Comic Relief: Selling Super Heroes Growing Business For NBA With Marvel Deal

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor

The Hulk wears Boston Celtics green on a T-shirt that is part of the NBA-Marvel line.February 7, 2011: Many of the characters from the universe of Marvel Entertainment are currently enjoying fame and fortune, not just with traditionally young comic book readers, but also among a broad consumer demographic via Hollywood and Broadway.

In an effort to tap into this lucrative pop culture adoration, Walt Disney division Marvel Entertainment and the NBA are unveiling a merchandising project starring some of Marvel's legendary super heroes.

The initiative will be anchored by co-branded apparel, accessories and sporting goods, as well as artwork that incorporates NBA team colors and logos depicting such Marvel characters as The Hulk wearing a Boston Celtics uniform, Spider-Man balling for the New York Knicks and a cast of heroes — Wolverine, Captain America and Thor among them — on a fast-break for the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is the second project between the NBA and Marvel this season. In October, a series of comic book covers for ESPN the Magazine re-imagined NBA stars as inspired by Marvel super heroes.

According to Vicky Picca, svp-licensing and business affairs, NBA Global Merchandising, "The NBA is filled with highlights as amazing as the feats of Marvel's storied characters. Given the awe-inspiring attributes of our brands, the combination of our teams and premier Marvel characters is a perfect fit."

A galaxy of Marvel heros appear in this version of a T-shirt for the Los Angeles Lakers.The NBA has not been alone is using Marvel super heroes to reach consumers. This season, the NHL launched The Guardian Project with Stan Lee, the former president and chairman of Marvel who was a driving force behind the creation of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, The Fantastic Four and others. The Guardian Project features players-turned-super heroes from each of the NHL's 30 teams and includes multi-media support and merchandise.

Marvel characters have become staples of entertainment beyond comic book pages. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is currently in previews on Broadway, and a fourth Spider-Man movie is in production. Captain America is scheduled to hit movie theaters on July 22. Iron Man 2 was released this past May, and the third Iron Man movie is scheduled for release in May 2013.

Among the other Marvel heroes getting film treatment this year are Thor and X-Men: First Class (the third film in that franchise). Other comic book heroes set for the big screen in 2011 are the already released The Green Hornet and Green Lantern. Also planned for 2012 are such movies as The Avengers and Wolverine 2 (both from Marvel) and the next movies in both the Batman and Superman series (both from DC Comics).

"Given the awe-inspiring attributes of our brands, the combination of our teams and premier Marvel characters is a perfect fit."

The NBA-Marvel collection will be unveiled in several key venues designed to reflect each home team. Among them, the Team L.A. Store at Staples Center will carry Los Angeles Lakers NBA-Marvel co-branded merchandise, timed to debut just prior to the NBA All-Star Game being player there on Feb. 20. Sporting goods retailer Modell’s and Madison Square Garden will launch the New York Knicks collection.

Products from the remaining teams will then be made available in other national and regional sporting goods retailers, specialty stores, additional NBA arena stores and mid-tier channels sports apparel departments.

Dwight Howard is Wolverine as part of the NBA-Marvel ESPN cover collection earlier this season.According to the NBA, the initial collection will include T-shirts and sweatshirts by C-Life and headwear by New Era. It will then expand into other key categories, including sporting goods and novelty items.

"We are excited to launch this partnership with the NBA, whose fan base and retail distribution channels provide a great opportunity to expand the reach and exposure of our brands," Paul Gitter, president of consumer products for North America, Marvel Entertainment, said in a statement.

Among the NBA stars who were part of the Marvel-ESPN the Magazine project were Kobe Bryant of the Lakers as Iron Man; Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic as Wolverine; John Wall of the Washington Wizards as Firestarter; The Fantastic Five (one hero better than The Fantastic Four) with Celtics' players Ray Allen, Rajon Rando, Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett; and the Miami Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Boss as multiple versions of Captain America.

Howard and O'Neal also have both embraced the nickname "Superman," the iconic super hero from Marvel rival DC Comics. 

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