Legal / Merchandise


Ambushing licensed goods

Author Shelley Alingas, University of San Francisco

Posted: April 26, 2016

Tagged: Brand equity

Brand equity is important for any sport brand because it provides “protection against the drastic swings in revenue that can occur when the performance of the sport brand invariably falters” (Gladden, 2014, p. 18). Strong and positive brand equity results in brand loyalty. Brand loyalty leads to more benefits to the consumer and increased sport consumption—a bottom line for sport brands. It’s no wonder why sport brands want to protect their brand equity at all costs.

Chris Haplin, NFL senior vice president of licensing and consumer products, is battling the selling of unauthorized licensed goods online (Lefton, 2016). While the proliferation of the Internet continues to be a positive driver for licensed goods, the technology has also enabled the exploitation of those goods into counterfeit products. The major U.S. leagues, including the NFL, authorize their products with proof of authentication that enforces positive brand attitudes, like uniqueness and trustworthiness (Gladden, 2014, p. 10). Counterfeit goods threaten those brand attitudes and can shift them to more weak or worthless adjectives. This “ambush,” as Haplin aptly coins it, interferes with the brand equity the NFL and other leagues have accrued over time (Lefton, 2016, para. 2), not to mention it’s an unapproved use of their brand elements (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 104). At this point, many brands with weaker equity would evaluate the severity, extent or degree, and cost to determine a course of action (i.e. rebrand) (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 105). But in the case of the NFL—which has strong brand equity—rebranding is the least of their concerns.

With the prevalence of social media, ambushing not only floods into a consumer’s online shopping experience, but also into their “Facebook feed” and social experience (Lefton, 2016, para. 3). This is especially problematic because consumers now have a wider reach to share their decline in attitude toward a brand, which in turn affects brand loyalty. New Era’s Vice President of U.S. Sales Bill Adams “said the counterfeiting problem is costing his company millions” (Lefton, 2016, para. 6). New Era is currently working with China to interrupt the market of New Era footwear—a product New Era doesn’t even sell (Lefton, 2016, para. 7) and doesn’t belong in their “brand attribute” of being the historic and traditional provider of the fitted cap (Gladden, 2014, p. 8).

An important conclusion Gladden (2014) makes in his chapter, and something sport marketers should take note not to forget, is that “sport brands are created in the minds of consumers” (p. 19). Therefore, brands should not stay static. Super Bowl 50’s refreshed logo, with the “Arabic 50” compared to the “generic Roman numeral and Vince Lombardi trophy” logo the league has used since 2010, made it “far more adaptable” (Lefton, 2016, para. 8). The logo update is an example of a perceptual design principle called “Ockham’s razor” which favors simplicity over more complex design possibilities (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 96). The Ockham’s razor choice, in this case, trumped the conceptual design principle of “meaning and symbolism” that has carried through the logo since 1968 (Creamer, 2016). Perhaps the continuity of that meaning and symbolism is why the league has chosen to go back to the Roman numeral design for Super Bowl LI.

New production development (NPD) processes are another way sport brands can evolve. The intent of the NPD process is to provide “value to users, fans, and customers” (even expand customers) (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 98). Moving “beyond the jersey,” NFL Senior Vice President of Consumer Products Leo Kane says they want to “play more in high-end fashion for men and women” (Lefton, 2016, para. 22). In the market research step of NPD, the NFL found that there’s high demand for high-end goods (Lefton, 2016, para. 24). Their partnership with Dooney & Bourke to produce women’s bags and accessories would be a sure-footed step in marketing to an audience that makes up almost half of their fan base (Lefton, 2016, para. 23).



Creamer, C. (2016, January 8). Fifty Years of Super Bowl Logos. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Gladden, J. (2014). Brand Equity: Management and Measurement in Sport. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds). Leveraging Brands in Sport Business (pp. 3-20). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lefton, T. (2016, March 21). NFL taking the fight to unauthorized licensed goods online. SportsBusiness Journal, 18(47), 10. Retrieved from

Malkewitz, K., & Bee, C. (2014). Undertaking Successful Brand Design in Sport. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds). Leveraging Brands in Sport Business (pp. 90-108). New York, NY: Routledge.

About Shelley Alingas, University of San Francisco

Shelley currently operates on the digital marketing team for Cal Athletics and is a graduate student in Sport Management at the University of San Francisco. Graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies and pursuing an environmental advocacy career therein after, her pivot into the sport industry is a long-awaited passion that started in childhood with her love of baseball. Using her background in fan engagement, multimedia, and storytelling, Shelley plans to further her skill set and experience in the digital and sport media space. You can connect with her on Twitter (@shelley_mae) or LinkedIn ( This article is an edited version of a paper Shelley prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by Mark Morgan, "NFL", Accessed via Creative Commons license.