YETI, Crocs, Turtles and more: Gary Jacobson reveals Tottenham Hotspur’s licensing goals

Tottenham Hotspur’s Head of Licensing discusses what makes the club an extraordinary partner.

Gary, let’s start with a tricky one… What’s the one thing all our readers should know about licensing Tottenham Hotspur?
It’s hard to choose just one, so I’d say there are three important things… First, football is a HUGE sport. That might sound obvious, but I think people sometimes underestimate it… Somewhere around four billion people in the world are interested in football – almost half the world’s population. So it really grabs a lot of attention.

Second, football is also interesting because its appeal spans the complete age range. It doesn’t matter if you’re a six-month old, a 96-year-old or anywhere in between… Football has the ability to grab you and keep your attention. That leads to a lot of opportunities. As a club, Tottenham has a huge following. From the various different channels and metrics, we have 616 million people following us globally. That gives us a lot of reach and shows the impact we can make.

And that’s not just the UK audience, is it?
No, not at all – football is a huge beast internationally. Tottenham Hotspur has over 460 different supporters’ clubs in more than 90 countries. So we have a global following which really lets us develop and build our licensing programme. We have over 80 licensees globally now, which is a significant programme… Thirdly, I’d say sustainability for us is a key tenet of the club from the top down.

Oh! I wasn’t expecting – and this might be a deficiency in my thinking – sustainability to come up… Tell me more about that.
There’s been a real drive towards environmental impact and what we’re doing. In 2022, Tottenham Hotspur played Chelsea in the first ever net-zero game… We were also the first football club to sign up to Products of Change to ensure we’re striving try to make environmentally responsible decisions. We’re certainly not perfect, and we continue to make changes, but – for the fourth year – we were voted number one or joint first Premier League club in the UN backed Sport Positive sustainability league.

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

And are these small changes? Or huge?
Both. We have a huge number of policies and that shows in many ways, large and small. For example, all the beer cups in the stadium are collected, washed and reused… We removed all single-use plastics… The food products sold around the stadium are mainly sourced from local farms; our coaches run on biofuels… The players drink from cartons or reusable cups rather than plastic bottles! The Nike shirts the players wear on the pitch, and the replica jerseys for fans to buy, are made with 100% recycled polyester fabric – which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The list goes on because there’s a huge amount the club does to make sure we’re contributing to this important goal.

Marvellous. You mentioned 80 licensees… What opportunities have you explored recently that you think it’s good to shine a light on?
There are three deals that come to mind for this conversation! The first is with YETI, the American drinkware and cooler company… Very much an outdoors company that’s hugely popular in North America. YETI insulated products keep your coffee hot and your water cold in an amazing range.

They have a reputation, as I understand it, for robustness and quality…
Right – they’re incredible! We started working with YETI about two years ago and it was a very collaborative approach. They were just moving into the European, Middle Eastern and African markets. But it wasn’t a straightforward, ‘here’s a license’ deal because we wanted something that worked for all parties knowing the product could also benefit our actual football department… That’s something we don’t usually connect: our licensed product and the players.

Just to double check: you’re saying licensing doesn’t normally touch what happens with the team’s kit and caboodle?
Yes, because a lot of player rights are taken up by the technical kit partner. It’s rare to find a deal that crosses over… But the YETI product is such high quality that – when we discussed the product with our medical and nutritional teams – they just loved it. So now we put together a deal where they’re selling Spurs-branded YETI tumblers and coolers and cups…

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

Oh my…
However, they’re also supplying them to the first team, the academy and the women’s team. So when the players are having their nutrition, drinks or rehydration, or using refrigeration products on the side of the pitches, they’re all YETI products that are part of this deal. It really is a unique deal, and the feedback we’ve had from our playing staff and the medical department is unbelievable! They love this product… To the extent now the manager appears with a YETI on his tabletop when he’s doing his pre-match press conferences.

“The excellence of the product allowed us to cross over despite the very high pressure…”

From the outside looking in, that must look like the sponsorship deal of a lifetime! But it’s not sponsorship: it’s a licensing deal…
Yes, and we have to be very careful about any licences crossing over into sponsorship territory but here the quality and the excellence of the product has allowed us to cross over because despite the very high pressure of having to deliver to the highest professional level, they offer a high-quality solution in a niche area.

What else?
Crocs came to mind as well. We did a deal with them last year – not for the actual shoes but for the Jibbitz; the accessories that go on top of the shoe. Working with a global brand like Crocs was a really great opportunity and it allowed us to widen our retail distribution and get into new areas that we wouldn’t normally get into. And it’s proven to be really successful so far.

So… You said you had three examples. You said Crocs. You said YETI… Is the third one also animal related?!
Well! You’ve had the foresight to see this… The third one I was going to mention was the deal we did with Paramount for Turtles. Ha!

Ha! Ninja Turtles?! Ha! Even being facetious – I’m on it!
Well, for the launch of last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, we worked with Paramount to create a range of co-branded merchandise and apparel… So there’re Turtles wearing the Spurs kit and some really cool new designs in line with the launch. Alongside that, the Turtles came to a match, and where we put on fan engagement and activations with them. We put on activities for kids; we created a bespoke Turtle-related stadium tour and themed accessories to engage the younger audience.

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

And given the diversity of these deals, Gary, what values are you looking for in your partners?
I think, as I mentioned before, it’s about nurturing that lifetime-spanning fan relationship and finding opportunities to make connections between the club, the brand, and the values of what we’re trying to achieve. Obviously, those values include sport, healthy competition, healthy living, active learning and and physicality. In that respect, everything we license requires us to understand our fans’ mindset. What is it? Why’s it relevant to them? What’s the connection? Why do they want this?

Good answer. And I think I’m right in saying, am I, that you’ve personally been with Tottenham since 2011. What keeps you there?
Very, very good question. I think there’s two sides to this. First, I think the club has been through so many changes that it almost feels like I’ve worked for three or four different companies in that time…

Oh? What kind of changes?
The biggest one is that we moved to a new stadium. We designed and built what many would say is the best stadium in the world… We completely rebuilt and designed a new, world-class training centre. Also, runs in European football, player signings drawing interest from new markets, F1 Go-Karting, NFL matches, concerts, boxing matches, and so much more… Second, I think just the excitement of live sport, which is so hard to replicate anywhere else… The feeling of walking out into a stadium with 62,000 people screaming and wearing your products is so hard to replicate…

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

Similarly, the company and the work itself make it exciting. Everybody talks to you about this game or that game, or what happened at the weekend, or how you’re doing in the League, say… What’s going on with this player? You know? That’s what most of my friends do in their spare time! I’m doing it on a daily basis as part of my job. There’s always something new to talk about.

Oh, you’ve made that sound absolutely marvellous. Maybe I shouldn’t ask, then: are you, in fact, a Tottenham Hotspur fan? Or is now the moment you whip off your whiskers to reveal you’re a Gooner?
Ha! No, I’m a Spurs fan. Even though I grew up in Birmingham, my father passed Tottenham on to me and my brother; it’s in the blood! Not everybody who works here IS a Spurs fan, though – and rightly so. We want to get the best people for the job, but it does make it more satisfying when the team does well from a professional and a personal perspective.

Yes, that makes it all the more interesting. So you inherited the love of Spurs from your father… How did you come to be working there, though? What’s your background?
After school, I studied international business, finance and economics at the University of Manchester. My first job was a graduate role at a company called JML. They create household gadgets and gizmos, TV advertised, and sold in places like Boots, Wilko and Robert Dyas.

I was in the marketing department, and one of the roles was coming up with product names and ideas around products. I believe that served me well in my subsequent career. So that was a really interesting place to learn about product and marketing. And now, of course, I see licensing as a really nice mix between sales and marketing. Anyway, after that I heard the people at Marvel Comics were looking for a licensing executive…

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

This was pre-Disney, was it?
Yes. And – fortunately – I knew Marvel; I was a fan of The X-Men and Spiderman and that great collection of characters… I just didn’t know what licensing was! I mean – who does?! But I think they saw that I was willing to learn and get involved in all different licensing areas: international, domestic, royalties, management, marketing, sales projections – all that stuff. Anyway, I got a job in the London office. There were maybe ten people responsible for the global licensing – everywhere outside North America. So I had to work and learn quickly about how licensing works.

“When are you going to get a real job?”

No better place to cut your teeth by the sounds of it!
Oh, it was an unbelievable opportunity to learn with an incredible brand. And then I went to CPLG – which some see as a rite of passage in the licensing industry. I worked in the sports team for Chris Prothero. Unfortunately, Chris is no longer with us, but he was an industry legend. We had the rights for the England football, rugby and cricket teams… There were some Premier League football clubs; motorsport brands, the ‘Home of Golf’, St Andrews Links and much more. And it was just a great opportunity to go and learn about – and get involved with – sport, which is one of my passions.

Sounds like you’ve just swung from one passion to another!
Ha! That’s what my wife says! She’s like, “When are you going to get a real job?”

Well, when you’re right, you’re right! And with all these sports, Gary, how is a licensing effort affected if a player’s not doing so well, or the team’s having a bad season? Does that impact sales?
Yes! Massively! Team success and key players are two key drivers. So we have the licensing department here and we have a separate retail department. They look after the physical store and the e-commerce channel. And licensing looks after pretty much all the official products sold outside those club channels…

To answer your question, the retail is affected by game-by-game success or failure. So if we have a couple of good games or bad games, you’ll see that reflected in sales very quickly; the fans are quick to show their feelings. Licensing is a bit longer term… So it’s not game by game, but we’ll see an uptick if the team shows sustained success on the pitch – qualify for Europe, say, or get to a cup final – things like that. It also helps to have exciting ‘hero‘ players in the team.

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

Yes, you mentioned players being a key driver… In what way?
Yes… Having a really popular player from a key market can make a big difference. For example, we have a Korean player, Son Heung-min, who’s just hugely popular. He has MASSIVE support from the Korean people. Consequently, we have about 15 licensees in Korea. We work with an agency there called Infiniss – they manage our licensing program there and help us do really different types of deals… The same thing is true of our manager! He’s Australian, so we’re picking up a lot of interest there through our agency, Haven. We also have players from South America and Brazil…Same story.

I never realised there was such complexity and subtlety to it! I’ve got two more questions for you, Gary. First, why would somebody want to do a licensing deal with Tottenham specifically, and not another club?
Well, something that’s worth mentioning is that licensing in football clubs isn’t always mutually exclusive. In fact, it can actually help licensees to have a few football clubs because very few people are going to switch allegiances to be Liverpool fans this year and Tottenham Hotspur fans next year. So we’ll often have the same licensees as other football clubs; it’s very cooperative.

So much so that you work with them?
Yes, absolutely. It’s different at the sponsorship level, but at the licensing level we work very closely with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal… Because licensees often need a number of different clubs to be able to make a product range work at retail. So we very often work with the same licensees because a rising tide lifts all boats…

“A rising tide lifts all boats…” Hark at you! You can take the rest of the day off after this Gary: you’re sailing through this! This is beautiful!
Ha! Glad I can help! So: all that said, the question “Why Spurs?” is partly answered by what I said earlier about how big the Premier League is. I think also that London being a global city helps. It attracts lots of people as a tourist destination – we do tend to get a lot of people come visit us. We have an absolutely unbelievable stadium that let’s us do great things… The NFL plays two games a season at our stadium? Because we have a retractable pitch which goes under the stadium, and there’s an AstroTurf pitch underneath it…

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

Wait! Let me just check I’ve got that right… Your real-grass pitch retracts and underneath it is AstroTurf?
Yes! And the grass pitch can survive under the stadium for about a week.

God, what world are we living in? It’s like Thunderbirds! And that means the NFL can play on Astroturf, twice a year?
Right. They love coming to it because it’s all purpose built for their needs. Fans can also walk up the outside of the stadium to the roof and abseil down, and we have concerts here, too… We had Beyonce here last year, Red Hot Chili Peppers this year. We’ve got Pink and Pearl Jam coming too. We’ve just opened, in conjunction with F1, a London Premier Electric Go-karting track under the stadium, where you can come and race…

How deep is this bloody stadium?! To the core of the Earth? There’s layer after layer…
Ha! Well, no! But it really is an unbelievable venue. Then, in terms of new opportunities we have a fantastic women’s team which is doing really well. They’ve just got to the semi-final FA Cup; that’s really important and we’re getting more and more interest in in utilising them as part of our licensing portfolio. But we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to the different markets. We work with agents in some markets… In China, for example, we have a bespoke partner that operates our official store on the key Chinese shopping shopping platforms such as Tmall. We like to understand what’s going to work with each licensee.

“If we can find a product that matches our ethos, we’d certainly like to do more…”

In that respect, we’re always looking for opportunities. I think toys and games is a really interesting area for us because – obviously – there’s so many kids out there and people who love to watch football and play it so there is a big synergy there. Also, if we can find a product that matches our ethos and makes sense, then we’d certainly like to do more in digital products. Digital licensing is a growing area as long as we’re mindful of the existing rights already secured with the league and the club. So yes, we’re always happy to chat to people about opportunities and sometimes, you know, sometimes they don’t work, but more often than not there’s, there’s, there’s a connection there.

Gary Jacobson, Tottenham Hotspur, Sports, Film & TV, Experiences

Terrific! Last question then… What’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
Perhaps it’s the question I get asked the most… And I think anybody who works at a football club gets asked this!

Go on…
“Do you get to meet the players?”

Oh! That makes sense. And do you?
On a day-to-day basis, it’s a no. They’re based at the training centre, whereas we’re based at the club’s commercial offices. But what I would add is that we do connect with them and – where there’s as opportunity – we do try and leverage their incredible appeal. So as mentioned, we do some YETI stuff with the players. Also, New Era – who are one of our biggest licensees… We organise some headwear product photo shoots with the players. That really helps drive the programme.

Also, we operate and manage our retail program when the time goes on tour each summer. This is a great way to interact with our international fan base firsthand, adapting our product range to suit them specifically.

Fantastic. Well, I must tell you, Gary: this has been a revelation for me! Thank you so much for making time to chat.

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.