SBJ/November 20 - 26, 2006/This Weeks News

Houston’s title heats up MLS’s hot market

More than 150 people piled into an Academy Sporting Goods store in Houston on Nov. 14, grabbing orange T-shirts commemorating the Dynamo’s MLS Cup victory and collecting signatures from players Brian Ching and Brian Mullan.

Shoppers check out Houston Dynamo
merchandise after the club won the MLS Cup.

The turnout and purchases highlighted the strongest MLS merchandising sales following an MLS Cup to date, according to Stu Crystal, MLS’s vice president of consumer products. The league estimates that more than 20,000 championship shirts will be sold between now and the holidays, grossing more than five times the previous top sales number of roughly 4,000 units.

“Our numbers always pale in comparison to other leagues,” Crystal said, “but for MLS it’s by far our biggest year and shows we’re moving in the right direction.”

MLS licensing sales rose 20 percent this year, according to the league. Crystal attributed that to the addition of Houston, which relocated from San Jose, and the renamed New York Red Bulls; the support of Adidas, which was in its first full year as the league’s exclusive licensee; and new space for MLS hard goods on retail shelves at Target stores nationwide.

“Clearly, that was a huge shot in the arm when you look at sales volume,” Crystal said, noting that Adidas helped secure the Target space.

Crystal expects continued growth in 2007 as retailers expand shelf space for MLS merchandise. Target already has committed to doubling shelf space to add more styles of MLS bags and balls. Also, Dick’s Sporting Goods, which recently signed a 20-year deal as naming-rights sponsor for the Colorado Rapids’ new stadium, will begin selling MLS merchandise.

“We believe they will be able to move a lot of product,” Crystal said of Dick’s. “Once they show they’re successful, I’m sure a number of other leagues will jump on the bandwagon.”

More league-related merchandise also will be available in 2007, including a $20 uniform kit that Adidas will sell through Eurosport, a catalog-based soccer retailer. The jerseys will be designed for recreational players so that youth players can wear a Chicago Fire or Los Angeles Galaxy jersey in the same way tee-ball teams wear Oakland A’s or Baltimore Orioles caps.

The league will not benefit financially from those jersey sales, Crystal said, but will benefit from brand extension.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said. “We see the importance of connecting the teams to kids when they’re playing the sport and are looking to develop fans at a young age.”

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