Walmart teams up with Fanatics; Mattel unveils plans for new Barbie Collection; Kohl’s partners with Weight Watchers; Sears’ fate is not yet settled; GameStop is off the market, plus other top brand licensing and retail news.

Licensing, marketing and retail expert/opinion leader Tony Lisanti, provides insight and perspective for the top headlines of the week. “Licensing and Merchandising Report” is a must read for top execs who want objective, straightforward and authoritative analysis.

Super Bowl is Super Brand Showcase

Forget the game! With some 60 brands airing LIII ads plus dozens of other major global brands participating in various events, promotions and seminars, Super Bowl has become one of the most influential brand showcases in the world. While Papa John’s is no longer in the NFL house, many other brands and retailers are partnering with the league from mega names such as Lowe’s, Visa, and Pepsi, but also smaller fledgling brands that are part of the NFLPA One Team Collective.

Walmart Teams With Fanatics

The world’s largest retailer has upped its game significantly in licensed sports merchandise and ecommerce sales with a long-term partnership with Fanatics, the leading online sports retailer.

The new initiative, called Fan Shop by Fanatics, will offer hundreds of thousands of items from the professional sports leagues, including NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR and MLS, and top brands including Nike, New Era, Majestic and Fanatics.
Walmart will be far more competitive in the licensed sports categories and will be able to offer its customers the latest championship and event products, beginning with Super Bowl LIII.

This 10-year partnership gives Walmart a major competitive advantage against its rival Amazon and other major sports retailers as well as the opportunity to attract new customers and strengthen its appeal to existing shoppers and continue to expand its online presence and sales.

Mattel and National Geographic Sign Barbie Deal

Welcome to the new Barbie! Mattel and National Geographic have partnered to create a new Barbie product line and content centered around exploration, science, conservation and research.

According to Mattel, the collection features career dolls and playsets highlighting occupations in which women are underrepresented including wildlife conservationist, astrophysicist, polar marine biologist, wildlife photojournalist and entomologist. All dolls and playsets will come complete with relevant accessories authenticated by an advisory council comprised of female National Geographic Explorers, as well as National Geographic magazine editor in chief Susan Goldberg.

“Barbie allows girls to try on new roles through storytelling by showing them they can be anything and, through our partnership with National Geographic, girls can now imagine themselves as an Astrophysicist, Polar Marine Biologist and more,” said Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and general manager, Barbie. “Barbie and National Geographic represent a powerhouse combination and our joint creative efforts allow kids to explore the world and different career fields right in their own homes.”

“Helping people understand the world is, and always has been, the core purpose of National Geographic,” said Susan Goldberg, editor in chief of National Geographic magazine and editorial director of National Geographic Partners. “Through our partnership with Barbie, we are excited to reach kids in a new way, using the power of play to inspire our next generation of explorers, scientists and photographers.”

The new Barbie product line will be available nationwide beginning this in Fall.

NFLPA Spotlights New Vendors

The NFL Players Association and its OneTeam Collective held its the third annual pitch competition that provides new companies the opportunity to share their businesses’ strategies with sports and professional athletes.

Ten companies were given six minutes to pitch their new ideas to Athlete Advisory Board members including Kelvin Beachum, Jr., Marques Colston, Mark Herzlich, Dhani Jones, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Ryan Mundy, Ryan Nece andRussell Okung; OneTeam Collective Board of Directors; investors; and executives from sports, entertainment and technology.

A panel of judges included Malaika Underwood, VP, Licensing for Brandr Group and USA Baseball Women’s National Team star; Eric Winston, former NFL player and NFLPA president; Teri Smith, NFLPA Deputy Managing Director and Special Counsel; Matthew Berry, ESPN Senior Fantasy Analyst, and Founder, Fantasy Life app; and Rouz Jazayeri co-founder and managing director of Catapult Ventures. ESPN anchor Michele Steele was event moderator.

Here are the 10 companies with the winning pitch in white:

Founder: Dave Yoken

Mobile-first sports auction data aggregation, metasearch, and historical price guide app, which is developing a peer-to-peer marketplace focused on making the buying and selling of sports memorabilia the most safe and trusted experience possible.

Fresh Bellies
Founder: Saskia Sorrosa

The line of organic baby food is the first and only brand that doesn’t mask its vegetables with fruit and uses herbs and spices to develop flavors and open up a baby’s palate.

Co-Founders: Evan Rosenbaum, Akash Nigam, Matt Geiger

Avatars utilizing 3D motion picture quality and advanced Artificial intelligence to create digital clones to look and think just like you.

Co-Founders: Nicholas Kartos, Joe Shuchat

Online crowdfunding platform that allows professional athletes to create campaigns by offering fans a chance to join their GivingSquad through fantasy sports, gaming and online retail.

Co-Founders: Roderick Alemania, Johnathan Wendel

App that connects the esports and gaming community – making it easy to manage teams, stay connected and improve skills with team management tools.

Strive Tech
Co-Founders: Nikola Mrvaljevic, Carsten Winsnes

Performance monitoring system pairing washable, natural-fit, smart clothing with real-time analytics software, allowing coaches to correlate muscle, heart, and motion parameters, in order to fully quantify each player’s performance.

The Crown League
Co-Founders: Mathew Sposta, Dan Nissanoff, Derek Siskin

Professionalizing fantasy sports by creating the first investment gaming platform owned by the public and managed by experts, with a target launch in Fall 2019.

Co-Founders: Obi Omile, Kush Patel

Mobile marketplace and tech platform connecting barbers and their clients to modernize the men’s grooming experience.

Founder: Aly Orady

Intelligent fitness system providing fitness programs tailored for consumer’s goals and schedules by combining cutting-edge, all-in-one equipment and personalized video guidance.

Unruly Studios
Founder: Bryanne Leeming

Empowers children to learn STEM skills through active, social play and sports. The company’s first product, Unruly Splats, is a set of programmable floor buttons that kids can code to light up, make sound and sense stepping.

Kohl’s and Weight Watchers Support Wellness

Kohl’s will open its first WW Studio and add WW Healthy Kitchen brand products in select stores beginning June 2019. The strategic collaboration with WW, the new Weight Watchers will pilot a variety of health and wellness offerings to help customers and Kohl’s associates.

“We want to encourage families to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, and a strategic partnership with WW provides the opportunity to further advocate for the health and wellbeing of Kohl’s customers and our associates,” said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief executive officer. “As a destination for active and wellness for the entire family, we continue to seek out new ideas that support our customers’ health goals.”

“As we aim to become the world’s partner in wellness, we are continuously looking for ways to make wellness more accessible,” said Mindy Grossman, President and CEO, WW. “By collaborating with Kohl’s, we will give people new experiences and ways to engage with WW as we build our wellness ecosystem, while getting access to unique products and tools to help them on their journey. We know the Kohl’s customer is also our customer, so offering our Workshops through a WW Studio at Kohl’s is a new way for us to meet people where they are.”

Kohl’s and WW’s wellness offerings include:

  • Kohl’s will create a pilot community space inside a store in the Chicago market, to host WW Wellness Workshops for local WW members, as well as a specially curated WW space for Kohl’s customers and associates.
  • Kohl’s will introduce an assortment of WW Healthy Kitchen products including the new line of health-conscious kitchenware and cookware, as well as products and tools for food and meal preparation, storage and hydration.
  • In addition, Kohl’s will provide WW Freestyle Memberships for its associates.

Mattel and WB Plan Another Feature Film

Mattel and Warner Bros. Pictures Group will create the first ever live-action feature film for the iconic Hot Wheels franchise and a major component of the toy company’s brand portfolio.

The Hot Wheels movie is the second partnership for Mattel Films and Warner Bros. Pictures, which recently announced the Barbie feature-film starring and co-produced by Academy Award nominated actress Margot Robbie.

Mattel is finally accelerating its long-anticipated expansion of its core brands to the big screen and transitioning into an entertainment company in a similar away its rival Hasbro has done successfully over the past decade.

Ynon Kreiz, Mattel’s chairman and CEO said: “We are excited to bring the thrill of a Hot Wheels live-action feature film to the big screen in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures. Mattel Films has great momentum as it continues to execute on our commitment to bring global audiences new ways to experience the brands they love as we transform Mattel into an IP-driven, high-performing toy company.”

According to Mattel and NPD, Hot Wheels, which debuted in 1968, has sold more than six billion individual cars during its 50-year history, more than 500 million Hot Wheels being sold annually, and was the number one selling toy in the world in 2018 based on units.

NFL and VISA Look to Cashless Future 

Visa, a partner of the National Football League since 1995, announced a renewed agreement to be “Official Payment Services Technology” partner through the 2025 season. The new multi-year sponsorship deal includes new benefits for Visa cardholders at NFL events and plans to collaborate on the first cashless Super Bowl in the future.

“Over the years, we have evolved our relationship with the NFL from a sponsorship to a partnership that provides invaluable payment experiences for fans,” said Lynne Biggar, chief marketing and communications officer, Visa. “Looking ahead, we see a cashless future for NFL fans where events, including future Super Bowls, are digital creating a more secure and seamless payment environment for fans and concessionaires alike.”

Highlights of the renewed partnership include:

  • Preferred payment provider across NFL events domestically, including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, NFL Draft, and international games
  • Preferred payment method for ticket sales, concessions and merchandise at NFL Shops at all major global league events
  • Added benefits specifically for Visa cardholders
  • Plans to work together to enable a cashless future for NFL events, including Super Bowl

“Visa has been a trusted partner of the NFL since 1995 and we are excited to continue our work with them, especially in the area of implementing cashless capabilities at NFL events which will provide our fans faster, safer and more convenient digital payment options,” said Renie Anderson, senior vice president, partnerships, sponsorship & consumer products for the NFL.

With over a quarter of Americans already cashless1, Visa and the NFL will continue to work together to bring that same experience to future Super Bowls. A Super Bowl that accepts only cards and digital payments will enable attendees to pay their way — using a card, mobile or wearable device – and will get them quickly back to their seat and back to the action. To kick off the efforts, Super Bowl LIII will offer more than 30 cashless concessionaires throughout the stadium.

Amazon Sales Hit $232B in 2018

For the Q4 2018, Amazon’s net sales increased 20% to $72.4 billion compared with $60.5 billion in 2017. Operating income increased to $3.8 billion compared with operating income of $2.1 billion in fourth quarter 2017. Net income increased to $3.0 compared with net income of $1.9 billion last year.

For 2018, net sales increased 31% to $232.9 billion, compared with $177.9 billion in 2017. Operating income increased to $12.4 billion, compared with $4.1 billion in 2017. Net income increased to $10.1 billion compared with net income of $3.0 billion in 2017.

“Alexa was very busy during her holiday season. Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to last year,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017. We’re energized by and grateful for the response, and you can count on us to keep working hard to bring even more invention to customers.”

More Deals Worth Noting

GameStop announced that its Board of Directors has “concluded its previously announced efforts to pursue a sale of the company in conjunction with its broader review of strategic and financial alternatives.” This doesn’t mean that the game and collectables retailer is any better shape than it was last June, so execs and analysts will be watching closely as the year progresses and the company releases its next earnings report.

The rebirth of TRU, aka Tru Kids, has begun and should create a lot of interesting discussions and possible headlines as New York Toy Fair kicks off later this month. Richard Barry, TRU’s former chief merchandising exec is heading up the new company’s executive team. Stay tuned for what should be many more toy headlines.

kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) has partnered with TK Classics for a line of outdoor furniture and accessories. The new line made its debut at the Las Vegas Furniture market this week. The new Kathy Ireland designs will be offered in the River Brook (Wicker style) and Madison Ave. (Aluminum style) Collections, which will also include correlating protective covers and accessories.

Superstar Thalía Sodi, part of the Authentic Brands Group portfolio, is launching a hair product line called Adria by Thalía. Featuring The Foundation shampoo, The Nourisher conditioner, The Stylist styling foam, The Big Deal volumizing spray, The Refresher dry shampoo, The Perfectionist hair spray and the All in Wonderful all-in-one spray, all of which are priced below $10. Adria by Thalía launched Jan. 24 at Walmart.

Forever 21 has announced an exclusive collab with Honda for vintage-inspired racing gear. Honda’s brand management agency, Earthbound, coordinated the deal that features iconic Honda designs from the early 1980’s and action sportswear of the 1990’s. “We are so excited to announce our partnership with Honda racing for this 80s & 90s inspired collection.  We are always looking for new & unexpected partnerships—this collaboration with Honda racing is especially relevant now with the popularity of racing & motorsport designs,” says Linda Chang, VP of marketing for Forever 21. “We hope that fans of both Honda racing and our customers will celebrate with us through this collection.”