Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sports Quotes and T-Shirts

There was an article in the New York Times on Saturday that gave me a few interesting thoughts.  The article talked about fans of the Memphis Grizzlies who create team t-shirts and caps and other swag for sale outside the stadium that display quotes from the players or slogans from the team.

One of the first things that jumped out at me is the intellectual property issue.  With so many people rushing out to trademark every pithy phrase they might say (Taylor Swift doing this to the most extreme), it makes me wonder what the team and the players think about this and what they will do about it.  The reason Taylor Swift trademarked all of her song quotes is so that she has the sole right to sell things like t-shirts and caps with those phrases on them.  This is the “hard ass” strategy perfected by the music industry back in the days of Napster.

But there is also the Seth Godin model where you give everything away for free, establish yourself as a leader by the sheer volume of sharing (which only happens if the content is good), and make money on the back end.

The NYT article focuses more on the personal stories, but they seem to imply that the Grizzlies have a silent agreement to let the fans have their fun, even at the expense of their own licensed t-shirt and cap vendors and their own profit from sales of licensed products.  They are benefiting from the increase in fan engagement, so it may not be 100% altruistic.  But it is not the usual first reaction, so I respect them for that.

A second thought I had was the huge increase in volume of potential quotes to use because players are such active tweeters.  Every tweet is a potential t-shirt.  Just the right size, and easy to market by copying the player’s own hashtag.  One story from the article is Tony Alley making a great defensive play and shouting out “1st Team All Defense” and then of course following that up with a tweet.  The next game, there was a vendor who already was selling unlicensed t-shirts with #1stTeamAllDefense prominently displayed.  Tony Alley is also the source of “Grit, Grind” and “I don’t bluff” quotes that have made their way on to t-shirts.

So put these two together and we get to my third thought.  What does Tony Allen think of private vendors taking his words and making money on them?  He could easily hire a merchandising company to scan his quotes, trademark the good lines, and make their own swag.  He is leaving a lot of money on the table based on the sales volumes that are implied by the Times article.  Has he not thought about this?  Did he miss the business school course that Taylor Swift is drawing from?