NHL, UNIVERSAL TAILOR THEIR OWN APPAREL LINES

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Two prominent entertainment-world licensers are gearing up to produce their own lines of branded apparel. For Universal Studios, the action follows a trail blazed by rivals Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. For the other, however, it's a departure in a field that typically licenses branded apparel to marketers such as Nike and Starter Corp.

BRAND FOR ALL SPORTS

The National Hockey League created a joint venture with Texfi Industries to produce a line of sports apparel bearing NHL marks with all the clothing inspired by hockey.

The goal is to create a brand relevant to all sports, said Michael Moore, exec VP-chief operating officer of the venture, who came aboard last fall from VP-marketing at No Fear.

The line breaks down into three areas: performance, sport and casual. Performance, especially, will be co-branded with NHL marks, and that has some industry observers wondering if the product will ultimately compete with the NHL's own licensees.

"It's being watched closely by licensees," said Marty Brochstein, executive editor, The Licensing Letter. "Licensees are always concerned about leagues getting into competition with them."

NHL Enterprises President Rick Dudley said he doesn't "believe [the venture] competes with our core business--the team-identified merchandise. The new brand is designed to be a complement to our licensed products."

LOOKING FOR RETAILER PARTNER

Mr. Moore said he's targeting a sports retailer to serve as an exclusive partner for the planned fall rollout. The venture wants to assemble a roster of hockey endorsers who will receive an equity stake for their services.

And he said an ad agency search will commence within the next three months.

"I think it could be the wave of the future," said Michael Jacobsen, editor in chief at SportStyle. "It's a natural extension of what all leagues are doing: taking greater control of marketing and building their brands."

The joint venture has hired a number of former marketing executives from No Fear, the once-hot but now troubled "attitude" apparel brand, whose hipness and energy the NHL brand will emulate.

SEEKING CONSISTENT BRAND

For its new venture, Universal has dropped MCA from its corporate name in order to hone a single, consistent brand image. Its new apparel will be the first consumer products attempting to leverage that positioning.

"There's tremendous equity in the brand name," said Jim Klein, president of Universal Studios Consumer Products Group.

Produced through in-house resources, the line will be sold exclusively through Universal retail outlets now on the drawing board. The first will be launched this fall.

The apparel will break down into three areas: classic fashion, which seeks to capture "the fantasy of Hollywood"; trendwear, which capitalizes on contemporary fashions; and kidswear, leveraging various Universal properties.

"Before we license the name, we want to do it ourselves and focus on building the brand and creating quality product. The product has to be king or this won't

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