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Unlocking the power of sports brand licensing: driving revenue and fan engagement worldwide

Author: Matthieu Battini, EMEA Sales Director, Brand Licensing Europe

What do Bing Dwen Dwen, The Phryges, Wenlock, Mandeville, and Vinicius have in common? They are all official Olympics mascots, of course. Over the years, these mascots have been brought to life as toys, hats, figurines, blankets, aprons, and much more. And it’s not just the Olympics that creates and sells fan merchandise. Think Tour de France socks and caps, UEFA Euro 2024 replica football shirts, England Cricket Christmas jumpers – yes, you read that right, Wimbledon towels and sweatbands, Mbappé water bottles, and F1 hoodies.

All of this has been made possible by brand licensing, which has been helping sports brands build awareness, create fans, sell products, and deliver additional revenue and profits for around 100 years.

According to the National Museum of Football in Manchester, scarves have been football’s longest-running badge of allegiance since the 1920s, with millions sold over the years. Replica shirts became available in 1959, and now buying the new season’s kit has become an annual ritual for millions of fans across Europe and beyond.

What is brand licensing?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term brand licensing, let me break it down. Brand licensing is when well-known brands – in sport, this could be Real Madrid or the Ryder Cup – partner with manufacturers and retailers to create and sell products that consumers will love and buy.

Brands shape who we are, what we do, and how we feel. From the clothes we wear and the food we eat, to the TV we watch and the games we play, leveraging a beloved brand is one of the most valuable ways for brands, manufacturers and retailers to connect with consumers and drive sustainable business growth.

Brand Licensing

What are the benefits of brand licensing?

Brand licensing can extend a brand into new categories, areas of a store, or even new retailers and territories entirely. It lets brands expand their fan base and enter new business categories without significant investment in new manufacturing processes. It allows retailers and manufacturers to stand out from the competition and offer consumers the hottest brands. Connecting a powerful brand to an in-demand product can boost sales and drive additional revenue for everyone involved.

Does brand licensing work?

In its 2022 Global Licensing Survey, industry trade association Licensing International valued global revenues from sports brand licensing at over $31 billion. Since Licensing International began collecting industry market data eight years ago, the sports licensing category has consistently grown. 2022 saw an 8% increase over 2019 and a 25.6% rise over 2015. The global licensing industry as a whole is worth over $350 billion, and sports brand licensing accounts for around 10% of that. So, yes, it does work.

Here are four key drivers why sports licensing has grown so rapidly in recent years:

  1. Reaching fans beyond the stadium: The pandemic underscored the need for clubs, tournaments, and associations to engage fans beyond live events. Licensed products have become crucial for maintaining revenue and building community and sports brands are keen to protect this.
  2. Revenue recognition: Football clubs and other sports entities increasingly recognise the revenue potential of investing in brand licensing. Major partnerships, such as UFC with IMG, PSG with Fanatics, and Real Madrid with Legends International, exemplify this trend.

Beyond football, associations, competitions and events like Formula E, Roland Garros, Milano Cortina 2026, Paris 2024 and Rugby World Cup have been actively looking for new partners and expressing a desire to showcase their brand and its potential for partnerships at our licensing events, Brand Licensing Europe in London and Licensing Expo in Vegas.

  1. Growing loyalty beyond core fans: Mainstream media and online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have expanded the reach of sports with well-produced, appealing content promoting athletes, sports, tournaments and clubs including Formula 1, Tour de France, Manchester City, 24h Le Mans, and more. They’ve drawn big audiences, which has undeniably created new fans from untapped audience demographics, including women and younger generations.

Local clubs and teams are playing in abroad more often (whether pre-season friendlies, or official tournament games) and this is also helping them attract new audiences from new territories.

  1. Increase in brand collaboration: Co-branding has become a significant trend, allowing brands to sell products at a higher premium. Examples include PSG & Air Jordan, Fred & Roland Garros, and Liverpool & Converse.
Brand Licensing

Where to find more information about brand licensing?

Attend Brand Licensing Europe (BLE), Europe’s leading event for licensing and brand extension. The event returns to London from 24-26 September, celebrating its 25th birthday. It’s the prime opportunity for sports brands to meet retailers and manufacturers and initiate those crucial initial conversations to kickstart the next wave of consumer products that sports fans worldwide will love.

BLE has a dedicated Sport Zone, which reflects the growing presence of sports brands at the event and the number of brands creating successful licensing programmes. Potential partners – whether manufacturers, retailers or even other brands – can find them easily. Manufacturers within sports often partner with multiple clubs, especially in football, so the Sports Zone is particularly helpful for them.

Over 200 companies will be exhibiting at BLE this autumn, including 24h Le Mans, Dorna Sports SL, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, FC Porto, Federacâo Portuguesa de Futebol, Federation Francaise Football, Real Madrid CF, Roadsign, Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Tour de France, UEFA Club Competitions, MotoGP, NFLPA, and Harlem Globetrotters.

Before attending the show, you can prepare by downloading our free brand licensing handbook and signing up for industry news at www.licenseglobal.com.

Register now for your free ticket to BLE.

Remember, BLE takes place from 24-26 September at ExCeL in London, and it’s free to attend. Simply register at https://utm.io/ugO2o to gain access to our Event Planner

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