With a strong resource pool and an experienced team, the licensing division at this global sports, entertainment, and media agency remains strong despite a down economy. What does it take to become an industry leader? Access to a large resource pool and a strong international network sure doesn’t hurt, but it’s certainly not enough to guarantee long-term success. Capital-intensive IT investments can create significant efficiencies, but even the flashiest technology will fall flat if not properly used. And industry connections may get you the door, but your performance will dictate business relations from that point forward.

IMG Licensing is part of IMG Worldwide, one of the largest sports, entertainment, and media agencies in the world. As a company, IMG manages more than $7 billion a year in retail sales of consumer products and has a presence in every major market in the world, with 75 offices in 35 countries. 

IMG Worldwide represents some of the world’s most powerful brands for licensing, including MLB, PGA Tour, Ferrari, X Games, Wimbledon, EA Sports, GNC, Arnold Palmer, and Chevron. The corporation’s licensing group has access to these resources, but what really sets the freestanding division apart from competitors is a results-driven strategy combined with long-standing relationships with all tiers of retail.

“Licensing requires tremendous manpower, especially when you’re operating at the global level. Boots on the ground is one of our core strengths,” said Tim Rothwell, executive vice president and co-managing director of worldwide licensing. “But quantity isn’t all that matters. Staff needs to be knowledgeable and innovative because each branding project has its own set of challenges and objectives.”  

This approach has led to the development of what Rothwell refers to as cooperative global marketing effort in conjunction with Rothwell’s longtime business associate Bruno Maglioni, executive vice president and co-managing director of worldwide licensing based in the UK. Working with Maglione, IMG evaluates each opportunity from a global perspective to understand the various regional opportunities that any brand or personality may present.

Michael Gottsegen, vice president of licensing and retail development, stressed the importance of understanding the DNA of each brand and how that brand may be extended into new licensed categories and implementation at retail. “We identify which attributes create excitement and translate those into something that will garner emotional connections with consumers as they shop at various retailers,” he said. “Whether it is a celebrity or a corporate brand, the collaborative approach helps us not just develop and sell SKUs, but develop fun and exciting programs at retail.” 

A steady base

The development cycle of most licensed products takes approximately 18 months, which means that, generally speaking, clients can expect their products to hit the floor a year and a half after they sign with IMG Licensing. Before products can enter the manufacturing stage, the licensing team must create a solid strategy, secure business relationships, and work through all the details involved with the R&D process. 

Given the relatively long duration between Point A and Point B, Rothwell, Gottsegen, and their team typically sign contracts in the five-year range with their clients, shying away from anything much shorter. It may seem like a fairly long-term commitment, but in the long haul, it’s best for both parties.

“We prefer to secure contracts that are of a fair length of time because we invest tremendous amounts of man power, capital, and resources into developing these franchises,” Rothwell explained. 

Still, the licensing agency’s team is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to expand its client portfolio. In an attempt to maximize growth potential, it balances a steady stream of incoming inquiries with an outward-reaching approach.

Gottsegen explained that although the licensing division may not work with all of IMG Worldwide’s clients, certain synergies often occur. “Chevron sponsored a golf tournament, for example, and as a result of their relationship with one of our other IMG divisions, we were invited to pitch them on becoming a licensing client as well. Today, we’re working with the entire Chevron family of brands,” he said. “These synergies within the corporation really allow us to foster growth.”

Well-positioned for the future 

The last 12 months have proven challenging for nearly all organizations in the retail industry, and the unexpected yet rapid dissolution of certain giants has shown that no business is immune to the effects of the current economy. Fortunately, operations at IMG Worldwide remain strong. 

Rothwell and Gottsegen said that although declining retail sales did impact business last year, the innovative nature of the organization’s team allowed it to adapt to the new environment. “We’re a royalty-driven business, so of course we’re effected by low retail sales,” Rothwell said. 

By providing global management with local execution, the licensing team has experienced success in opening and managing self-standing retail stores for some of their brands. From Arnold Palmer stores in Japan and other locations to MLB franchise stores in Korea, these branded outlets provide enhanced visibility and significant revenue for their clients.

“When the economy started to shift, we knew we had to find growth elsewhere if we wanted to manage the situation as best we could,” Rothwell said. “Our approach is customized for every individual client, but the only way to offset diminishing sales is to find new licensing opportunities for each of them. We can grow the brand organically by bringing new partnerships into the mix, for example.”

Other areas where IMG Licensing sees growth is going directly to the consumer, whether through e-commerce technologies with various social media outlets or the traditional way through on-site event merchandise. But the organization’s goal remains the same. “At the end of the day, we’re striving to create retail environments that showcase each brand’s key attributes. This is true in all economic climates and at all levels of retail,” Gottsegen concluded.

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