On the Sidelines

Celebrities who are closely connected to the pro and college sports industry—but not current athletes—have been increasingly lending their names to consumer product lines, either through licensing or their own companies. Their areas of expertise vary:

  • Fantasy sports. Matthew Berry, ESPN’s senior fantasy sports analyst, retained The Wildflower Group in 2016 to handle licensing for his Fantasy Life lifestyle brand. This fall, the brand launched the Fantasy Life e-commerce shop, highlighting merchandise such as phone cases, t-shirts, hats, and a Fantasy Life subscription box. Berry published a book called Fantasy Life with Riverhead/Penguin Books in 2013.
  • Sports analysts, commentators, and play-by-play announcers. Kirk Herbstreit, a college football commentator, partnered with licensee Eckrich for a limited range of smoked meats under the Kirk Herbstreit Ultimate Tailgate brand, while CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz offered a limited collection of ties for charity, with Vineyard Vines. Many of the sports analysts with merchandising efforts are also former athletes; such is the case for Bobby Taylor, who oversees the RoyalT Collection of apparel; Shawne Merriman, who markets the Lights Out lifestyle brand; and Michael Strahan, who has an extensive collection of menswear sold through JCPenney. All are former NFLers as well as analysts; Strahan is also a talk show host.
  • Current and former coaches. College and pro sports coaches represent one of the earliest examples of non-athletes being the focus of sports-related licensing deals, going back at least five years. In 2012, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka signed a deal with Camacho for cigars; he also offers clothing under the Ditka Goods and Ditka Kids brands. The same year, the estate of John Wooden, a longtime collegiate coach with UCLA and other institutions, paired with IMG for a branded coaching-education program based on Wooden’s philosophy. As for current coaches, the University of Texas’ hiring of Charlie Strong in 2014 resulted in a lot of counterfeit merchandise featuring phrases like “Texas Strong” and “Stronghorns.” That led the university to not only send out cease-and-desist letters but to register some of those trademarks for use by its licensees. (The coach and the school parted ways in 2016 and Strong is now with the University of South Florida.)

Former players also have had a growing presence in licensing for several years, of course, from individuals such as Shaquille O’Neal and Wayne Gretzky, who both have menswear deals, to the IMG-led Football Greats Alliance overseeing former NFL players’ licensing activities. Some of these former players have kept their awareness at high levels by serving as sports analysts or launching other high-profile careers, in or out of sports, as a follow-up to the fame they attracted through athletics.

Raugust Communications’ final e-newsletter for 2017 publishes tomorrow, December 19. The Licensing Topic of the Month focuses on pop-up shops and cafés, while Datapoint offers a snapshot of an aspect of experiential licensing. If you do not yet receive this free publication, subscribe here.

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