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Novelty throws rally around sports

Bounding back from a long slump that began about three years ago, novelty throws in professional sports are staging a major rally, sparked in part by the strong performance of a handful of teams with a loyal base of followers.

"Three years ago the most popular teams out there just weren't winning, and that really hurt the business," said Stan Mieszkowski, vp, sales and marketing at The Northwest Company, a producer of jacquard woven acrylic throws and accessories.

Compounding the problem, said Mieszkowski, "it turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy as retailers walked away from the category. They scaled back instead of getting creative at point-of-sale or adding creative new product."

Peter McCabe, executive vp, Biederlack of America, a major force in sports licensing with its line of high-pile acrylic throws, said, "Sports licensing really hit the bottom in 2000. But we've seen our sports business, and the retailers, come back strong in 2001." And this month's Super Show, a sports licensing expo held in Las Vegas, has been particularly strong, he added. "We wrote more business in two days than we did in the whole show last year."

Why the long slump? "There was a real lack of interest in 1998 and 1999, " said McCabe. "Nobody liked the teams. And while it's really hard to quantify, everybody took a hit, whether they want to admit it or not, when Michael Jordan retired. He helped to sell other team's products."

But now, said McCabe, people are turning back to sports. "Sports are like comfort food, like macaroni and cheese. They may go out of fashion for a while, but they never go away. Football, baseball, hockey, it's like comfort food. It goes down real easy, and that's what people need today. The business is somewhat cyclical, and now the cycle is coming back. Right now, we're looking at our biggest-ever January, and sports is a big part of that."

A big lift is coming from a non-traditional sport, Mieszkowski added — Nascar racing. "What started out as a regional sport has gone national. It's a national thing now."

Like McCabe, Mieszkowski said that sports may move in cycles, "but they never go away. And they're a lot more predictable — unlike some hot novelties like Pokemon that come onto the scene, go crazy for a season, and then just disappear. Sports is a more sustainable thing. Individual teams may win or lose, and that can affect the business in the short term, but sports will always be with us."

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