Licensing Insights from CES 2021

Licensed products did not have a particularly high profile at the first-ever all-virtual Consumer Electronics Show, held last week. But several speakers offered interesting news and insights related to the licensing business. Most of these tidbits were related not to consumer products, but to apparel:

  • The WNBA saw a 350% increase in merchandise sales last summer, led by its fashion award-winning orange hoodie. That was Fanatics’ number-one item for a time after NBA players wore it in warm-ups to promote the start of the WNBA’s season and is the best-selling WNBA-licensed item ever. One reason for the bump in product sales was a 60% increase in viewership. “Ninety percent of our games were covered on a national platform, which is unheard of in our game,” said commissioner Cathy Engelbert. She noted that less than 4% of sports media coverage locally focuses on women’s sports in normal times. With the dearth of sports content during the pandemic, the league attracted fans on ESPN and CBS and on social platforms from Facebook to Twitter.
  • The Calia by Carrie Underwood athleisure brand, a Dick’s Sporting Goods private label, has become the number-two brand in the retailer’s women’s assortment at a time when athletic apparel is on fire, according to Lauren Hobart, Dick’s president. Sales of team sports, conversely, were “impacted big-time” by the pandemic. Team sports were a rare negative for the chain overall, however, as it experienced growth of 23% and e-commerce growth of 95% during the crisis. The lockdown turned consumers into outdoor enthusiasts, boosting categories from running to kayaking to golf.
  • The Eleven by Venus Williams-designed Wonder Woman 1984 athleisure collection, created in partnership with the tennis player/fashion designer, was a merchandise highlight during the DC FanDome last summer, becoming one of the fastest-selling items during the virtual fan convention, according to Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group. The event encompassed all things DC Comics and garnered more than 22 million fan interactions in August.
  • Esports has been growing by leaps and bounds, both before and during the pandemic. The availability of licensed merchandise has increased as well, but at a slower pace than the rest of the business. Darren Yan, head of talent management at esports company FaZe Clan, said he believes the continued evolution of the lifestyle aspect of the industry will be the biggest trend to watch in 2021. “I think that’s going to be just tenfold this year,” he said. Heather Garozzo, vp of talent at Dignitas, another esports organization, said her company was working with Verizon on volumetric capture to insert 3D images of players wearing their signature merchandise into digital content streams. Consumers can scan a QR code to purchase. “There’s no need to have merch tables,” she said.
  • Start-up mobile phone company Visible, a DTC phone service offering unlimited data through Verizon for a single price, had a simple value proposition but needed to stand out in an established category, according to Minjae Ormes, chief marketing officer. It opted for a celebrity tie-in, partnering with Dan Levy, creator and star of Schitt’s Creek, for a humorous Snapchat ad campaign in November 2020 called “Unlimited Eyebrowsing.” The five spots were created by the actor, with creative agency Madwell, and were inspired by his distinctive facial feature. Consumers could link to the website storefront and to a microsite with a variety of themed content, including a function where they could navigate by moving their eyebrows, or “browse with their brows.”

As for the consumer electronics category, a few licensed products and properties were spotted among the “booths” at CES. Blaupunkt was highlighting its brand licensing program, managed by GIP Development SARL, which includes a new line of LED TVs and sound bars with Bella iTech. Equity Brands was promoting a new range of earbuds, headphones, device protection, and charging accessories it developed for AT&T, among other products under licenses ranging from Black+Decker to Got Milk?. (All three of these properties are licensed by Beanstalk.) Skoog, a maker of educational technology for children, announced a license with Sesame Workshop during the show. And Spectra Merchandising was displaying its licensed electronics tied to properties including Jensen and, in partnership with Mario Andriani, Hello Kitty and Studebaker.

In our next post, we will highlight some recent products marrying fashion and mobile accessories that were spotlighted at CES. In addition, for a deep dive into some of the broader trends spotted at CES 2021 with relevance to licensing, see our full coverage here. We have also posted our annual licensing year-in-review feature, highlighting 20 of the top trends of 2020. You can read it here.

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