School Spirit

Last week, the annual conference of the International Collegiate Licensing Association (ICLA), one of several collegiate marketing organizations administered by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), took place in Orlando, Florida.

Some of the key topics of conversation, both in the presentations and informally, included:

  • Retail challenges. Collegiate licensors are, like all property owners, dealing with the struggles of bricks-and-mortar retail chains. The situation is especially challenging given the demise of many sporting goods retailers over the past two to three years, as well as ongoing competition from local pro sports teams. Collegiate licensing execs are also concerned about the growing power of Fanatics, with some withholding manufacturing rights from the company, even as they continue to work with it as their e-commerce provider and sometimes their on-campus fan-retail partner.
  • Rebrands, and the ramifications thereof. Some universities are creating new marks to maintain consistency across departments, boost retail sales, or replace mascots that are beloved but culturally insensitive under NCAA rules. Issues associated with this process include securing buy-in from all the stakeholders inside and outside the institution; smoothing the approval process and addressing timing issues among licensees, licensors, retailers, and the various intra-university constituencies; and managing trademark rights and usage for new and old seals, mascots, logos, and wordmarks.
  • Capitalizing on hot markets and events. Universities are maximizing in-and-out opportunities such as anniversaries, hot markets (e.g., championship sports teams or on-field occurrences that capture the imagination), mascots, vintage logos, rebranded marks, and cross-licensing programs (e.g., with local military bases). The goal is to bring as many constituencies into the program as possible, present a consistent message throughout, and address a range of internal and external needs and objectives. Social media campaigns, if done right, are of critical importance.
  • New categories for licensing, especially subscription boxes and fidget spinners. Collegiate licensors have been getting lots of inquiries from subscription box marketers of late, and many are in conversations about launching their own versions. Meanwhile, fidget spinners have come up recently in the context of promotional opportunities, as potential retail licensing categories, and especially in light of a surge of counterfeit university-logoed spinners available online.

Collegiate licensing departments, whether they reside in their institution’s general counsel’s office, in the athletic department, or in marketing and PR, typically serve as the linchpin between the university’s various constituencies, including student groups, alumni, athletics and other departments, and the community, when it comes to trademark usage and merchandise.

As such, they are charged with protecting a wide variety of trademarks, ranging from academic marks and seals to athletic and spirit marks. They must ensure proper usage while supporting athletic fan development, revenue generation (from retail sales, fundraising, and giving), and student recruitment. In addition, they must manage licensees of promotional items and giveaways, retail merchandise, locally crafted products, and sidelines apparel and equipment. And they must maintain a balance among retailers as diverse as campus bookstores, on-campus spirit stores, mom-and-pop retailers near the campus, and local outposts of national retail chains.

Some of the concerns and challenges discussed during the conference are unique to collegiate licensing, while others mirror the issues affecting licensing executives across property types and product categories. One overriding theme was how to foster communication so that the various stakeholders, from the licensing department to athletics directors to licensees, understand each other’s needs and timelines. The goal is for all to work together to create consistent and effective licensing and marketing initiatives and ensure speed to market for hot-markets activations, events, and new designs or programs.

The June issue of Raugust Communications’ free e-newsletter will arrive in subscribers’ email boxes tomorrow. It will include a new monthly feature, Datapoint, which highlights an excerpt from recent Raugust Communications research related to licensing. For the first edition of Datapoint, we examine the number of licensing deals that are traditional (two to three years or more), versus agreements that focus on short-term lifestyle collaborations or are outside the realm of physical products (e.g. experiential, promotional, or content deals). Datapoint is meant to complement the Licensing Topic of the Month, which in this issue is about the need for context when assessing the quantitative success (or potential) of a given property. If you don’t already receive this e-publication, sign up here.

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