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June 22, 2017

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Raiders of the lost marque: Branding challenges in transition from Oakland to Las Vegas

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Sun Staff

Unlicensed Las Vegas Raiders hats are on sale for $30 at Suite 160 at the Shoppes at Mandalay Place.

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The angled silver script “Raiders” stitched across a solid black background calls back to the classic New Era caps that defined teenage cool 25 years ago.

Today, eight shiny new block letters spelling out “Las Vegas” update that iconic design on a hat perched on a shelf at Suite 160 in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place on the Strip.

Local fans eager to add Raiders apparel branded with the future home of the franchise might want to add the hat to their collection. They should know, though, that it’s a knockoff, as is any other merchandise marked “Las Vegas Raiders.”

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said at last week’s annual meeting that the team will be identified as the Oakland Raiders as long as it plays in the East Bay. The team’s new $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas will not be ready for the Raiders until the 2020 season at the earliest.

Until closer to that time, it appears no authorized Las Vegas Raiders merchandise will be produced as the NFL and the Raiders protect their tenuous standing in Oakland with fans and local officials.

“The league finds itself in a bit of a delicate situation as it does not want to further inflame the situation with those in Oakland,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “Fortunately, they have time to get it done strategically and tactically due to the time horizon.”

Requests for comment from the Raiders and the NFL went unreturned. The Raiders official team store does not list any Las Vegas-branded items for sale, but counterfeit merchandise can be found in many online locations.

“By waiting, the NFL will no doubt find itself fighting against knockoff merchandise, which could harm the sale of officially licensed merchandise once the team begins rolling out its own product,” Parker said.

Demand intensified after last week’s approval by NFL owners of the Raiders’ application to relocate to Las Vegas. Representatives at Lids Locker Room and Fanzz at the Galleria Mall reported customers asking specifically for Las Vegas Raiders gear, while salespeople at Khan at Boulevard Mall said they would receive Las Vegas-branded apparel in stock by next week.

Patrick Walsh, assistant professor of sport management at Syracuse University, cautioned that the potentially poor quality of knockoff merchandise — like a silver-and-black logo peeling off a shirt on its first trip through the washing machine — could diminish the Las Vegas Raiders brand.

The league polices trademarks closely, protecting a merchandising arm that generated more than $1.5 billion in the 2015-16 season. During the week of the Super Bowl, NFL and coordinating federal agencies announced they seized more than $20 million in fake merchandise just since 2016.

“From a licensing perspective, licensees are chosen and approved because they make high-quality products,” Walsh said. “From an NFL perspective and from a team perspective, you want fans if they buy Las Vegas merchandise, apparel, collectibles, you want it to be a high-quality product. If there is knockoff merchandise, not only does it impact from a financial perspective, it could impact from a brand perspective as well.”

Walsh understands the decision to wait on Las Vegas Raiders merchandise because it also protects a Raiders brand worth $108 million in a 2016 valuation by Forbes.

“I think there would be some potential for confusion to the brand,” Walsh said. “You want the brand to remain consistent. If you have Oakland-specific merchandise and Las Vegas-specific merchandise, there would be some confusion there because there eventually will be some different associations people have with the Las Vegas Raiders than they would with the Oakland Raiders.”

For instance, Walsh said, the Las Vegas brand eventually might rub off on the Raiders brand once the team arrives in Las Vegas.

“The city name is a very strong association with a team,” Walsh said. “When someone thinks of Las Vegas, they will think of the Strip and entertainment and bright lights. Those things that might be the Las Vegas brand name might start to become the Raiders’ brand name.

“I think the Raiders will try to use the entertainment aspect of Las Vegas to market their team and have it be more than just a football game, have it be an entertainment experience once they’re actually there,” Walsh said.

While Las Vegas Raiders items might not come online officially for a couple of years, plenty of Raiders gear likely will be purchased in town. The Raiders logo contains no mention of Oakland or Las Vegas, allowing licensed merchandise to be sold worldwide without reference to any location.

Three Raiders placed among the top 50 in jersey sales in 2016, according to NFLPA statistics: quarterback Derek Carr (16), receiver Amari Cooper (19) and linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack (20.) Steve Scebelo, vice president of licensing and business development for NFL Players Inc., expects that strong performance to continue no matter where the team is located.

“Player product is not 100 percent dependent on the market where they play, but can be attributed to other factors such as fantasy football, college markets, and national prominence,” Scebelo said. “Raiders players including Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack are all in the Top 20 in player sales, and we anticipate their popularity to continue whether they are based in Oakland or Las Vegas — and are happy to have new fans in Las Vegas hopefully propel them even higher.”

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