Walking the Tightrope: Innovation Vs Control

Dependable Solutions proudly hosted a panel at ISC’s Virtual Week, where the Business of Sport took a virtual turn. Top executives and innovators from the world of sport came together to learn from each other and discuss the industry’s strategic direction for 2021 and beyond.

Rhys Fleming, Dependable Solutions’ Sales Director, hosted an in-depth conversation with industry thought leaders and experts Julius Stobbs, founder of Stobbs, and Simon Gresswell, Managing Director of SGLP, to discuss the emerging issues of the world of sports as 2020 comes to an end. Watch the full session here.

It’s been a tough year for everyone and in the world of sports especially, with cancelled events and limits on crowd participation. The panel talked about how brand licensing programs can and are evolving in ever more innovative ways, what legal considerations brands and collaborators need to mindful of. Some key observations from the industry experts are:



2020 has been an unpredictably tough year for sports industry.  Canceled games resulted in less engagement with fans and less retail sales.

Unpredictability paved the path for adaptability and creativity in the sports industry. From broadcasters putting crowd and atmosphere into behind the closed doors events, to licensees finding creative ways to fulfill consumer product needs- the new normal escalated exciting opportunities of licensed products for brands, clubs and licensees. Some brands allowed licensees to sell 2020 products throughout 2021.

Lockdown leisure products – cookery books, coloring books – items that could be turned around quickly without a lot of lead time witnessed sharp sales. The Rugby Six Nations had also pivoted to having a new tournament when their original schedule was truncated due to the pandemic.


What was already a growing trend became a staple for sports brands and sports licensees. Sports e-commerce did extremely well because fans couldn’t go to a stadium or a store. The ecommerce channel became and continues to become even more important.

As much as the commercial aspect of it keeps getting bigger, it is also easier for third parties to counterfeit and infringe upon brands. If brands think they do not have a counterfeit problem, brands may need to dig deeper into the dark web.

The law is there, but the volume and anonymity of the web makes it difficult to deal with bad actors. As there is a plethora of places to sell online, it is important to police marketplaces, look after intellectual property rights, and protect the equity and value of a brand.


Special Considerations

When expanding into new product areas and new jurisdictions, some may want to exploit in other jurisdictions and other product areas, without due diligence and clearance first.

For example, Apple wanted to exploit their own iPad mark in China and ended up spending around $60 million to recover it from a third party despite it being very well known.

When looking to expand, language, cultural, and legislator issues may apply. Thinking about these special circumstances in advance and having legal expertise advice can help avoid problems in case of expansion.


Esports and Egaming

Esports is a juggernaut at the moment and will remain important. It is a great way for sports to pivot and engage their fans, as Formula 1 did. Drivers were able to compete virtually rather than in person. They added value by having not only the Formula 1 drivers race against each other but having other celebrities race against them as well. They got record numbers – more than 30 million views – and introduced their brand to a new, younger audience.

From a legal standpoint, the online world is easier to replicate than the physical world. So, it’s much easier for third parties to take advantage and capitalize on brand rights. Also, the community is different than live sports. Concept and tone are different virtually than live.

For Esports and Egaming, it’s crucial to have the rights, think about more enforcement than otherwise because of the increased range of activity, and balance that with the tone online so as not to undermine what is being done with brands.


To avoid counterfeit items, it is critical to differentiate a brand’s products as well as its marketplace. Traditional style guides and assets now work differently than they did in the past. Brands need to develop or uncover IP assets and content that has not been used.

Classic content and assets can be used to engage and retain fans, as FIFA did this past year. Retro consumer products never go out of fashion. After The Last Dance aired on Netflix, there was a raft of retro Bulls consumer products. Retro branded assets can be found, legally cleared, and monetized.



Collaborations can bring a new audience to brands. Lately collaborations are utilized to do ‘more good’ in the world, as athletes are combining with causes and important issues.

It is advisable to involve legal representation to ensure that all brands are protected in a collaboration. Brands may dilute trademarks if the collaboration is not done properly. Moving forward, between ecommerce and new initiatives like sustainability, collaboration is going to be key.


Walking the Tightrope: Innovation vs. Control

goes back to cooperation and collaboration. If there’s unpredictability around the future, how do you plan for product that’s relevant? Creativity and adaptability can be the answer. By staying creative and adaptable, the sport of businesses will continue to be successful in this year and beyond. Interested to learn more? Watch the full session here.


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