Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Jersey Shortage?

Nike's impending takeover of the league-wide uniform contract is starting to impact retailers, who are running out of Reebok jerseys to sell:

NFL jersey switch may make Packers favorites tough to find

Green Bay Packers fans look over jerseys last week at the Packers Pro Shop inside Lambeau Field. A combination of factors, from the recent NFL labor dispute to Reebok's expiring contract with the league, could cause a shortage of popular jerseys. (Gannett Wisconsin Media)
Written by
Richard Ryman
Gannett Wisconsin Media

GREEN BAY — Popular Green Bay Packers jerseys are going to be scarce over the next three months. Then they're going to be more expensive.

The NFL's decision to change suppliers from Reebok to Nike, combined with the Packers' nationwide popularity, is depleting inventories of merchandise, especially jerseys.

"I think all of us that sell Packers merchandise are experiencing the same challenges," said Kate Hogan, director of retail operations for the Packers. "We bought heavy going in and we bought a lot of jerseys. We are not going to be able to sustain it much longer."

Reebok's 10-year contract to supply NFLapparel is ending. In April, Nike and several other new vendors will take over. As a result, retailers say, Reebok ordered conservatively going into the season. The company's plans also were affected by the NFL lockout, which still was in effect when buying decisions were made.

"Everybody knew coming in it was going to be a tough year for all merchandise," said Brian Swallow, senior vice president of strategy and business development for Fanatics, an online retailer.

"It's very tough being a vendor and retailer. You have to prognosticate, sometimes a year in advance. That being said, in your lame duck year you are going to be very conservative."

The most popular teams will experience the worst shortages, and the Packers are breaking all sorts of popularity records this year, from on-field performance to stock sales to merchandise sales.

"It's absolutely a great brand, winning team, a lot of press coverage nationally," Hogan said. "Even I did not predict we'd be doing the level (of sales) we are."

Sheri Tanner, owner of the Jersey Store, 1931 Holmgren Way, Ashwaubenon, said her business is up more than 50 percent this year with at least two home games remaining. Fanatics said its sales of Packers merchandise was up 170 percent through mid-December.

Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews jerseys were the most popular sold through November by NFLShop .com, according to the NFL, and Packers merchandise led all team sales at the NFL's online store.

Emptying shelves

Shelves, real and virtual, are getting bare.

"What we have on the site is what's available. When it's gone, it's gone," Swallow said.

Mike Walters, manager of The Jersey Store, said his shop is buying what it can find and contracting for some exclusive custom pieces, though they will miss the sales they could have offered, particularly of sweatshirts and jackets.

"It's a nice problem to have, everything flying off the shelves," he said.

Hogan said adult jerseys, Sideline gear and some other goods cannot be restocked. Women's apparel, long-sleeve T-shirts and certain colors, such as gold, are also in short supply, but children's jerseys are plentiful.

Custom-made playoff apparel, however, will be available as always because it is not made until needed.

Joanna Hunter, manager of corporate communications for the NFL, said in an email that NFLShop.com may be able to take up some slack.

"No, we are not concerned. NFLShop.com can supplement other retailers' offerings so fans can get the gear they are seeking," Hunter wrote.

Nonetheless, Hogan and Tanner recommended fans who plan on buying do it soon. "If there is a jersey they want, they should buy it now. We have some inventory left," Hogan said. "Whether from us or anybody else, they should do it now."

Nike will raise prices when it introduces its lineup in April, Walters said.

The cheapest Nike jersey will be $100, up from $75. Authentic Jerseys will be $250, a $60 to $75 increase for Packers fans.

The price increase is not unprecedented. Walters said that 10 years ago Reebok spruced up the jerseys and raised the price from $45 to $60.

He said Nike is promising its jerseys will be snazzy. "We haven't been able to see it. They tell me it's a great jersey, that it's a lot better than what's in the marketplace now," he said.

With the new contracts, Nike will produce a narrower range of products than Reebok. Other venders, such as Forty Seven Brand and New ERA will provide new items, and others, such as VF Imagewear and G3, will continue to provide merchandise under renewed contracts, Hogan said.

Walters said the new arrangement will be better for retailers and fans.

"What it brings back for us is more variety in the marketplace," he said.

Packers' popularity

The Internet is boosting Packers' merchandise sales nationwide, Hogan said. Wisconsin residents continue to purchase the most items from the Packers Pro Shop, but buyers come from all 50 states as well as several countries.

The Packers are working to increase Internet sales. The organization has a good email list, and it has a great brand, but the Pro Shop has to be competitive and deliver on service and product, Hogan said.

"You still have to do the work. If you just sat back, it wouldn't come to you," she said.

Fanatics actually sells more Packers items to non-Wisconsin residents than residents, who account for about 14 percent of sales, Swallow said."I think the angle is who really is America's team," he said. "The Packers have just been resilient. It's a testament to how Packers fans are loyal and passionate about that team."

For local retailers, Tanner said in-person sales can be affected by the makeup of people attending the games. Playoff game crowds are often different than regular season. She said this year's Christmas Day turnout was more like a playoff game, because there were a lot of people who don't normally attend. That meant more sales and a further depletion of stock.

"It was unbelievable. We were overwhelmed," she said.

Hogan said shoppers might have to adjust expectations, buying road jerseys instead of home jerseys, for example.
Couple interesting takeaways from this article:
  • The cost of replica jerseys will be going up. Unfortunate, but not surprising.

  • Nike is promising its jerseys will be "snazzy"? "Better than what's in the marketplace now"?

  • "Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews jerseys were the most popular sold through November by NFLShop .com, according to the NFL, and Packers merchandise led all team sales at the NFL's online store." I'm also glad to see that the Packers are leading the, ahem, pack in merchandise sales across the board.

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