USOC fashioning itself after pro sports merchandising

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The U.S. Olympic Committee has entered into a licensing agreement that will introduce its Team USA merchandise into mass-market retailers like Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney for the first time.

The move is part of an effort to rebrand the apparel, give it the same high-profile placement as NFL and NASCAR clothing and, the USOC hopes, make a whole lot of money.

“Last summer, we began taking a full look at rebranding,” said USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird. “We wanted to strengthen our architecture branding, clean up our design and create a new set of marks (logos) specifically for consumer products.”

The first step was to create a consistent, recognizable logo. In the past, USOC merchandise mimicked the apparel the U.S. team wore during the Olympic Games.

“We wanted to create a logo that would stay the same throughout the games,” Baird said. “Going forward, we will not change the logo, just the look and feel of the merchandise.”

But rebranding requires a lot more than simply unveiling a new logo.

Rex Whisman, founder and principal of the Denver-based BrandED consulting group, said pulling off a rebranding is a tall order.

“In order to develop a sustainable brand, you need to create a brand platform that captures the essence of the Team USA brand,” he said. “A brand platform helps guide the execution of the brand and ensures the brand is communicated in an accurate, authentic, concise and consistent manner.”

“If the USOC has taken methodical steps to develop their brand, then I say ‘Bravo,’” Whisman said. “If they have simply changed logos, printed them on merchandise and placed them in stores, then that approach would not even make it to London in 2012.”

Those are concepts Baird is all too familiar with.

She joined the USOC in January 2009 after holding a number of senior-level marketing positions at Proctor and Gamble, IBM, General Motors and the NFL.

Baird expects that within the next three to five years the merchandise line to triple the $7 million in annual revenue the USOC now generates.

“I believe this is one of our strongest growth areas,” she said. “We have one of those really unique brands that can be broad across all channels of retail from high-end to low-end.”

The organization has already developed licensing deals with Ralph Lauren, and is working with Nike to provide products in stores like Sports Authority and REI.

As part of its new thinking, the USOC struck a deal with Outerstuff, a New York-based clothing manufacturer with clients like, Reebok, NHL, NBA, NFL and NCAA.