Did 'Sons Of Anarchy' Deal Save Harley-Davidson?

Seen through one prism, the deliciously over-the-top FX hit  “Sons of Anarchy” is one long infomercial for Harley-Davidson. The American motorcycle giant has long been the “hog” of choice for the outlaw biker clubs depicted in “SOA.” So it was no surprise back in 2012 when 20th Century Fox, which produces the series, inked a deal with Harley-Davidson.

The latest feature of the pact, heralding the show’s final season, was a sweepstakes in which the winner was awarded a 2015 Harley-Davidson cruiser model motorcycle.

Still, Harley was slow to do business with  “SOA.” The series had completed four highly rated seasons before it sealed a licensing deal with the motorcycle behemoth to offer 100 limited edition motorcycles. 

In part, I'm sure Harley didn't move sooner to partner with the highest-rated series in FX's history because the company was wary of being too closely identified with a show peopled by outlaw gangsters who run guns, deal hard drugs, own brothels and a porn studio, while leaving weekly body count in their raging wake. Still, Harley eventually overcame its reservations and revved up for the marketing deal.



In 2013 Harley sales increased by 6% over the year before. The brand also became the leader with the 18- to 34-year-old crowd. 

From what I hear inside the company's C-suites, there's concern about whether that growth can be sustained, let alone increased. The average buyer of the machines is 50-plus, primarily male and white. Among the motorcycle cogniscenti, Harleys are known as middle-aged weekend warrior machines, more likely ridden by CPAs, dentists and lawyers than young, hip cycling enthusiasts.

No doubt “SOA” has helped, but still Harley is struggling to figure out how to capture the growing segment of women who ride, as well as African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups that tend to be drawn elsewhere.  This is a tricky dance to do without alienating your core. Over the last couple of years, Harley has introduced less expensive, lighter street machines particularly for that reason. Its splashy introduction of a prototype for an electric bike last June was another attempt to reshape its image,.

Last February, “SOA” co-star Mark Boone Jr. crowed that the series had “basically saved Harley.” No doubt the series did help the manufacturer shore up its image and boost sales a tad. However, as SAMCRO rides off into the sunset with its finale Dec. 9, Harley's marketing challenges remain. “SOA” creator Kurt Sutter is developing a prequel series that will no doubt feature vintage Harley hogs and the requisite licensing deals.

Maybe Harley would get more of a helping hand if it cut a deal to feature its Millennial-focused cycles on such rainbow-cast series as “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”   Wouldn't be surprised to see that happen.

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