Ravens fans gear up for playoffs

Merchandise: With the Ravens having qualified for the postseason, the franchise's hats, shirts and sweat shirts are all the rage around the area.

Pro Football

January 01, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Rick Preston estimates he has spent more than $4,000 on Ravens gear since 1996, but there he was yesterday morning, pawing through the racks of jerseys, jackets and T-shirts at Modell's Sporting Goods in the Arundel Mills mall.

"I don't have division championship stuff," said Preston, 47, who lives in New Market in Frederick County and also said he wears only Ravens apparel from the time training camp opens until the season ends.

Preston, a Verizon technician who was wearing a black Ravens cap and a black Ravens fleece over a black Ravens shirt, could be excused for not yet having the latest look. The "2003 AFC North Division Champions" T-shirts ($19.99), sweat shirts ($39.99) and caps ($19.99) arrived at retailers Monday and Tuesday.

And with a home playoff game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, Ravens merchandise is in demand across the region - and the country.

On NFLShop.com, November sales of Ravens gear were up 86 percent over October, according to spokesman Dan Masonson. And jersey sales of Jamal Lewis, who was chasing the NFL's single-season rushing record all year, were up 94 percent in the same period, he said.

The league estimates three-quarters of the sales on the Web site are to "displaced" fans, those not in the team's market.

From April 1 to Nov. 30, Ravens sales were up 25 percent compared with the similar period of 2002, Masonson said. The average increase for the entire league for that time was 18 percent, he said, and the biggest increase among playoff teams was the 104 percent spike posted by the Kansas City Chiefs.

All 32 NFL teams share equally in the profits made from all merchandise sales.

The league does not release dollar figures, but License! magazine reported in April that the NFL took in $3.1 billion in licensing revenue.

Masonson wouldn't say exactly where the Ravens rank in sales, disclosing only that they are in the middle third of league teams.

At Modell's, store general manager Jeff Nichols said sales of Ravens gear have "picked up a little," during the team's playoff push, but they have been consistently good all season.

Ravens merchandise - including baby outfits, little cheerleader uniforms and the like - is displayed on 11 racks set up in prime retail real estate - directly at the mall entrance to the 31,000-square-foot store, the biggest of the chain's 110 locations. There are actually six fewer racks than the store used to have, Nichols said.

"We called Reebok [which makes nearly all the NFL's licensed clothing] and said, `Anything you have, give it to me,' " said Nichols, who has been with chain for eight years.

Even though Modell's doesn't have as much Ravens stock as it used to, it had more than Dick's Sporting Goods in the Columbia Crossing shopping center. Dick's had a good selection of T-shirts (including division championship gear) near the entrance, but had no jerseys or jackets or sweat shirts.

The most popular Ravens item, according to Modell's Nichols, is the $49.99 Ray Lewis "replica" jersey, in purple or white. Todd Heap is the next most popular jersey, he said, followed by Jamal Lewis.

"He [Jamal Lewis] started doing well after the first Cleveland game" when he rushed for an NFL-record 295 yards, Nichols said.

The store sells about 75 percent more Ravens merchandise than Redskins, a fact that may be due only in part to the teams' respective records. The Redskins finished the season 5-11.

"If the Redskins were better, their sales would probably be better," he said. "But they're not going to overpower the Ravens - not in this town."

Preston, who has four season tickets in Section 146 ("in the last row, so I can stand all the time," he said), is doing his part.

After the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001, he said he spent more than $1,000 on Ravens merchandise on the QVC shopping channel.

"I keep all the price tags," Preston said. "To me, it's worth something. I'm going to have to up my insurance."

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