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Are you looking to learn as much as you can about the business of sports licensing? Then please read the 12 Part "An Insider's Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products in 12 Parts: Practical Lessons from the Trenches" - all 12 parts of the blog can be found within this site. Click here to start with the Introduction.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Companies I admire - '47 Brand, aka '47

Allow me to digress for 10 seconds... Many people come across my blog because they are interested in licensed sports products and perhaps have an idea of a licensed product of their own but don't know where to start to turn their idea into reality. I am a consultant to just that type of person so feel free to contact me, and/or you might be interested in my 12 part series "An Insider's Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products in 12 Parts: Practical Lessons from the Trenches".

Now let's get to the subject of Companies I admire…

I’d like to tell you about a company called '47 Brand, or just plain '47 – it’s quite a story and it’s quite a company.

The short version is that '47 Brand is a privately held Boston area company with perhaps 300-ish employees that makes premium licensed headwear and apparel for the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and somewhere between 500 and 900 US colleges.

The medium version is that '47 Brand really has three parts to their business:

1. They are licensed by the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and somewhere between 500 and 900 US colleges to make premium headwear and apparel, and they wholesale the product to select retailers across North America. This is probably 80% of their business.

2. Like so many manufacturers today, they also sell many of their products direct to the consumer (D2C) via their own website. This is probably 10% of their business.

3. They own a very famous brick and mortar store – the Red Sox Team Store, aka Yawkey Way Store, aka Jersey Street Store – located at 19 Yawkey Way (now called Jersey Street) right across from the primary entrance to Fenway Park. This is unique to all of pro sports in North America where the rule for the other 119 teams across the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA is that the team owns the team store. But in Boston, not only does '47 Brand own the store (it’s likely a different operating company but let’s not split hairs) but all Fenway Park tours both start and end at the non-team-owned Red Sox Team Store – amazing!!!
Jersey Street Store / Red Sox Team Store
19 Jersey Street, Boston, MA 02215
The company also owns/owned a number of other bricks and mortar stores, including some stores inside stadiums and ballparks – these stores likely come and go, but I can think of a '47 store at Citi Field in New York, another at the Buffalo Sabres Keybank Center, and a standalone store in downtown Boston on Newbury Street (now closed). Ultimately the bricks and mortar division, including the flagship Red Sox team store, likely accounts for the final 10% of their business.

And if you’ve got the time, here’s the long version of the '47 Brand story….

The '47 Brand website has three fantastic animated videos, each one minute long, that tell the '47 Brand story. You can find all three here. The three segments are titled:
1947 – Chapter 1: The Hustle
1967 – Chapter 2: Family
2004 – Chapter 3: Passion

In 1938 the D’Angelo family, including 12 year old identical twin brothers Arthur and Henry D’Angelo, fled from Italy’s fascist government and arrived in New York from their home town of Orsogna, Italy. Speaking no English, the family made their way to Boston. Right from the beginning, the twins did anything they could do to make a buck, including hawking newspapers for two cents apiece outside Fenway Park until one day they snuck into a game and discovered baseball. Soon they were making and peddling Red Sox pennants, and in 1947 they took some sort of a plunge and opened some sort of a retail souvenir store somewhere close to Fenway Park. Naturally they called their business “Twins Enterprise”.

It’s a tiny bit murky to me because the story is told that in 1965 the D'Angelo twins purchased a 2,000 sq.ft. retail space on Yawkey Way to sell Red Sox souvenirs – so I’m not sure where they were located from 1947 to 1965. This 1965 location is the same location (now much larger than 2000 square feet) at 19 Jersey Street (formerly Yawkey Way) where they continue to operate the official Boston Red Sox Team Store across the street from the primary entrance to Fenway Park.
Arthur and Henry D'Angelo photo
Arthur and Henry D'Angelo
From 1947 to the early 1980's, Twins Enterprises was first and foremost a retailer – a retailer with a special relationship with the Boston Red Sox.  That special relationship allowed Twins Enterprises to make Red Sox products with the blessing of the Red Sox, and at some point in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s led to Twins Enterprises becoming a licensee of MLB which formalized the relationship not only with the Red Sox but also the league. This was the beginning of the wholesale side of their business, but they were still primarily a retailer with a soft focus on wholesale.

In 1977, Arthur's oldest son, Robert (Bobby), joined the business. Over the course of the next nine years, Arthur's three other sons (Mark, David, Steven) joined as well. Sadly, twin brother Henry D'Angelo died from cancer in 1987 at 60 years old, but 94 year old Arthur (as of 2020) has remained involved in the business in almost every aspect. In September 2013, the Red Sox and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino honored Arthur D'Angelo by naming a street near Fenway Park after him, "Arthur's Way" and had him throw the first pitch. Arthur D'Angelo remains President of '47, with his four sons in leadership positions – Bobby, Mark, David and Steve.

Arthur D'Angelo and his four sons - 2008 photo
Arthur and his four sons - 2008
The story is told that in 1977, Bobby was the first D’Angelo to graduate from college, after which he began to apply to graduate and law schools. But his father Arthur had an idea. “It wasn’t as if my father was saying, ‘Don’t go to law school.’ Our mother and father were not highly educated, but they are super, super intelligent. They understood how important education was, and they wanted us to just go for the moon. They wanted us to do whatever we wanted to do, but God forbid that you lay stagnant; that wouldn’t have worked.”

Arthur’s idea was more compelling than grad school: Why not take all the novelty items they were producing for the Red Sox and replicate those items for every major-league team in the U.S. “There was no major-league licensing in those days,” Bobby has explained. “Anyone could have done it. But we had the contacts and the know-how from Fenway, so that’s what started it.”

Arthur went out to find suppliers for the novelties, and Bobby went on the road. “I just got in my car and went to every single stadium in the country. I did it twice a year. Imagine being 21 years old, reporting to no one, going out, and driving the country. It was all virgin territory. We had no customers, so gaining a customer was like, ‘Oh, my God, I just sold this one.’ It was the greatest time in my life.”

Arthur’s forward thinking paid off. By the early 1980’s when major-league baseball woke up to the money to be made from licensing, Twins Enterprises was well established throughout the country, and that’s how their wholesale operation began. By the early 90’s they were licensed by MLB, NBA and NHL to make ballcaps, and added the NFL in 1995. During this time, Twins was also licensed to make Bobble Heads, which they called Bobbing Heads.

Twins Enterprise MLB licensee logo

Twins Enterprise MLB bobblehead "bobbing head" doll

If you want a great glimpse into what the company was like in the 1990’s and how the wholesale division meshed with the retail, read this great interview of then-employee Dave Bloomquist by my friend Paul Lucas of the amazing Uniwatch blog and website.

Twins Enterprise ball cap label

Twins Enterprise The Franchise ball cap label

But even though the company had now established a significant wholesale division, the company was still very much driven by the retail store on Yawkey Way. It wasn’t until well into the 2000’s that the next generation of D’Angelos (Bobby, Mark, David and Steve) truly morphed the company from retail to wholesale, and it was only in 2010 that they came up with the clever salute to their past by renaming the company from Twins Enterprises to '47 Brand [they dropped the Brand in 2015 to become just '47, but I’m not sure how well that name change has taken - even their website is still called 47Brand.com]) – a tribute to the year the retail store was opened by twin brothers Arthur and Henry D’Angelo.

47 Brand - Forty Seven Brand logo

47 - Forty Seven logo

From the mid 2000’s to the present, '47 Brand has slowly and steadily increased the licenses they hold, especially on the college side of things. There is no parallel – theirs is the only privately held firm to hold headwear and apparel licensees with all four pro sports leagues – it is a remarkable achievement and one that could only have been achieved by the hard work and sincerity of two, and now three, generations of D’Angelos.

'47 Brand is primarily known to make a wide array of ballcaps, and on the apparel side, t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. They also make knit headwear and some other types of apparel (but not jerseys). But please understand, what they are allowed to make (ie licensed to make) differs somewhat between each of their licensors (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and 500-900 US colleges). So please don’t assume that '47 Brand makes the same product range for each of the licenses they hold. I’m certain no-one within the company, not even a D’Angelo, could tell you exactly what they are licensed for by each of their licensors (just think of having 500-900 collegiate licensing agreements!).

On the wholesale side of their business, how many of their many competitors also hold NFL + MLB + NBA + NHL + US college headwear plus apparel licenses? No-one. Nadda. Zilch. Zip. Niente.

To me that’s the real story of '47 Brand – as a small, privately held business, they have been able to slowly and steadily accomplish something that no-one else has been able to do, and that includes the Nikes and adidas and Under Armours of the world.

And in this whole blog posting, I have never even mentioned how much I like their actual headwear and apparel products - they make great products that resonate with fans. Even if they didn't hold all the licenses that they do, the bottom line is that they make beautiful products almost any fan would be proud to own.

The only company knocking on '47 Brand’s door in terms of licenses held is Fanatics (and their Majestic Apparel division), the juggernaut that has largely taken over the world of licensed sports products over the last handful of years. But that is a story for another day. Today it’s all about the D’Angelo family and '47 Brand – a great story and a company I greatly admire.

Thanks for reading and well done '47!


Some tidbits about '47 Brand:

- In the mid 2010’s, the headwear division was selling 20 million units per year.

- My guess, and that's all it is, is that '47 Brand has annual revenues of $250,000,000.

- As Bobby D’Angelo explained in a 2008 interview with U Mass Amherst’s alumni magazine, the D’Angelo’s do business the old fashioned way. “We’ve got the same cap suppliers we had over 30 years ago—which is really unheard of. We believe that you don’t sell your person out for a nickel or a dime. You talk with them, you work it out, and you end up with a win-win situation. We think that our relationships are a big part of our success.”

- When the company decided to open a ‘47 Brand store in Boston, it located the store on fashionable Newbury Street. (As of 2020, that store is no longer open - I think it closed in 2017.)

- Here’s the first-ever TV ad for ‘47 Brand. It aired in the fall of 2012. And here's another 2013 ad they co-produced with LIDS, then (and still) a national retailer. The reason I mention TV ads is when you reach the big time in licensing and want to compete on the same playing field as the big boys, the licensors are going to expect you to invest in the brand. In the "olden days", ie 5-10 years ago, that meant you needed to back your brand by doing some national advertising. In fact, often times the league/licensor would write a specific consumer advertising spending commitment into your license agreement. The first time I heard of that was from Fathead, but I'll tell that tale another day.

- All four second gen D’Angelo brothers attended U Mass Amherst: Bobby ’77, Mark ’81, David ’82, and Steve ’87.

- Most of the four brothers' college years (mid 70’s to mid 80’s) were fun and also a lot of work. At that time Twins Enterprises was solely retail built around the flagship store on Yawkey Way. Bobby says, “In those days we came home from school on weekends and worked Boston College home football games, Red Sox games at Fenway, Patriots games at Schaefer Stadium, and worked the Garden for Bruins and Celtic games.” David adds, “So we missed a lot of fall weekends—the best times at UMass.”

- Here’s more from the 2008 U Mass interview – best summed up by the business motto “Don’t be a jackass”.
“And what is the secret of their success in working together? ‘We all understand the concept of team, so it’s about winning the game,’ David says. ‘It’s not about being MVP. We look at the components of the crew and ask, ‘How do we win? How do you get ahead and be number one?’ No one is bigger than the team.’” These teammates vacation together each year. This summer (2008) some 20 family members will gather in Italy to celebrate Arthur’s 80th birthday. ‘Our father and his brother were perfect examples,’ Bobby says. ‘We witnessed firsthand how two brothers could get along so spectacularly. We have our disagreements, but at the end of the day, ‘Okay, let’s go with your plan, and let’s move on.’ Our father and mother laid the foundation for us: Don’t be a jackass, don’t let money or ego get in the way, and just do the right thing.’

- Even though the company is now called '47, it is still occasionally referred to as "'47 Brand" or "Twins Enterprise".

- The company headquarters is located at 15 SW Park, Westwood, MA 02090. In addition, they have a 200,000 sq.ft. warehouse at 132 Campanelli Industrial Drive, Brockton, MA 02301.

- It’s somewhat ironic that since '47 owns and operates the Red Sox Team Store, they also have to buy licensed apparel from their “competitors”. This is because the consumer shopping at the store expects to find the widest range of Red Sox gear possible, and that means the store needs to carry all makes!

Jersey Street Store, aka Yawkey Way Store

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