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Women’s World Cup Teams Make a Play for Licensing image

Women’s World Cup Teams Make a Play for Licensing

As teams prepare for the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, they’re working to score big with licensing.

The strategy has been building gradually for the past few years as teams take on licensing agencies—OneTeam Partners represents the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), for example—and players launch businesses of their own.

The USWNT received $1 million in royalty payments in 2019 and expects to double that amount this year, said Becca Roux, Executive Director of the USWNT Players Association. This comes after the U.S. Soccer Federation, which settled an equity pay dispute with the women’s team last year, previously didn’t see the need for a deliberate effort to sign licensing deals for the team.

The USWNT’s royalty rates are “equal to, and in some cases, above [licensing] industry norms” and higher for this year’s World Cup than in 2019, said Ricky Medina, SVP and Head of Consumer Products Licensing at OneTeam. The team will also field co-branded products with the soccer federation this year.

And while team and player jerseys remain the top sellers, the month-long World Cup will feature a broader array of licensed products when it gets underway July 20 in Australia and New Zealand. For example, USWNT’s roster of licensees has grown to 38, including 16 new companies.

That’s a long way from the single licensee—Electronic Arts for the FIFA video game title—USWNT had six years ago. It also expands the licensing business into 3.75-inch action figures (Super7), limited-edition bobbleheads (Foco), mobile games (Matchday), and silver coins (Highland Mint). Nike also will produce name and number children’s t-shirts for the first time, while Legends operates USWNT’s eCommerce and in-venue stores for both USWNT and FIFA.

Meanwhile, the U.K. women’s national team (the Lionesses) has netted millions of pounds in brand sponsorships and Fanatics ran retail operations during the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) championships last year. Sales of merchandise has grown 150% since 2018, said Matthew Primack, SVP International Business Affairs and Development at Fanatics.

This growing array of licensees has gained a deeper commitment from retailers. In the U.S., Dick’s Sporting Goods will carry USNWT team jerseys chainwide starting this month, a major shift for a retailer that previously only had products in the 40 or so stores that offered an expanded assortment of soccer-related goods, said Nick Fisher, SVP of Apparel Licensing and Retail Development at OneTeam. Target will merchandise jerseys in its sports department and offer Panini and Parkside trading cards near checkout, while Icon E-Com will handle print-on-demand.

There are also player-owned eCommerce businesses, including Beat Everybody (Allie Long, Alex Morgan, and Kelley O’Hara) and Re-Inc (Tobin Heath, Meghan Kingenberg, Christen Press, and Megan Rapinoe).

“The U.S. team’s success in merchandise will be dictated by retailers’ desire to carry product,” a licensing executive said. “The hope is that, with a victory, product will last through the holidays and into 2024” when promotions for the Olympic Games in France will begin in earnest.

Sales and orders of USWNT goods have been slow thus far for some licensees, some of whom are taking a cautious approach. Foco, for example, will start with selling 123 limited-edition bobbleheads each for USWNT players Rose LaVelle, Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman, and Sophia Smith through its website rather than at retail, said Matthew Katz, Director of Licensing at Foco. Preorders will start later this month.

“Right now, we are expecting the majority of our sales to be through our website,” Katz said. “If there is success and retailers see demand [for USWNT goods], they will try it out and chase. But we don’t have much ability to chase at the moment.”

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