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HOLIDAY PREVIEW: 'TIS THE SEASON TO BUY SPORTS STUFF
Published November 22, 1994
Retailers around the country are bracing for this coming Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. But with hockey and baseball both out of work today, the leagues, licensees and retailers in the sports industry face unique challenges selling goods to fans who have been denied the product they love most -- the games. Over the last few days, THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY surveyed league and licensed apparel executives about their predictions for this holiday season. Highlights of our conversations follow: NFL PROPERTIES: Brian McCarthy, Manager of Corporate Communications: "We think Santa's bag is probably going to be full of NFL licensed merchandise. This season has shown that the NFL has become, and is, the dominant league in terms of fan interest, fan participation, and also back on track in sales of licensed products." According to McCarthy, the NFL traditionally has a strong 4th quarter and is looking for the Pro-Line authentic apparel to move well this year: "With the excitement of the playoffs coming up, you can spend your whole Christmas season, from the end of December to the end of January wearing the product that you got on Christmas." Asked about the work stoppages in other sports, McCarthy was reluctant to predict benefits for the NFL beyond the short-term: "We are all in the same business, and for us to be successful over the long term we need retailers to be excited about licensed products as a whole." NBA PROPERTIES: Jon Stern, Manager of Marketing Communications: "We are really excited about the upcoming holiday season. Traditionally, the NBA doesn't run a lot of 4th quarter promotions, but right now we are doing some regional work with Sears and Target, as well as some national promotions with Foot-Locker and Champs." One consistent seller for the NBA is the Champion replica jersey, and with the emergence of star rookies such as Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, the league "expects some good things out of their replicas." On the work stoppages: "We all feel that we are in this together, and if someone comes to a retailer to buy products from one league, we think that there is a good chance that they will wander over to another area and buy another product from another league." MLB PROPERTIES: Retail Manager Elliot Runyon said that, despite the strike, Major League Baseball believes it has not lost its fan base and predicted that frustrated fans will come back. Although summer is traditionally baseball's strongest period, he said "the end of the fourth quarter has always been a nice peak in the valley." Baseball's biggest push this quarter will be with The Diamond Collection -- authentic jerseys, hats and dugout jackets. The league will also offer its "Fan Appreciation" gifts (special offers designed to thank fans for tolerating the work stoppage), minor league apparel, and Negro League merchandise. NHL PROPERTIES: NHL Dir. of Communications Mary Clarke acknowledged that the work stoppage will clearly affect the sale of NHL goods: "Unfortunately, because of our current labor situation, I must say we are not doing anything special for the season. What we are trying to do is keep all of our family of retailers and licensees on board until we get an agreement with our union." Clarke did say, however, that apparel sales are good, especially sales of authentic jerseys. Clarke: "They are written up as the next hottest sports fashion item, beyond the baseball hat." THE PRO IMAGE: Tom Haraldsen, Dir of Public Relations: "November and December account for, anywhere between 30-40% of the product that we sell in a given year, so the holidays are very critical for us....Fortunately, both the NBA and the NFL are playing." On baseball, Haraldsen noted a "wait- and-see attitude" among both retailers and consumers: "I don't expect Major League Baseball sales are going to be real strong at Christmas time this year." Haraldsen called hockey "up and coming" and noted that NHL sales have not been affected drastically: "The hottest selling items in our stores have been NHL replica jerseys, and they are still being purchased," even though the league is not playing. STARTER: Ian Gomar, VP of Marketing: "We expect our sales of authentic gear and replica products to be very buoyant." Gomar said Starter is obviously disappointed about the work stoppages: "We had a great opportunity and season finale for [MLB]. ... And although we are still selling NHL hockey merchandise, we believe with the games being played, the volume would be at a higher level." LOGO 7: Eddie White, Dir of Public Relations: "It will be a good holiday season for the NFL and for Logo Athletics. Our research shows that our 'shark' designs on the hats and the jackets are expected to move well through the season ... and, only now are our outerwear heavyweight jackets being exposed on the sidelines." On hockey and baseball, White said fans and consumers "are just thinking football," but expressed Logo 7's interest in all getting back to work: "We want the ice to be frozen and we want the grass to be cut, and the players to come back and play." APEX ONE: Dick Venneri, Advertising Manager: "We deal with the Cowboys who make up 30% of all NFL licensed merchandise ... and, the NFL business is as strong as it has ever been, especially with the Cowboys. ... The Patriots are also selling strong for us -- the focus on the team has been more intense and their new logo is helping. The 49ers are also selling well." Venneri believes that work stoppages will not affect sales: "If you are a fan you will still buy the product, regardless of the league. Fan loyalty goes deeper than work stoppages."