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This special License Global worldwide report unveils how various regions, football teams and governing bodies are leveraging licensing to enhance fan engagement.

With half the world said to be a fan, football is continually considered the most popular sport in almost every nation around the globe.* And it's easy to understand why–football is a multi-generational experience that inspires a passionate, tribal following and brings a world of brands, clubs, players and consumer products to the forefront. In this special License Global worldwide report, learn about how various regions, teams and governing bodies are leveraging licensing to enhance fan engagement, ultimately uniting the world under the singular banner of sport.

Global retail sales of products from the sports category are soaring, topping $27.8 billion and accounting for 10 percent of the total market last year, according to Licensing International's Annual Global Licensing Industry Survey 2019 report. To put that in perspective, that's the fourth largest category for licensed merchandise, behind entertainment (44 percent), corporate brands (21 percent) and fashion (12 percent) only. The opportunity for product extensions from sporting brands is phenomenal. In fact, according to the same report, sports grew at a rate above the overall market average (up 4.9 percent)–a pattern that is beginning to repeat itself year-on-year.

Sports have a unique advantage over almost any other property category on the market–they are perennial and cultivate lifelong fans, most gaining affinity at the earliest of ages and maintaining that relationship over a lifetime. They're also immune, it seems, to generational trend shifts. According to findings by McKinsey & Company, Millennials are continually engaging with sports, as is Generation X (38 percent and 45 percent, respectively), with the gap all but disappearing (and that's across gender, too) when accounting for type of sport.

Football, or soccer as it's referred to in the United States, is a major driver of fandom and the most popular sport in the world–and it is driving enormous global viewership. FIFA, the governing body of world football, reported that nearly half of the world's population watched the 2018 World Cup Russia. That's a combined 3.572 billion viewers.

Sporting events are also inherently experiential with programming and events that are unique to the day and time they occur.

This is an important advantage over other forms of entertainment at present, as viewers continually turn away from traditional TV, thanks to the power of streaming and content on-demand.

In terms of licensed consumer products, football continues to reign supreme–from the individual teams to the governing bodies for the sport as a whole, the opportunity to run with fandom and extend brands in ways that consistently engage and promote the football the world over.

"For football teams, which are businesses, and in some cases, very big businesses and getting bigger, connecting with the fan base and growing the fan base nationally and globally is more important than anything else," says Bruno Maglione, president, IMG Licensing Worldwide, and executive vice president, IMG, the agency that represents such football brands as Bundesliga, Juventus, UEFA Euro 2020 and more for brand extension activity. "The economics for these club owners are very clear. The bigger the fan base, the greater the media audience, the greater the media audience and the higher they can sell the media rights and the sponsorship rights. Therefore to the extent that product licensing contributes to growing the fan base and deepening fan allegiance through incremental exposure and consumer engagement, that is of value independent of the financial merits of the licensing deals themselves. We see this as an important part of the mission in our work with football clients."

For FIFA, licensing is instrumental in bringing its core mission, that of "living football," to fans via retail. Whether through its signature commitments–to the game, people, planet or future–or to simply driving revenue, FIFA has its finger on the pulse of what fans want from their favorite sport and how they want it.

"Licensing is one of our promotional arms and allows the consumer to have a tangible connection with the tournaments and the football experience prior to getting into the stadiums during the events–it enhances the experience," says Ana Brito, head of brand management and licensing, FIFA.

FIFA's licensing business today is focused on three areas: its tournaments, its master FIFA brand and its heritage FIFA brand, which includes prior tournaments (such as the 21 previous FIFA World Cups, dating from 1930-2018) and emblems of the corporate brand. For FIFA, product categories that dominate sales are t-shirts, scarves, footballs, caps, key rings, plush and stickers that can be found in various retail channels around the world, including stadiums.

In the Netherlands, the KNVB is the sports association that helps to protect and promote football in the region.

"The impact of the KNVB in football is huge, as it arranges all amateur football games and the national teams," says Dennis Teulings, co-owner, Redrock Licensing, the agency that manages the KNVB for merchandise rights. "During big events, almost the whole nation will get behind the team. Through merchandise, we allow kids and fans to express their support for the team, and hopefully give children the idea that anything is possible."

The same mission can be said for the likes of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League licensing programs.

UEFA–the Union of European Football Associations–is the governing body of European football and the umbrella organization for 55 national associations. At its heart, the UEFA is determined to promote "football in a spirit of unity, solidarity, peace, understanding and fair play, without any discrimination on the part of politics, race, religion, gender or any other reason," thus safeguarding the sport for the overall well-being of the game.

For its part, the UEFA licensing programs are too focused on fan engagement, with apparel, video games, collectibles, gifts and grooming products just some of the many product categories available at market. Best-in-class partners such as Topps, who has developed a range of collectibles such as a sticker album and game cards, Coty, which partnered for fragrance and bodycare, and Gillette, who is on board for shaving products, help to further bolster and promote the sport to the millions upon millions of fans tuning in to each match. Video games and the new ways in which younger generations are engaging with them, such as through esports, are an increasingly important category, as well.

"Our video game partner, EA Sports, is definitely a key partner," says Federico Bobbio, licensing manager, TEAM, the licensing agency behind UEFA. "Not only because the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League are at the heart of one of their most important franchise games, the 'FIFA' series, but also because EA has a strong engaged audience with an interest in football, especially the younger audiences which we must ensure we are relevant to. We worked closely together to create the first eChampions League esports event, which has been a huge success, with the final played in Madrid the day before the UEFA Champions League Final weekend and streamed live all over the world."

Although regional teams are the underpinning of the sports success and proliferation from market to market, the increasing globalization of fans is giving access to the sport, no matter a person's physical location, therefore adding fans by the dozen, so to speak.

"Football's popularity continues to grow on a global scale, proliferated in no small part by the increase in social media usage over the last decade," says John Allwood, retail and licensing executive, The Football Association, the governing body for football in England. "As geographical location becomes less of a key factor in choosing a team, supporters all over the world look to display their affinity for their club in ways beyond attending matches, and licensed product can certainly play a key role in that."

The FA too licenses in all major fan product categories, similar to other such organizations, but it is additionally focused on taking its brand into new territories and with new partners that are a bit outside the box. New partners such as Christys for luxury headwear and formal accessories and Dartington Crystal for replica Emirates FA Cup trophies exemplify that, as do the role digital licensees play as it moves into the future.

The FA is also increasingly invested in promoting the sport across genders, with the growth in popularity of women's football a major opportunity and directive of the organization.

"Compared to even five years ago, women's football's following has increased exponentially," says Allwood.

The French Football Federation is the governing body for football in France. Formed in 1919, the FFF is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the game–both professional and amateur–in the country.

"Through its licensing program and its products, the FFF wants to extend those values all over the world and share them with as many people as possible," says Yannick Yvin, licensing project manager, marketing department, the French Football Federation. "Furthermore, there is a huge fan interest for those official licensed products, as it is a way for fans to proudly share their passion."

For the FFF, licensed consumer product programs center on traditional categories for the sport, such as apparel, accessories, collectibles and gear, but increasingly, the organization is turning to more modern categories to develop products that will "impact different generations of fans that will help them to support the French national team," says Yvin.

Revenue from licensed merchandise is reinvested in French amateur football.

Read on to discover how each global region and the teams within–from the U.K. to France, Germany and Spain–have found that licensed merchandise is the key to unlocking fan engagement and a core source of continuous revenue that ultimately fuels the sport's ecosystem.

Read the full special report in the latest issue of License Global Magazine.

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