Kings sponsorship wears well for jersey seller
MeiGray Group, a game-worn jersey seller and authenticator, this NHL season became the first company of its kind to sponsor the practice jerseys of a major league sports franchise in the United States.
Other NHL clubs, and teams in other leagues, have signed deals of their own in recent years that give partners practice-time exposure — a group that ranges from the Tampa Bay Lightning (Dex Imaging) to the St. Louis Rams (American Airlines and, more recently, ContinuityX). But in MeiGray’s case, the timing of its application to get more involved with a club’s jerseys could not have been better.
|MeiGray Group is the practice jersey sponsor for the Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s about branding and a partnership,” said MeiGray President and COO Barry Meisel, a former sportswriter who started the company with Bob Gray in 1997. “It might not bring a lot of business directly, but it’s a really great thing for us to be part of. Those jerseys have been seen by a lot of people this spring.”
The Kings are one of eight NHL clubs that license MeiGray to control the selling of their game-worn jerseys. MeiGray also represents the New Jersey Devils, this year’s Eastern Conference representative in the Final. In addition, MeiGray handles the jerseys for the NHL at premier events such as the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic.
In its 15 years of existence, the Branchburg, N.J.-based company has sold more than 29,000 jerseys. MeiGray also has deals with the Dallas Mavericks, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Eagles and USA Hockey.
“We chose to partner with MeiGray because they are the leaders understanding this market,” said Kings COO Chris McGowan. “As our team improved on the ice, we wanted to make sure we got the proper value for Kings-related items. MeiGray helps us achieve that goal with our game-worn jersey program.”
Meisel was a sportswriter for 19 years, mostly with the New York Daily News, before starting MeiGray. An avid collector even as a reporter, he acquired a jersey each season from a player with one of the teams he covered, including the Devils and the New York Giants, Rangers and Islanders.
He ran the idea for the game-worn jersey business by two hockey general managers, Lou Lamoriello of the Devils and Neil Smith of the Rangers. Both provided encouragement.
“Lou and Neil are both very successful, having won Stanley Cups, but are two completely different people when it comes to their approach to business,” Meisel said. “I figured if they both gave thumbs up, we might be on to something.”
Although MeiGray has competitors like New York-based Steiner Sports, its biggest competition comes from the teams, which often choose to sell their own game-worn jerseys. Meisel’s goal is to convince teams of the value to collectors of having a third-party authenticator. Some teams leave MeiGray and come back, as the Kings did this season after partnering with MeiGray from 2002 to 2009. Meisel said this year was the first of a multiyear deal with the Kings but declined to share additional details.
While many game-worns are sold on the MeiGray website, Meisel has developed such a large Rolodex of fanatical customers that many jerseys are sold at his asking price before they are made available online.
In New Jersey and Los Angeles for the Cup Final, Meisel inspected the serial numbers sewn on the inside of each home and road jersey before the series began. After the Kings defeated the Devils in Game 3 last Monday to go up 3-0 in the series, Meisel was just outside the locker rooms, confirming the serial numbers and collecting the jerseys of the two teams.
Once a team won three games in the Final, the first set of jerseys went to MeiGray. The second set, worn until the end of the Final, becomes the property of the clubs.
MeiGray has had no trouble finding takers. The Cup Final jersey worn in Games 1 and 2 at Prudential Center by Martin Brodeur, the future Hall of Fame goaltender of the Devils, brought in the most money as of last week: It went for $17,500. The home and road jerseys of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick were sold for $7,500 each.
“Having two of our partners in the Cup Final,” said Meisel, “has been the capper of a very good season.”