Opportunities for manufacturers to enter the sports licensing business, at least when it comes to the four major pro leagues and many of the larger collegiate licensors, have declined over the years. Although their licensee lists remain lengthy, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and leading universities have winnowed down their rosters substantially. Their primary apparel and accessories categories in particular have been consolidated down to a handful of powerful companies.
One area that has bucked the trend, however, has been higher-end, fashion-driven apparel sold through department and specialty stores rather than the sports fan and sporting goods chains.
Some examples from 2016:
- Johnnie-O, a premium prep-meets-surf lifestyle brand distributed in golf and other specialty shops, partnered with 20 colleges and universities in a deal announced in November. Earlier in the year, it launched an MLB collection, marking its entry into sports licensing.
- Shab Sadeghi, a former cheerleader for several Bay Area NFL and NBA teams, launched a line of fashion-forward dresses, shirts, and tops for women under the Shabella brand, with licenses in place for California colleges including Stanford, Fresno State, University of California Berkeley, and San Diego State. Shabella has plans for pro league licenses in the future, and is speaking to international leagues as well.
- G-III’s Starter brand, relaunched two years ago, forged exclusive collaborations with the high-end fashion retailers Mr. Alans and DTLR, the first featuring Michigan and Michigan State products and the second involving NBA throwback jackets. G-III’s other labels include Touch by Alyssa Milano, G-III Sports by Carl Banks, and G-III 4 Her by Carl Banks.
- Tommy Bahama partnered with the NFL for the fourth time on a limited collection of sweaters, polos, sweatshirts, and t-shirts launching at the start of the football season. The label also produces collections with MLB each year.
Deals such as these allow the leagues and colleges to reach a more upscale fan base than is the norm for their authentics and fan apparel programs. And the premium assortments do not compete head-to-head with the Nikes, Adidas, Under Armours, and Fanatics of the world, leaving room in the market for both types of programs to co-exist.