NBA’s Global Licensing Triumph and Retail Expansion: From Hoops to High Fashion

Its international licensing and retail business continues to expand not only in North America but around the entire world.

More than 300 licensees manufacture, sell and market NBA-branded products that are sold in more than 125,000 retail locations in 100 countries on six continents. It has offices in Hong Kong, Mumbai, London, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. More than half the traffic to comes from outside the U.S.

“Thirty percent of merchandise sales are generated from outside the U.S., with China being our No. 1 market outside of the U.S. and Europe being No. 2,” Piken Koper notes. “While sports licensing was slightly up overall last year, our licensing business was significantly up as we continue to see tremendous incremental growth globally.”

The NBA continues to enjoy a high level of engagement with the fashion-forward fan, Piken Koper says. Through licensees like adidas, Mitchell & Ness, Unk, Majestic Threads and Sportiqe, the league offers a broad range of apparel products for men, women and children. The designs were created to feature “sleeker cuts, comfortable material and body-conscious designs,” she says.

“As a sports league, the NBA always encourages fans to live a healthy, active lifestyle,” Piken Koper explains. “For that reason, we work with our licensees to provide consumers with fitness equipment, apparel and accessories that can be used while engaging in physical activity, whether it’s on a basketball court, at the gym or while working out at home.”

For example, a new licensee, Cirrus Fitness, provides a line of exercise equipment such as yoga mats and medicine balls that feature the logos of all 30 NBA teams, “allowing fans to show support wherever they are,” she says.

Stylish and Aware

A growing demographic that has caught the attention of the NBA’s licensing team is female fans. Once a small component of the overall fan base, the segment has risen to account for a large portion of its business. In fact, 40 percent of NBA apparel purchasers are women.

“Women are an integral component of our fan base and great consumers of NBA merchandise,” Piken Koper says. “The NBA works with its partners and licensees to develop programs and merchandise that cater to the female fan base. Our female fans are stylish and aware of fashion trends, but we understand that not all women are the same.

“As such, we continually try to diversify our women’s offering by adding compelling, progressive products to ensure that we offer something for everyone.”

NBA offers maternity, plus sizes, junior and kids sizes in a variety of styles and fabrics, as well as swimwear, home goods, and accessories including handbags and jewelry.

Through, the NBA has the mechanism not only to provide fans with the NBA-branded merchandise they want, but also to provide the league with an accurate snapshot of emerging consumer trends as they develop. For example, when point guard Jeremy Lin began an incredible run of success for the New York Knicks that would come to be known as “Linsanity,” the NBA was able to monitor the demand for jerseys, t-shirts and other merchandise bearing Lin’s name and likeness as it grew. The NBA’s licensing office has an entire group of employees devoted to watching for trends on, as well as another group that watches social media for trending players.

The offers a shop-by-team feature. It also has categories for children, jerseys, hats, mens and womens, footwear, accessories, hardwood classics, basketball essentials and ‘what’s hot.’ The store features occasional deals such as 15 percent off or free shipping. Top sellers are blankets and towels, iPhone cases and collectible plaques. Currently, seasonal NBA-themed holiday decorations, tree ornaments, stockings and ugly sweaters are featured.

The top selling NBA player jerseys are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry. The top selling snapback hats by franchise are the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs. The also parters with other websites through its affiliate program whereby other sites may sell NBA merchandise, as well.

Great Partners

The NBA works with a great variety of organizations through its licensing efforts.

“We look for licensees that can offer new, on-trend products that contribute to the broad range of merchandise that we already offer for men, women and youth, whether it’s a totally new category or an innovative twist on an already-existing product,” Piken Koper says. “By collaboratively paying attention to the various trends in the sports licensing market – specifically, trends that are consistent across the globe – we establish strong, successful and profitable partnerships. Our fans are always demanding something new and we work with our licensees and retail partners to provide them access to what they want.”

Licensees seek out the NBA because of the global popularity of the game, she adds. It is unscripted entertainment featuring the most recognizable athletes in the world. Plus, the game is accessible to all with a hoop and ball.

Its popularity is evident on social media. The NBA is the No. 1 professional sports league on social media, with more than 675 million likes and followers globally across all league, team, and player platforms. This allows for its young, dedicated, tech-savy fans to express their support.

The NBA continues to expand its retail presence through its retail partners and branded destinations. The league enjoys premier placement at more than 500 Champs locations nationwide and at approximately 1,100 Lids locations across the United States. It is also continuing a program in nationwide Kids Foot Locker locations with in-store “NBA Pro Zones” featuring video game stations to play NBA 2K15.

Internationally, MK Trend, a lifestyle fashion apparel licensee in Korea, had opened 67 NBA-branded shops as of July, with plans to open eight more by the end of the year. In addition, there are more than 45 NBA Shops in Taiwan. By the end of 2014, the NBA will have more than 30 NBA Shops in China and additional NBA Shops in Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

In addition to its domestic e-commerce site,, the NBA has four dedicated international e-commerce sites: (Brazil), (China), (Mexico), (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and (India), with more being developed, including a site for the Australian market. This provides access to fans around the world and helps to keep the NBA engaged with consumers in other countries.

China is the NBA’s second-largest market for merchandise, next to the United States. NBA-branded merchandise is sold at more than 30,000 locations throughout China. These include the NBA Home Store operated by Baofeng and focused on non-apparel items, and the NBA corner of Shanghai’s Top Sports II store. The NBA Store operated by Fengbo e-commerce on Tmall, China’s largest business-to-consumer online retail platform, represents the NBA’s e-commerce presence in China.

“We are continuing with our international growth, including country-specific e-commerce sites to fully engage with consumers,” Piken Koper says. “Every year we have an expanded roster of preseason global games. That is a very significant part of our growth on the basketball and on the merchandising side.”