Since the 2009-09 recession, the NFL’s licensing partners have experienced lower sales. And according to Sports Business Journal, NFL merchandise sales are down by as much as 20% or more. Now what could be the cause of lower sales? There’s no one reason, but some licensees feel it has to do with the national anthem protests.
One licensee did cite the oversaturation of games and lower TV ratings as a contributing factor. But perhaps it’s a combination of factors, and not just anthem protests and lower ratings. The NFL has taken hits from news about concussions, injuries to marquee players like Aaron Rodgers, the retirement of long-time merchandising stalwarts like Peyton Manning and Troy Polamalu, and non-traditional windows on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights.
Holiday sales will be a litmus test for the NFL, but some licensees are worried that the league isn’t doing more to help their partners during what is the most important time for retail.
“My NFL business has been struggling,” said Bill Skinner of Team ProMark, which added small “Ambassador Flags” in MLB, NFL and colleges to the plethora of licensed auto flags on the market. “As a veteran, I’m bothered by the national anthem protests, so I’ve watched much less NFL.” Still, he said, “I’d be crazy to blame it on one thing: Brick-and-mortar retail is a mess, and the third parties that used to sell our products online have been largely eliminated by the league. It makes you nervous; for most of the guys here, the NFL is their most important license.”
One licensee is wondering if viewers are just watching their favorite teams and not staying to watch the other games.
Whether it’s the ratings or other factors, licensees are worried about lower sales and making less money than in past years. The issue could be as simple as the NFL simply coming down from its peak, but if the slide doesn’t end, licensees will have some tough decisions in their future.