Two-Sport Athletic Deals

With the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Finals in progress, WWE, the wrestling entertainment brand, announced last week that it was creating an officially licensed legacy championship belt for the winning team. The belt, like those given to winners of wrestling events, highlights the Stanley Cup in the center, where the WWE logo usually resides, and features the WWE and NHL logos above and below. This is the first licensing deal between the NHL and WWE and the latest example of cross-pollination between different sports entities—or, in this case, a sports league and a sports-entertainment franchise—for merchandise initiatives.

This phenomenon is not common, but it does come up from time to time. The products come to life through a variety of different configurations:

  • Forging co-branding deals. In addition to the WWE’s license with the NHL, it announced a similar agreement with the National Football League last August, marking its first license with that league as well. WWE created legacy title belts featuring the colors and branding of all 32 NFL teams, made available on,, and (The NHL belt has similar distribution through WWE, NHL, and Fanatics online channels.)
  • Following fashion trends. Scuderia Ferrari, the luxury car brand’s Formula 1 racing team, and its licensee Puma released a Scuderia Ferrari classic ice hockey jersey this month, timed to the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, which was held yesterday. (Unfortunately for the partners, the team, a favorite going into the race, unexpectedly had a difficult weekend.) This is not a licensing deal with a hockey organization, but rather follows a trend popular in the fashion industry right now, which is to produce apparel pieces inspired by hockey jerseys, basketball shirts, and other sports gear. Some fashion labels are adding value by layering on a sports-licensing deal as well.
  • Capitalizing on geographic ties. Occasionally, teams in the same market collaborate on merchandise featuring the branding of both, as a way to offer fans of the two teams something new. One example occurred seven years ago when Champion created two collections of cross-licensed apparel, both featuring the IP of the collegiate Texas Tech Red Raiders, combined with the MLB’s Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, respectively.
  • Collaborating to meet business objectives. In the mid-2010s, before the NIL era began, colleges and universities could not feature their athletes’ names, images, or likenesses on licensed apparel, therefore missing out on the opportunity to connect their brands with individual athletes, an increasingly appealing attribute for sports fans. As a result, they forged deals with former athletes from their schools who had gone on to fame in the professional leagues, creating merchandise that depicted them in their old collegiate uniforms. The most expansive of these programs was between the NFL Players Association and the Collegiate Licensing Company, the primary collegiate licensing agent. In another example, the University of California paired with its former star running back, Marshawn Lynch, who had retired from a stellar career in the NFL by then and opened an apparel company called BeastMode, which served as the licensee for the program. While the NIL era has removed the need to go in this direction to secure licensing rights from athletes, such co-branded collections can still be attractive to fans.
  • Working with athlete-licensees. As Beast Mode illustrates, former athletes, and some current ones, increasingly launch manufacturing companies, or partner with a licensee to create branded merchandise, typically focusing on products for fans and participants of their own sport. Once those companies or brands become established in their own sphere of expertise, they often expand into other sports segments. The most prominent example is Air Jordan, founded by Michael Jordan with Nike back in 1985. Over the years it has expanded into shoes and apparel for many sports beyond basketball. For example, in 2022 it collaborated with Crenshaw Skate Club for skateboarding shoes, and it just launched Air Jordan 9 golf shoes in partnership with the 2024 U.S. Open. Both programs highlight the brand’s basketball-inspired Jumpman logo, along with the branding of the partners.
  • Expanding distribution and awareness through joint business relationships. Years ago, baseball’s New York Yankees and U.K. soccer club Manchester United paired to sell each other’s licensed merchandise through their respective distribution channels, as well as developing joint marketing programs, sharing market information, and other elements of the partnership. The alliance did not last long, with some pundits theorizing that the two business models and fan bases were just too different to make it work.

While these multi-sport collaborations have been relatively few and far between over a long period, that could change, as the time seems ripe for such initiatives, especially if they are short-term in nature. Licensors are increasingly open to a variety of collaborations and collaboration partners, including partnerships with competitors on occasion. And, while sports organizations are competitive to a degree, large swaths of their fan bases closely follow multiple sports, view them as complementary, and embrace relationships among their favorite teams. Finally, from a practical standpoint, the fact that so many different sports and teams have partnered with Fanatics as their primary licensee and distributor creates synergies that make these types of initiatives easier to pull together.

Check out our coverage of the trends spotted at this year’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. The in-depth round-up was recently posted and can be viewed here.

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