As merch bounces back, Universal hires Matt Young to lead Bravado as President

Matt Young spent 13 years at Warner, and will now lead Universal's Bravado as its global President

Two years ago, the major music companies were all splashing big money on growing their merchandising / apparel offering for artists.

Warner Music Group had recently spent $180 million buying merch maker (and e-commerce store) EMP in Europe. Sony Music went on its own acquisition spree, buying the likes of UK merch company Kontraband, plus the music merch division of The Araca Group and then, later, another merch firm in Probity.

Universal Music Group, meanwhile, had just acquired one of the leading US indie merch firms, Epic Rights, and folded it into UMG’s own flagship global merch company, Bravado.

Then the pandemic hit, bringing serious turbulence to the sector.

Across the 12 months of last year (calendar 2020), according to company filings, Universal Music Group’s global ‘Merchandise + Other’ revenues fell by more than a third (-39.6%) on an organic basis versus 2019. That represented a decline of over $200 million per year.

In October 2020, Universal parted ways with Bravado’s long-time CEO, Mat Vlasic, who had led the company since 2016.

This year, though, the green shoots of a recovering merch industry – intertwined, of course, with a recovering touring industry – are becoming evident: Universal’s ‘Merchandise + Other’ revenues were up 19.4% YoY at constant currency in the first nine months of 2021 (see below).

As a result, this crucial segment of Universal’s worldwide business looks very likely to surpass USD $300 million across the course of 2021.

The ‘Merchandise and other’ segment from UMG’s Q3 2021 financial results (in Euros)

Now, after a year-long search, Universal’s global merch company has a new leader: MBW can today (November 15) reveal that respected exec Matt Young, who left Warner’s WEA after 13 years in September, has been hired as President of Bravado.

Based at Bravado’s New York offices, Young will report to Richelle Parham, UMG’s President of Global E-Commerce and Business Development.

Parham said, “Matt has the leadership and vision to complement Bravado’s stellar track-record of innovation and success.

“In his role, Matt will be a critical element of the ecosystem we have built to deliver unparalleled consumer-driven e-commerce, as well as ensure our artists are reaching their fans and new audiences around the world with exciting products and experiences.”

“Matt will be a critical element of the ecosystem we have built to deliver unparalleled consumer-driven e-commerce.”

Richelle Parham

Young said: “I’m stoked to lead Bravado at this pivotal time and to build on the company’s reputation as the leader in our industry. Bravado is known for creating innovative new opportunities for artists to meaningfully connect with their fans, both directly, on tour and through some of the most prominent retailers in the world.

“With Richelle and her team, Bravado will work closely with our roster of artists, as well as UMG’s labels, territories and operating companies to take UMG’s direct-to-consumer and merchandise strategy to an even greater level of success.”

“I’m stoked to lead Bravado at this pivotal time and to build on the company’s reputation as the leader in our industry.”

Matt Young, Bravado

Across his career, Young has racked up more than 20 years of music industry experience in building brands and artist services, with a focus on merchandising, e-commerce, retail, consumer product licensing, ticketing and customer relationship management (CRM).

Young joins Bravado from Warner Music Group, where he was instrumental during the last 13 years in developing consumer engagement, marketing execution and revenue generation for a range of WMG’s recording artists.

Before Warner Music, he worked at Bandmerch, where he held the roles of General Manager of the New York office, and Head of Retail and A&R, and earlier as Vice President of Sales at Blue Grape Merchandise.

Post-pandemic merch sales aren’t just bouncing back at Universal, either.

Earlier today (November 15), Warner Music Group announced that its ‘artist services and expanded rights’ business – which houses WMG’s merch operation – saw quarterly revenues jump by a whopping 71% YoY in the three months to end of September 2021, generating USD $168 million in the period.Music Business Worldwide