SBJ/August 31 - September 6, 1998/No Topic Name

McMentos going fast

It is a Tuesday morning at Three Rivers Stadium — a T.A.M. (Tuesday after McGwire), to be exact. In an interior office, among stacks of boxes filled with shirts, caps and assorted other baseball sundries, an adding machine whirrs.

Sam Rogiero reviews the figures from a printout on his desk, then stares into the numbers that glow from his calculator.

"It was just unbelievable,'' said Rogiero, a retail manager for Aramark Corp., which runs the concessions at the Pittsburgh Pirates' ballpark. "They bought everything. People bought everything. We had zero left to sell for Monday.

"I just wish I would've doubled up on what we brought in, it went so fast."

Rogiero stumbles over the numbers, even though he's seen them before. He ordered 1,400 McGwire photo pennants. They're gone. And 840 balls bearing

McGwire's name and number. Gone. He brought in 800 McGwire plaques, 432

McGwire T-shirts and 360 St. Louis Cardinals baseballs.

Gone, they were, all of them; gone by the end of the second day. Gone as certain as the home run balls that drew 45,082 and then 42,134 to Three Rivers Stadium for Saturday and Sunday games against Cardinals, then 28,435 on Monday, when it was raining and McGwire was taking the day off.

Going. Going. Gone.

Concessionaires at Three Rivers Stadium tripled their per-game merchandise sales during McGwire's stay, even though they were all but out of everything

McGwire by the time he hit his second home run of the series in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon.

Homer 'hot markets'

As Mark McGwire's road show weaves through stadiums across the country, it brings with it a building wave of merchandising opportunities. Fans come in search of memories. When they leave, they take mementos.

"Anything with Mark McGwire on it blows out,'' said Tod Rastello, director of hot markets for Pro Player Inc., which has created designs for shirts featuring

McGwire and Sammy Sosa in anticipation of demand.

In St. Louis and Chicago, the strategy is as it has been all year: Keep McGwire and Sosa stuff stocked, replacing it as it flies out of the park.

But the home run chase, being a chase, does not stand still.

It moves from city to city, percolating in ways that can be projected but not predicted, weaving through a maze of variables that create intrigue for fans but indigestion for those trying to capitalize on the race.

McGwire might hit 61 homers. Sosa might hit 61 homers. Ken Griffey Jr. might, conceivably, hit 61 homers. It could happen in St. Louis, Chicago or Seattle. It could happen in Houston, Milwaukee, San Diego or perhaps even Anaheim. It could happen on the first night of a series, or the last.

It may not happen at all.

Wanna sell a T-shirt? That's great, because plenty of people stand poised to buy one. But what should it say? Where should you send it? And when?

In merchandising, the applicable term is "hot market" — a fleeting sales opportunity created by an unpredictable event. A team winning a championship creates a hot market. So does a player breaking a record.

This home run chase is a hot market the way a volcano is a hot mountain — the hottest of the hot, able to spew forth at any moment, or remain dormant into the fall.

"Every hot-market component of every licensee involved [with Major League Baseball] is on this thing every night, watching," said Steve Armus, licensing director for adult wearables at MLB Properties Inc. "There are multiples of designs that deal with different scenarios. The key is being prepared and ready to react."

A calculated gamble

That's a new trend for many baseball concessionaires. Though most manufacturers of licensed product were pushing the idea of selling on the strength of home run interest, some stadium retailers were reluctant, fearing that they'd be left with product they couldn't sell once McGwire or Sosa left town.

Rogiero admitted that concern figured into his buying decisions.

"These were items we'd never, ever bring in,'' said Rogiero. "I definitely saw it as a risk. But it's a risk I took and I'm glad I did it. If he came through again, I'd buy even more."

McGwire accounted for 28 percent of all merchandise sold at Three Rivers during his three-day stay. When the Pirates sold out of McGwire merchandise, fans moved on to Cards gear that Rogiero had purchased as a hedge against a McGwire flop.

"The team stuff is a little safer, so I brought that in too," Rogiero said. "You don't want to get stuck with McGwire stuff after he's gone. The St. Louis Cardinals will always be the Cardinals. They'll always come back here. You can always put it away and then sell it again next year."

Those same fears may have cost another Aramark outfit sales opportunities. When the Cardinals visited New York for doubleheaders on Aug. 20 and 21, Aramark's merchandisers at Shea Stadium opted not to stock McGwire merchandise. He hit his 50th and 51st home runs there, juicing the crowd into what might have been a souvenir-buying frenzy.

"We didn't want to put our heads out there on it," said Mike Landeen, Aramark's retail operations manager at Shea Stadium. "No other Aramark accounts had really dealt with it at that point, so we didn't have any numbers to go by. If we had seen numbers elsewhere that said it was going to sell like crazy, we'd have brought the merchandise in."

There when it happens

There is surprisingly little record-specific licensed merchandise on the market.

Pro Player, widely considered one of the better hot-market handlers, said it opted against home run-specific designs because they were time-sensitive. Sources within licensee circles said several manufacturers ran into difficulty getting approval for such designs — one of which would have featured McGwire, Sosa, Griffey and Greg Vaughn, and thus might have been a tough sell because fans of one player might reject a shirt that included images of players from opposing teams.

One of the few licensees willing to take the risk from the outset, Joy Athletic, began selling a home run-pursuit shirt last season, when McGwire put on a September burst. The shirt, which features photos of McGwire, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, headlined by the tag phrase "In Pursuit of 62," has sold well for the company, which says it expects to move more than 25,000 of them.

Joy Athletic tried to attain a license for a similar shirt featuring Griffey but he refused to approve it, a company source said.

"The pursuit shirt has been a huge success for us,'' said Pete Allerby, vice president of sales for Joy Athletic. "It's funny the way these things work. Griffey doesn't want a shirt like that in the marketplace, so we don't do it. Mark doesn't mind, so we do. As it turns out, the Mark shirt is the one to have."

It likely will remain so, at least for a couple of weeks, as the quest continues.

As it gets closer, the hot market heats up.

"What's out there right now is selling well in ballparks, but the real opportunity will be when one of them breaks it," said Armus, the MLB Properties licensing director. "The magnitude of the event mushrooms when the record is broken. At that point, it becomes a national event."

Those licensees that plan to have commemorative merchandise in ballparks already are plotting ways to get their product in front of consumers first. Most already have designed artwork and lined up contract printers in several cities, the better to guarantee that their gear will be in ballparks the day after the record is broken — if not the night that it falls.

The Cardinals say they're sure to make commemorative products available moments after the 62nd homer is hit — if it's hit and hit by McGwire at Busch Stadium. The Cubs would try to do the same if Sosa were to connect at Wrigley Field.

Licensees say they don't like to print commemorative shirts and caps in advance because the most sought-after ones — those with the date on them — must be destroyed if the record isn't broken that night.

"Our philosophy is to be there and start printing after it happens,'' said Pro Player's Rastello. "We should be able to get goods to the concessionaires. If not, maybe we're selling them as fans are walking out. We know how to get product to market quickly without hedging. That's what hot-market business is all about."

St. Louis, Chicago or Cincinnati?

Houston, Milwaukee or San Diego?

McGwire, Sosa or Griffey?

Either, neither, all or none?

In Pittsburgh, Rogiero ordered another 350 McGwire pennants the day after the Cardinals left town. They won't be back again this season.

"I had to do it,'' Rogiero said. "He's going to keep making news, right?"

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