(photo: MTV.com)

Beyoncé, Kale, and the Event Merch Opportunity

There are two* types of people in this world: those who immediately think about Whole Foods and/or fresh produce when they see this sweatshirt, and those who wholeheartedly associate it with Beyoncé — or, more specifically, with her highly viewed, surprise-release 7/11 dance party video from November 2014.

(Photo: Sub-urban Riot)

(*I don’t really believe that there are only two types of people in this world).

Google search patterns and various story headlines help to further support the classification of the latter. The tallest blue peak you see below is from December 2014, just days after Beyoncé’s video release — people were searching for the sweatshirt and had linked its brand to Bey’s.

(Photo: MTV.com)

The notorious Kale sweatshirt was originally made and sold by Sub-urban Riot. As we try to explain its proliferation, it may be best and most easily summed up as such:

“Because of course, everybody wants to be like Beyoncé. So if Beyoncé is wearing a KALE sweatshirt, then you’re damn right I’m going to get one. And I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

Music Merch Industry

Whether everyone wants to be like Beyoncé is certainly up for debate, but for those that do, the opportunity to associate yourself with her brand — perceived or prescribed — is desirable amongst many fans and helps explain the important role music merchandise can play.

The benefits of music merchandise are for artists and consumers alike. For consumers, it’s an opportunity to convey musical and cultural affiliations; demonstrate loyalty as a fan; and potentially, more deeply immerse in live concert experiences. For the artist, merchandise can be a measure and facilitator of fan engagement; a means to support brand development; and an additional revenue stream. While that Kale sweatshirt is not official Beyoncé merchandise, it’s clear that the sweatshirt offered a desirable (and presumably profitable) level of fan engagement and artist association.

Top selling merchandise, like what you see below, runs the gamut including city-specific tour t-shirts and posters, and a variety of artist photographs. The tour t-shirt itself can often make up 30% or more of an entire tours merchandise sales for an artist.

(Photo: Thirty Seconds to Mars, Deviant Art)

According to multiple data sources, artists have a clear, revenue-generating opportunity to better offer merchandise and direct-to-fan engagements. Specifically, a 2013 Nielsen study indicated that, “there could be potential incremental revenue of $450 million to $2.6 billion if artists, managers and labels offered a better set of products and experiences to fans.”

If we consider the worldwide live music industry as a conduit of such product and experience delivery, the opportunity becomes even clearer. In the United Kingdom alone, live concert and festival attendance jumped 32% between 2012 and 2014, and overall spending onsite jumped 146% to 3.1 billion pounds.

Enter, Sidestep

Companies like Sidestep understand the role live music plays for the fan, and the goals artists have to better connect with their audiences. For those of you not yet familiar with Sidestep, the company’s foremost goal is to create a more pleasant merch experience for consumers. At present, when attending live music events, fans wanting to purchase merchandise can face long, discouraging lines or sometimes, chaotic crowds. If they are successful in purchasing merchandise they run the risk of it being damaged (for example, in the case of a poster) while attending a show because the merch is distributed ahead of performance (or the fan is aiming to bypass the post-event rush). Despite the existing hassles, little to no options exist to purchase merchandise in advance for a particular show and to be picked up onsite.

Keeping the consumer in mind, Sidestep has smartly created a platform that is changing the way fans experience live events by enabling mobile ordering before, during, and after a show with either at-home or at-venue delivery. Above and beyond just merchandise, fans using the platform have the opportunity to skip the line and access VIP experiences like participating in an intimate “meet and greet”, watching a favorite artist sound check a few songs, or meeting an artist backstage for an autograph and picture.

The platform is a win-win.

  • Fans get to shop for merchandise and dope experiences offered by their favorite artists and bands in an easy and convenient way
  • Artists, new and old, get to leverage Sidestep data to learn more about their fans, create new opportunities to engage…and of course, expand their (merch) revenue streams

Thinking even beyond the music industry, there are clear opportunities with live sporting events that Sidestep is already pursuing. Imagine having been able to grab a Steph Curry t-shirt (you know the one) in time for last year’s Game 6 against the Cavs. Or, better yet, ordering a new Duke basketball jersey for onsite pickup at the 2016 National Championship game (yes, I’m biased and yes, I’m speaking this into existence), with the opportunity to kick it with the team afterwards.

We all have our musical and sports allegiances that we celebrate and are part of our identity. Sidestep knows this, and is making it easier for us to be a fan. This is why Cross Culture Ventures invested in the company. Marlon Nichols, the General Partner who led the investment in Sidestep and will be joining the board of directors, explains:

“Although the live event merchandising business is a lucrative industry, it is ripe for disruption and filled with inefficiencies that cost artists, teams, venues, etc. millions of dollars in revenue. The industry is continuing to grow, but can be much improved. Sidestep is ushering in this much needed innovation. In addition to significantly improving the consumer experience for live event attendees and fans in general, Sidestep provides artists and merchandisers with unprecedented levels of transparency and access to real-time sales data. This data allows for precise forecasts, leading to a more efficient and accurate procurement process, and ultimately increased revenue.”

Each of us at Cross Culture Ventures is excited by the opportunity that CEO, Eric Jones, and the team at Sidestep have before them.

So….are you one of the many who will be in attendance at a Formation World Tour concert? Will your day-of apparel communicate that you have hot sauce in your bag or that you twirl on them haters?

Fortunate for you, Beyoncé’s already joined #teamsidestep.


Shani is an Associate at Cross Culture Ventures and a full-time graduate student at Northwestern University where she is pursuing a dual MBA and MS in Design Innovation. Previously, Shani worked as an Investment Associate for Intel Capital’s Diversity Fund, an Intern with Collaborative Fund, and as a Digital Strategist at ICF International. You can follow her on Twitter @shanictaylor.