How NBA and NHL Teams Use Playoff Runs to Drive Long-Term Retail Success
When the clock ticks down on a championship-clinching game, stadium retail teams gear up for their moment in the spotlight, making sure fans can easily grab a souvenir T-shirt or hat on their way out of the building after a big win. Savvy fans have probably noticed that it’s become easier over the years to track down championship collectibles sooner after the final buzzer. That’s because sports franchises and their retail partners, like Rank + Rally, now spend considerably more time and resources planning out every detail of playoff operations to take advantage of opportunities few other retailers see.
Long playoff runs can provide crucial incremental opportunities, added brand exposure from media and celebrities, and high-visibility moments that drive hot market sales — and ultimately a quick windfall to the business. Longer term, however, playoffs provide teams a platform to truly differentiate their brand. With a brighter spotlight during playoffs comes more competition, and if you aren’t looking for unique ways to add value for fans who want to celebrate their team, you risk losing out to the competition.
Levy and Rank + Rally, our retail arm, are fortunate to partner on retail strategy with 12 NBA and NHL teams, and we’ve seen how creative retail programming during playoff runs can bring fans closer to their favorite team.
St. Louis Blues Make Disco Cool Again
NHL teams can be quirky. Many pro sports teams celebrate wins with a special song in the locker room, but few find such far-flung tracks and stick to them with as much consistency as hockey teams. For the Blues, key wins on the way to a Stanley Cup championship meant more air time for the disco hit “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. When the team continued to win, fans, local radio stations, and even celebrities on social media began rallying around the song. Not long after, the STL Authentics Team Store at Enterprise Center rolled out a “Gloria”-themed product line, and the response has been incredible.
It’s the perfect example of a successful hot-market item, but one those further from the team and the Blues brand may not have rolled out as quickly. When moments like this pop up, it’s important teams and their retailers act fast. It can be a true differentiator from brick-and-mortar and online competitors.
Portland Trail Blazers Keep Retail Weird
Sitting in an arena gives brick-and-mortar team shops a unique advantage over outside and online retailers: the ability to innovate product lines quickly and customize to what’s going on in the locker room and on the court. Rip City Clothing Co. outlets at Moda Center used this advantage in a few ways. Looking at old inventory — dated jersey designs and jerseys of players no longer with the team — the retail team worked with companies like Looptworks to “upcycle” these materials into new, trendy products like backpacks and pillows. Slogan shirts designed around catchphrases inspired by the team like “Dame from the Logo” also proved extremely popular. In a marketplace flooded with cool graphic designs, Rip City differentiated itself by hitting closer to local fans’ passion points.
Special occasions like the playoffs are important to both the short-term and long-term success of brick-and-mortar retailers. Short term, they provide absolutely essential incremental opportunities that drive business. Long term, they provide an opportunity to establish a foothold by keying on differentiators like quick product innovation, the ability to capitalize on hot market trends, and more customized product lines based on customer preferences. Smart retailers will plan ahead and take advantage.
Tom Funk is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Levy, and oversees the company’s retail arm, Rank + Rally, which handles every aspect of retail operations for major sports, entertainment, and cultural venues and organizations.