"We're out of the extreme business," says Adam Bender, Spin Master head of corporate communications. "In 1999, we were the category leader. Now we're no longer in a leadership position. When it's done, it's done. This is done."
"I think retailers are seeing new opportunities in the extreme sports area," says Paul Zimny, director of licensing at global licensing firm Bradford Licensing Associates in Upper Montclair, NJ. "We do a lot of work with Pepsi in the extreme sports area, and its merchandise is selling at Kohl's, Bob's Stores, and other mid-sized retailers. A lot of the opportunity is in apparel. Shorts, T-shirts, backpacks, and sunglasses are selling well."
Bradford Licensing is the master licensing agent for surf/skate apparel manufacturer Piping Hot Australia, which, through U.S. apparel manufacturer In Private, signed a 10-year deal in June with 25-year-old vertical half pipe skateboarder Mathias Ringstrom. (Bradford Licensing earlier this year arranged a deal with In Private to license the Piping Hot brand for an extensive action sportswear range for the U.S. and surrounding markets.) A skateboard icon for the last five years, Ringstrom will work with Piping Hot to design cutting-edge skate/street apparel.
Bradford Licensing has been a key connector for several brands in the extreme sports category. It has connected Pepsi, in particular the Mountain Dew brand, to snowboarding and skateboarding, which it uses in advertising and packaging. Meanwhile, Fuse's Carter has taken the extreme sports look, spirit, and attitude to Sony, Ford, and Gillette, among other national brands. As any toy licensor will tell you, corporate exposure to extreme sports will be critical to the category's growth: Seeing kids schuss through an untouched snow-covered valley with a Mountain Dew in hand will do more to take extreme sports to the next level than any X Games can.
Extreme sports does have a few recognizable top-notch athletes. Tony Hawk is to skateboarding what Shaq is to basketball. His Pro Skateboard video game with Activision is a top seller. Extreme sports licensors and retailers also are hanging their hopes on Shaun Palmer. Touted at the Licensing Show as the Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods of extreme sports, Palmer is a champion snowboarder, skier, motorcycle racer, and mountain biker. His licensing agent, Brian Hakan of Hakan and Associates in Overland Park, KS, and Rochester, MI, says the Palmer brand, which already has its name on snowboarding equipment, will be all about cool.
"We were approached by a company that wanted to license Shaun's name for an in-line skating product," says Hakan. "There was a lot of money on the table. But Shaun and his people didn't want to do it. In-line skating isn't cool anymore. The customer knows what's cool, and the Shaun Palmer brand will represent that."
Talks about Palmer and his brand now are underway with major packaged goods advertisers. But Hakan is concerned the 40-year-old-plus merchandising community that deals with licensed goods may be missing out on an opportunity due to lack of knowledge.
"The buyers in the licensed goods business are probably too old to understand who Shaun Palmer is," Hakan points out. "How are we going to educate them? That's the biggest challenge in this business."
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