The Beckett Blog

Exclusive Interview: The Collegiate Licensing Company’s David Kirkpatrick by Tracy Hackler

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In a year marked by seemingly one exclusive agreement after another (see Panini and the NBA, Topps and Major League Baseball), it was perhaps the Collegiate Licensing Company’s announcement last month that it had struck a multiyear pact with Upper Deck that created the biggest stir.

After all, while the other deals were absolutely major in scope, they affected fewer companies – the NBA impacted Panini, Topps and Upper Deck, the MLB deal affected Topps and UD.

The CLC bombshell potentially influences every company that includes collegiate photography in their sets, such as Panini, Press Pass, SAGE, Topps and Upper Deck.

Speaking of exclusives, in this exclusive interview, David Kirkpatrick, the CLC’s Vice President of Non-Apparel Marketing, addresses the Upper Deck partnership, the growth opportunities that exist and what it might mean for other trading card manufacturers.     

Beckett: What do you guys feel are the main benefits of going to an exclusive arrangement?
David Kirkpatrick:
Upper Deck is making a broad commitment to the college market. From a licensing perspective the trading card sets are going to entail a lot more sports, a deeper emphasis on baseball, getting into collegiate traditions, mascots, stadiums, doing neat things with the NCAA and the BCS. Upper Deck has a lot of unique, new directions planned for trading cards.

Beyond the neat expansion that they’ll do there, they’re looking to get more involved in the college market from a marketing perspective. Details to be determined there, but we’re excited to see what they may do at the university level, the NCAA level, the BCS level. I think they really want to put their stamp on the college market and that’s something that’s very exciting to us.

I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that they can use a guy like Tiger Woods at Stanford or Michael Jordan at UNC, right?
Yeah, that was definitely a help. The exclusive relationships they have with some of the top athletes certainly speak to the power of that company.

Can you characterize what the reaction was from some of the other manufacturers?
We notified all of them in advance of the release and to this point, our conversations have been positive.

What does it mean to the other manufacturers exactly? Is it just a case of them airbrushing logos out and not using nicknames but still showing players in generic uniforms or have you gotten that far with it yet?
Their contracts run through March of 2010 and then at that point Upper Deck will have exclusive rights to the universities’ trademarks.

The move toward exclusive agreements in the trading card category has really picked up steam over the last three years with NHL going exclusive with Upper Deck, the NBA announcing their exclusive with Panini and MLB Properties announcing with Topps. In general, what are the primary benefits of an exclusive relationship in your opinion?
One thing to clarify: This was not done in response to what the leagues were doing. This was in discussions far before the Panini or the Topps announcement. We have been looking to grow the category on behalf of our schools. That’s what we’re trying to do in every single category.

If a company is prepared to make significant commitments from a licensing and marketing perspective and they are seeking exclusivity, that’s something we’re going to consider in any category. We do not take exclusives lightly; we do very few of them. To get the schools on board with a long-term commitment requires a significant commitment – and that’s what Upper Deck has done.

Say that Manufacturer X makes a product that has no nicknames and includes airbrushed logos and generic uniforms. Is that something you guys will govern or go after or is that within their rights to do that?
Commercial use of team uniform styles and team colors is an issue. Universities take trademark protection seriously, and we will take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect their rights.

Talk about the growth that the CLC has experienced, really over the last three or four years.
We’ve been fortunate. The college market is a growing space. The company has grown each year. The company was started in 1981 and in the early 1990s there was a new focus on becoming more of a marketing entity. And, just like all the other licensors, in the mid 2000s there was a new focus on product category management and the schools have really benefited from being more strategic with their licensing program.

On May 31, 2007, IMG bought CLC and it’s been a fantastic alliance. It’s opened up a lot of new doors for us. The whole IMG College business unit, which was started in May of 2007, has been very successful and it’s just been a terrific partnership.

 You guys obviously have a lot of sellable products under the umbrella, but where do trading cards fit in there with apparel, hats and everything else? How important are trading cards to what you’re trying to accomplish?
Right now it’s very small. Particularly as compared to the professional leagues or as compared to where we think it can go. Right now, we house it under the collectibles category and it is a pretty small portion of overall royalties. Just like any other category, we’re looking to be strategic and to really grow this category.

— Tracy Hackler

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