Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 08/01/05 at 10:34 PM ET
The NHL wants to join the party. With a collective-bargaining agreement finally in place, new rules designed to create a more entertaining product and the expectation of many marquee players shifting to new teams, the only league to miss an entire season due to labor strife is hopeful to rebuild its licensing business to pre-lockout levels in two to 2½ years. “The American fan is forgiving; we’ve seen that after every labor stoppage,” said Ed Doran, who heads the licensing business for VF Corp., the longtime rights holder for the NHL’s official championship locker-room T-shirt. “The good news was no licensee was hurt badly because we all knew this was coming. So we think we’ll be back up to 75 percent [of pre-lockout levels] sometime next year.” Even during a year without hockey, there were some encouraging signs. A pricing war in the video game category certainly helped, but nonetheless it is intriguing to note that during a season where it did not play a single game, NHL licensees sold more video games than ever. The NHL already has reached agreements in principle with all of its video game licensees — EA Sports, Take 2, Sony and Atari — to return. Hockey equipment sales also stayed strong until recently. Reebok successfully introduced its RBK and Vector hockey lines, following its acquisition of The Hockey Co. As for Nike, “we’re feeling pretty good, because we actually gained share [during the lockout],” said Nike Bauer Hockey President and CEO Chris Zimmerman. With the lockout just settled, the league licensees have missed the fall buying season but may be able to chase some business for the holiday season. The first big sales push will come for the fall 2006 season. During the lockout, the NHL took the opportunity to prune its licensee base by around 10 percent, update many licensing contracts and move its quality-control process entirely online.
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