Deals announced in summer and fall 2019 illustrate some of the key current trends in the sports licensing business:
- Rising activity around women’s sports. The English Netball League, a 90-plus-year-old women’s sports entity, signed a deal with British retailer Oasis for a range of apparel, with players Ama Agbze, Eboni Usoro-Brown, and Jade Clarke appearing in the marketing campaign. Meanwhile, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association and its agent REP Worldwide retained The Joester-Loria Group to develop lifestyle and athleisure products for the union’s soccer athlete members, and launched a collector box program with CultureFly at Walmart.
- More interest in betting and related fields. As sports wagering becomes legal across more nations and U.S. states, deals to facilitate and host league- and club-sanctioned betting continue to come to light. Major League Baseball signed with fantasy sports and sports betting company DraftKings and sportsbook operator FanDuel. The National Football League pacted with Sportradar as the distributor of its real-time play-by-play data to sports betting operators, while Genius Sports Group did a similar deal with Football DataCo involving betting data from three soccer organizations, the English Premier League, English Football League, and Scottish Professional Football League. These follow many other similar agreements signed in 2018 and early 2019.
- Blockchain and cryptocurrency deals piling up. Spanish soccer club Atlético de Madrid paired with Chiliz for blockchain-powered fan tokens for access to unique merchandise and experiences, while Manchester City signed with Superbloke in Asia for blockchain-based gacha games involving virtual currency. In addition, Turkish football club Yani Malatyaspor and Watford Football Club of England became two of the first clubs to sign deals with cryptocurrency companies (BtcTurk and Coingaming.io, respectively) as jersey sponsors.
- New leagues and events launching licensing efforts. The England and Wales Cricket Board introduced a new 100-ball format competition called the Hundred and named New Era as its official supplier of hats and caps for the eight teams participating in the series, in a three-year deal. Play begins in July 2020, and New Era’s product should hit store shelves in May. The U.S.-based Premier Lacrosse League, which began play in June with a series of multiteam competitions in different cities each weekend, signed Adidas as its official outfitter for its first few years. The deal includes on-field team uniforms, cleats, training shoes, and sideline apparel.
- Continued global expansion. Germany’s Bundesliga soccer league signed with agency IMG to develop a licensing program for markets outside of Germany, encompassing products for men, women, and kids. Similarly, Liverpool Football Club retained Dream Theatre, an agency in India, to develop its licensing business in South Asia, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as well as India.
- Deals for higher-end, off-field fashion. Both the National Hockey League and National Football League signed with Tailored Brands, owner of retail chains Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A Bank, and Moores Clothing for Men. It will offer tailored suits, jackets, vests, and sport coats with team-logoed fabrics used as linings in all three chains. These leagues join a number of global football/soccer clubs, individual athletes, and other sports licensors in this category.
- Players associations expanding their licensing profile. In addition to the USWNTPA activities mentioned above, the Major League Soccer Players Association signed BreakingT to create hot-markets merchandise in response to trends spotted through an ongoing analysis of social media data. REP Worldwide, an affiliate of the leading licensor in this space, the NFL Players Association, represents MLSPA as well as USWNTPA.
- New partners entering sports licensing. Reforce, a growing sportswear brand in India, became a first-time sports licensee when it paired with the Pro Kabaddi League for jerseys, sweats, backbacks, bags, and socks in moisture-wicking stretch fabrics. Competitive Kabaddi is played throughout South Asia and is the national sport of Bangladesh.
Some of these trends, such as sports betting and blockchain, are relatively new, but most have been ongoing for some time. They continue to strengthen, however, as indicated by these recent deals.