Are Gaming, Podcasting and Online Communities Becoming a Goldmine for Decorated Merch?
s people learned to work and entertain themselves through an unarguably difficult year, the world of gaming, podcasting, and other online communities flourished. People found new homes within these online groups and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. McKenzie SewOn is one decorating shop that’s moving and shaking in these online spaces. One of McKenzie’s biggest clients is a Twitch TV streamer, who runs a channel that’s among the top 20 on the platform.
“We set up a storefront to serve as the brand’s main landing page, and we design, source, decorate, warehouse, and fulfill merch for them,” says Joel Halberg, director of sales at McKenzie. “We see these online communities as one of our largest growth opportunities in the next few years.”
“We found an awesome niche by looking at who has a community following and who’s putting out great content. When you’ve got engaged fans and a good community, most of them appreciate a solid decorated-apparel item.” - Joel Halberg, director of sales at McKenzie SewOn
Our growing passion for online interactivity and community, opens up a whole slew of new opportunities for apparel distributors and decorators for selling merch to gaming companies, podcasters and other online communities. In Halberg’s experience, merch programs are very apparel-heavy, although he also fulfills other products too. “Some awesome programs offer a ‘merch gift’ in exchange for a subscription,” he says. “These programs work great with hard goods like bottles, mugs, keychains and more. But, the stuff that really sells is wearables.”
(Above: Merch from the infamous Faze Clan gaming community)
If your shop is focused on the gaming, podcasting and YouTubing communities, you’ll want to offer a more end-to-end service that includes:
Creating original artwork
Sourcing premium garments
There are a couple levels to how decorators are serving these communities. Some internet-based brands offer basic apparel programs with DTG imprints and direct-to-consumer fulfillment.
“Some fans will spend $30 on a T-shirt, while others will only buy a $15 tee with a clever graphic. You need to know the demographics." - Joel Halberg, director of sales at McKenzie SewOn
When you’re working with a bigger player, it’s hugely important to match the quality of the product your providing to the quality of the client’s brand. “We do a lot of elevated tees and hoodies using BELLA+CANVAS and Next Level blanks,” Halberg says. “We also screen print with water-based designs. While that quality level may not drive an initial purchase as much as creative artwork, it makes a huge difference in residual sales and repeat customers.”
“If you’re a decorator looking into the streamer community, be open to texts at 1 am, when they’re done gaming. That’s when we’ve had some of our more successful conversations.” - Joel Halberg, director of sales at McKenzie SewOn
Here’s what you need to know to help you tap into these online communities and start creating a new lucrative revenue stream for your shop
Going ga-ga for gaming
Since before the pandemic, the gaming community has been continuously growing their merch lines. Of course, that’s because online games have been popular for years. But, with long commutes to work and lots of activities to do outside the home, many people who might’ve played games never found the time to do so. That is, until COVID-19 hit, and everyone went on near-immediate lockdown. Yet, as restrictions lifted with the arrival of vaccinations, those new gamers are sticking to their online communities and are eager to show off their gaming allegiance.
Additionally, many people are taking gaming’s competitive side to the next level, with the creation of esports teams and leagues. Globally, these leagues will see approximately $1 billion spent this year, with steady growth expected in the years to come. One such tournament held in 2019 had a combined prize pool of more than $30 million.
Another development that added to the appeal of gaming is the advent of Twitch, the live-streaming video platform catering to gamers. On Twitch, a user can stream their video gameplay to show off some of their gaming prowess and show walkthroughs of really complicated games as a way of helping those who get stuck. This has spawned a huge number of celebrities in the gaming world and they'll need you to produce merch for their fanbase.
“The fun, but sometimes challenging, thing with this group is that communication can happen at odd hours,” Halberg says. “If you’re a decorator looking into the streamer community, be open to texts at 1 am, when they’re done gaming. That’s when we’ve had some of our more successful conversations.”
What You Can Do:
Distributors and decorators already know “real-life” sports are a huge draw when it comes to merchandise. Now, the popularity of gaming and esports is creating the same merchandising opportunities, with in-demand options like T-shirts, hats, hoodies and other frequently worn apparel.
Need inspiration? Jinx and Insert Coin are two shops that cater to the gaming consumer by completely focusing their websites on the most popular video games.
Halberg says finding prospects is the hardest part if you’re just breaking in. “Classic prospecting techniques” can work, but you may see lower conversion rates at first than you would with a typical corporate business. “Focus on geographical advantages with the opportunities located near you,” he says.
“We’ve had much more success prospecting niche groups that we we're actually large fans of too... Passion for what they’re doing goes a long way in building trust.”
Artwork’s one of the biggest keys to merch success for gaming communities. “If you tap into why the fans follow the movement and offer a fandom-based graphic style, you’ll be successful,” Halberg says. “For gamers, think rock band poster artwork, meets tattoo art, with easter eggs hidden inside.”
Popular podcasters equal instant ‘friends’
Like gaming, podcasts have exploded in the last year--recent stats show that there are 2 million podcasting shows (with a whopping 48 million available episodes) in the U.S. One of the best ways for people to stay in touch with their favorite celebrities and other online personalities has been through podcasts, especially if they have the chance to interact by leaving comments or questions, or calling in. Now, after feeling supported by their favorite celebs during 2020, fans want to support them.
However, even podcasters who aren’t bonafide celebrities are finding ways to monetize their hard work. One of those ways? Selling decorated apparel to fans to promote their podcast. (Smart podcasters wear their own promo apparel and post photos on their website and social media accounts.)
(Above: A collection of merch for the popular podcast "Crime Junkie")
While many people were home during the pandemic, regular podcasts were great company while people cleaned, worked and exercised. For those who were already listening to their favorite podcasts, COVID-19 saw an 18% increase in the number of podcasts they had on their regular playlists. Gen Z and Millennials represent the biggest demographic groups who said they listened to more podcasts (31% and 26% respectively).
What to Do Today: The personalities behind our favorite podcasts make them so fun and addictive. This is a great time to reach out to podcasters to help them monetize their e-format with branded merchandise and an online store, as just one potential, consistent income stream. Many podcasts already have their own websites to sell their products, so that’s an easy fit for you to integrate T-shirts, hoodies and other items into their online shop.
If you’re looking to get your foot in the door, target startup podcasters who are flying solo or have a small team. “The best way to craft a winning program is to be the ‘easy button,’ offering a total package of services,” Halberg says. “Some of the larger podcasts might have more resources and be able to source by themselves from multiple partners, but most of these opportunities want one main decorator contact who can manage the whole program.”
Everyone loves to show off what’s important to them
Finding your tribe these days can require some brainstorming. But when you find the right match, you’ll tap into loyal buyers who wear their connection and affiliation with communities and causes they embrace.
Many are willing to spend their money on decorated wearable merch, more so than on any other merchandise. “We found an awesome online niche by looking at who has a community following and who’s putting out great content,” Halberg says. “When you’ve got engaged fans and a good community, most of them appreciate a solid decorated-apparel item.” These communities are becoming a goldmine of opportunities for distributors and decorators. Merch is driving everything these day, so get out there and make sure you're getting a piece of the action for your business.