sport that people are competing in. It is a natural extension our brand since the uniforms are typically t-shirts, hoodies and sweats all of which we produce.
“We are exploring different elements within eSports and it [the eSports licensing program] will become more formalized in the way it is executed. We are very much developing this as we go and as we understand the players and their needs.”
There are other signs that eSports is moving toward the masses. For example, Fanatics — which has licensing agreements with and operates the ecommerce sites for all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, and top global soccer clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Manchester City (among many other ventures)—billboards “eSports” on its menu bar right alongside those leagues’ logos. Click on “eSports,” and you’re taken to full shops for the Overwatch League and NBA2K League. Its assortment of Overwatch League t-shirts, hoodies, socks and other apparel also is merchandised on Walmart.com and affiliate Jet.com.
Walmart has split the Overwatch apparel with lower-priced goods being sold through its own web site, while more expensive ($59 and up) team replica jerseys, hoodies and jogging pants are sold through Jet.com, which is expected to bring in League of Legends products in November. Jet.com staff also have taken the lead in buying eSports products for both websites, says an executive familiar with Walmart’s plans.
“They [Walmart] see this as a chance to get a jump start in what they think is going to be a growing eSports business moving forward,” says that executive. Walmart didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Sales of goods tied to the NBA 2K League have been built around a sub-site (https://2kleaguestore.nba.com/) of the NBA store online, and at the NBA Store in New York, with shirts from Champion and New Era, and socks from Stance. The NBA also began in-venue sales this year at the league’s eSports arena in Long Island City, NY.
Esports goods have also been popping up in less-obvious places. For example, FaZe Clan sold $1.7 million of co-branded Champion apparel in a 24-hour sale in April on NTWRK – the app-based venture that offers unique merchandise drops via “shoppable shows.” FaZe Clan also had a pop-up shop with player autograph signings and apparel at the shoe store Stadium Goods in Lower Manhattan in late July, drawing throngs of fans already in New York for the Fortnite World Cup. FaZe Clan also is launching co-brand warm-up kits with Manchester United starting with a game on Oct. 6 as part of an agreement with team uniform supplier Puma.
“It isn’t about units and volume, but rather maintaining that edge and doing things that might not work other more traditional leagues that are focused on competitive gaming,” says Selkoe.
There’s also the question of whether eSports merchandising migrates anytime soon to become a staple at brick and mortar, or rather continues to live mostly online. Given that eSports is very much an online endeavor, says Champion’s Waterman “there may not be as much of a brick and mortar play, and it may be mainly an ecommerce business. We are trying to find that natural evolution of where this is going, and we want to be part of it.”
What products are on the market?
While apparel has been the major focus, equipment aligned with playing the games also has proven popular. Controller supplier Scuf Gaming has FaZe Clan and NBA 2K models. Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League took a page from other professional sports in licensing Upper Deck for player-signed trading cards that are packaged with swatches of game-worn jerseys.
There also have been the more conventional uniform deals.
Nike announced an agreement last month to supply the uniforms for 16 teams in the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China, combining the LPL team logo with the Nike Swoosh. And Puma struck an agreement earlier this year to supply Cloud9 uniforms.
The Puma deal allows Cloud9 to “affect broader culture” where “if you want to be able to relate to younger people globally, you had better be thinking about eSports as much as you are thinking about cultural lenses like music and sports,” says Cloud9 Head of Partnerships Jordan Udko.
The footwear company K-Swiss worked with the eSports firm Immortals Gaming Club on “One-Tap” slip-on lightweight sneakers that are designed for those competing in multi-player video games. Then there is AjX Armani, which was among the first fashion brands to enter the eSports business when it signed to provide the Italian eSports team Mkers with uniforms for global tournaments. (They’re not available yet at retail.)
“We are trying to offer fans as many products as possible to help them express their fandom and connect with one another,” says Activision Blizzard eSports Licensing Head Daniel Siegel. “We know that fans respond strongly to any product that our players wear or use on stage.”
Like Activision, the NBA 2K League has focused on building out its team and league brands by drawing from the NBA’s roster of licensees (such as Champion, Stance and New Era), while adding gaming-specific newcomers such as Scuf Gaming (controllers), Raynor (gaming chair) and HyperX (headsets).
“Everything we have done with NBA, WNBA and G-League is serving as a template for eSports in terms of licensing,” the NBA spokesman said. “If you look at the NBA2K League, we have an advantage — the NBA knows how to build a business around the teams and league and has a record of building a local fan base, creating compelling content and selling merchandise and sponsorships.”
The focus thus far most leagues and teams has been on premium priced merchandise. For example’s Scuf’s Vantage NBA 2K controllers sell for $225. And a home textiles company that is developing League of Legends backpacks for the U.S., is redesigning a base model that typically sells for $10 with more room for storage and better materials and is pricing it at $49. And Faze Clan youth hoodies typically retail for $60.
“Consumers will spend on high-quality and features because the products are an extension of their fandom,” says Daniel Amos, of lifestyle apparel supplier Difuzed, whose company is developing a co-branded apparel line for ESL due in spring 2020. “For [eSports] apparel it is a different cut and sew technology; it’s not necessarily a blank t-shirt where you put a logo on it and you have made money. It needs to be more than that.”
In some cases, licensees say, indy teams such as FaZe Clan 100 Thieves are positioning themselves as lifestyle brands and, along with the social media influencers, have even greater potential than most for licensing.
“I am not sure the future is team and eSports merchandise in the same way we think about traditional leagues,” says Aaron Levant, CEO of ecommerce and content platform NTWRK. “It is more of the culture of gaming, where the real fandom is, and where the real merchandise dollars are going to be in this space. The leagues don’t yet have the generations of people that have grown up around eSports, and have an affinity for it in the same they do with other professional leagues.”
And leagues concede that many companies are still early in their understanding of eSports and how licensing plays into it.
“There is a little bit of education that comes into play and when we are looking at brands, and we’re qualifying them, it does go back to: do these brands want to just look at our audience as a transaction?” Riot Games executive Matthew Archambault told Game Haus. “If that is the case, it’s probably not the best suited for us as a brand.”
Activate, Michael Wolf, CEO, 212-326-4444
Activision Blizzard Entertainment, Daniel Siegel, Head of eSports Licensing, 949-955-1380 x64507, firstname.lastname@example.org