Ravens making cash registers ring, too

Fans blitz merchants for team apparel, game-time food

January 14, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Stan Lynch was among the throng of shoppers at J. C. Penney in White Marsh rummaging through tables and racks brimming with Baltimore Ravens T-shirts and sweat shirts.

"They don't have the golf shirt I'm looking for, so I'm going to get a sweat shirt," Lynch, 30, a Baltimore police officer, said last week. He wanted it because he will be host for a game party for friends at his home, as the Ravens play the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship today.

Ravens fans' enthusiasm has been a touchdown for some Baltimore-area businesses. With the team having its best year since moving to Baltimore in 1996, sports apparel retailers, grocery stores, neighborhood bars and take-out restaurants have experienced a significant jump in sales - in many cases more than double - from a year ago at this time.

Last year, the challenge for retailers of team sports apparel was moving slow-selling Ravens merchandise off the shelves to prepare for basketball and hockey.

This year, Baltimore-area stores such as J. C. Penney, Sports Authority and Dick's Sporting Goods say they are selling Ravens merchandise and apparel almost as quickly as it goes on display.

Game-day parties in homes across the region also mean more orders for deli meats, vegetable and sandwich platters from grocery stores such as Safeway and Giant, as well as greater soda, chip and cake sales.

"The longer the Ravens play, the more business we'll see," said Greg TenEyck, a spokesman for Safeway's eastern division. He declined to give sales figures. "A lot of people don't want to prepare products at home; they just let us do all the work for them." For big-store retailers of NFL team merchandise, the challenge over the past two weeks was to keep shelves stocked with Ravens T-shirts, sweat shirts, jackets, caps, key chains, shot glasses, videos and trash cans.

Paula Cole, the Sports Authority's vice president of merchandising of team sports, said the business for Ravens merchandise "is on fire. It's been absolutely crazy."

Cole said sales of the team's merchandise have increased 182 percent at the Sports Authority's 12 Baltimore-area stores since January 2000 - "most of that increase has come over the last four to six weeks."

Another indicator is the stores' "sell-through" rate, which is at an all-time high of 30 percent to 40 percent for Ravens merchandise. This means that when its stores receive 1,000 units of Ravens merchandise, they are selling 300 units to 400 units per day, Cole said.

The big sellers? Replica jerseys. "The key players are what's driving the business, like Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis and Trent Dilfer," Cole said.

It is not just locally that sales have jumped. Nationwide, Ravens merchandise sales are up 10 percent to 15 percent compared with last year at this time, said NFL Properties' spokesman Brian McCarthy. The NFL does not disclose team or league sales figures, but McCarthy said the best-selling Ravens products are hats, T-shirts and sweat shirts.

"More people will be jumping on the bandwagon, and when you're on the bandwagon, you better be wearing the right merchandise," McCarthy said.

The Ravens, however, still rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of merchandise sales, McCarthy said. For that to change, the team needs to win the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.

J. C. Penney's five Baltimore-area stores have seen Ravens-related merchandise boom since the team made the playoffs last month.

Late last week, the stores were selling between $2,000 and $3,600 worth of Ravens team apparel a day. A year ago, the figures were $400 to $600, said Dan Dufresne, the retail chain's merchandise planner for Maryland, Delaware and Northern Virginia.

"For 2000, sales increased as the season went on," Dufresne said. "It really peaked in December during holiday time, especially once they got into the playoffs."

Even as J. C. Penney's overall team-apparel sales - which include NFL, NBA and NASCAR merchandise - were down 22 percent companywide, those at its Maryland stores were up 27 percent, Dufresne said.

"Baltimore was a big part of [the increase]," he said.

Smaller retailers are experiencing the same increase in Ravens fervor. At Sports Maniac in Eastpoint Mall, sales of team apparel the past two weeks accounted for 60 percent of the store's revenue, manager Chris Suit said. Last year, Ravens merchandise sales made up perhaps 30 percent of sales.

The store surpassed last year's monthly January sales figures in the first week of this year.

"The main reason [for better sales] has been Ravens apparel," Suit said. "Actually, they're helping us a lot right now."

Despite the local boon to Ravens-related business, sports retail experts say the team has a long way to go to see a significant increase in nationwide merchandise sales.

"It all comes down to wins and losses," said Marty Brochstein, executive editor of the Licensing Letter, a consumer-licensed-products newsletter.

"The more successful teams tend to do better with a couple of exceptions. There are some classic, perennial teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, that do well" every year, he said.

Perhaps the biggest boon has been to the local bar scene. Places such as Mother's Federal Hill Grille on Charles Street have experienced large increases in business.

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