LICENSING: Licensees warm up for World Cup 2002 - How will brands ensure their World Cup merchandise stands out, asks Cordelia Brabbs

If you thought last year had been hijacked by licensed merchandise,

with Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins peering down from every shop shelf,

brace yourself.



On May 31, the 17th FIFA World Cup kicks off in Japan and Korea, and

chances are that consumers won't be able to move on the high street

without running into a FIFA logo.



While matches might be scheduled for broadcast at awkward times in the

UK, the merchandise will ensure fans retain some sense of

involvement.



Didn't catch England playing Argentina? Why not console yourself with a

FIFA bubble bath, then dry off with a World Cup towel?



A bit parched and peckish from the tension of watching England take on

Sweden? Well, you can feast on World Cup pretzels, yoghurt or breakfast

cereal, washed down with water from a World Cup sports bottle.



Spend your nights dreaming it's you scoring for England? That's probably

because you're snuggled up in your World Cup pyjamas under your World

Cup duvet.



'Less is more'



Despite a lengthy list of merchandise, FIFA claims it has gone for a

'less is more' approach in a bid to prevent overkill.



In 1998, there were 300 World Cup licensees, compared with this year's

250. But while about £833m was generated by licensed products four

years ago, FIFA estimates merchandise will make £902m this

year.



As Chris Protheroe, director of sport at Copyright Promotions Licensing

Group, the exclusive worldwide licensing agency for the event, explains:

"By appointing a smaller number of licensees that have greater global

distribution and product category rights, we create less competition

among licensees and ensure a high standard of product."



The licensees that made it through FIFA's rigorous selection process are

counting the benefits of being involved with the World Cup - the

principal one being the 60 million people who will watch a total of 128

hours of football in the UK alone.



"It's one of the biggest global events," says Ben Walsh, sales director

of Poplar Linens, which is bringing out a range of towels, bed linen and

flags. "Our estimated sales run into the millions - the products will be

appearing pretty much everywhere."



Howard Plastics will use the event to ensure a high-profile launch for

its branded sports-style water bottle, while Sportsetail, the official

direct mail licensee, will launch a range of apparel, including

T-shirts, baseball caps, polo shirts and pyjamas.



"Apparel and kidswear will be the big sellers," says marketing director

David Smith. "As football plays such a large part in people's lives, I

don't think they will be turned off by the amount of merchandise

available."



Other companies, while not official FIFA licensees, intend to align

their brand with football, and thus the World Cup. The Licensing Company

is bringing out a range of Purple Ronnie football-oriented products from

February, including a book called Purple Ronnie's Guide to Football, a

football-shaped tissue box and gift packs containing boxer shorts and a

whistle or football.



"They're not official FIFA goods but we felt some customers will want a

light-hearted approach to football," says licensing manager Jeremy

Saul.



"We're trying to capitalise on the good feeling the event will

generate."



Planning ahead



But there are some warnings for companies getting involved with the

World Cup, not the least of which is that many brands will be lost among

the merchandise clutter.



"A lot of brands will attach themselves to the World Cup without working

out what to do with the attachment," says Stuart Leach, head of

strategic planning at Interfocus. "They should ask what their objectives

are, and how they can stand out."



For licensees, there is also the issue of maximising the merchandise

opportunities within a short timeframe. "After June, no one will be

buying World Cup goods, so we have to control quantities extremely

carefully," admits Howard Plastics managing director David Howard.



Licensees must also ensure their products are launched well ahead of

kick-off. "Brands need to capitalise on the hype that builds up two to

three months before the event," says Jamie Edgar, business development

director of the Marketing Store's consumer products division.



"If England is knocked out in the first round, there'll be less

excitement surrounding the event and corresponding products."



But for those licensees that get it right, the rewards will be high.



And as Leach points out: "If you're in licensing and can't flog the

World Cup, you might as well go home."



MARKS & SPENCER'S WORLD CUP CAMPAIGN



This year will see Marks & Spencer take control of a licence for the

first time, after signing a deal with Copyright Promotions Licensing

Group to become a major clothing and apparel licensee for the 2002 World

Cup.



In previous years, suppliers produced licensed goods for the high-street

chain for sports, brand or entertainment properties.



"It won't make a huge difference to turning sales around," says

Sojourner Jones, PR manager for M&S. "But it will help us control what

is produced, how it is produced and how quickly it is produced. Now

there will be total cohesion, with products coming from one base instead

of three."



M&S will produce a wide range of goods, but one of its top sellers is

likely to be childrenswear. "The benefits of being involved with the

World Cup are broad. Customers are drawn into the stores because

children like football, and they will know they can come and buy the

products here," Jones says.



In addition to kids' clothes and nightwear, the stores will stock adult

outer-garments and sports-related accessories, including shorts,

swimming shorts, goalie tops and baseball caps. "We wouldn't enter any

venture without being sure it would sell well," says Jones. The goods

should be in M&S stores in time for Easter half-term.



WORLD CUP DEALS

PRODUCT LICENSEE DEAL DATE DISTRIBUTION

Clothing/accessories Marks & Spencer 13/12/01 UK

Socks Samuel Eden &Son 22/11/01 UK, ROI,

Channel Islands

Kids' nightwear Aykroyd's & Sons 22/11/01 UK

Drinks bottles Howard Plastics 6/11/01 UK

Temporary tattoos/

jewellery Funky Fish 16/10/01 Pan-European

Towels/bed linen/

face cloths Poplar Linens 20/9/01 Pan European

Clothing/headwear/

underwear Sportsetail 20/9/01 Pan-European

Lighters Swedish Match

Lighters 06/09/01 Pan-European

Footballs/football

accessories Rotoball SA 20/2/01 Worldwide (excl

Japan &

Asia-Pacific)