Orioles merchandise sales spike

September 29, 2014|By Natalie Sherman | The Baltimore Sun

When the Orioles won the team's first American League East division title in 17 years, many fans knew the next play.

"I bought a hat," said Charles Lingner, 39, of Dundalk, a longtime fan who plans to wear his cap at Thursday's game, along with an Eddie Murray jersey and, "for luck," orange Chuck Taylors. "It's been a while since we had a team this talented. It's exciting."

Sales in Birdland are soaring as the team advances to the postseason.

Team merchandise sales leaped 80 percent in the last four weeks, according to SportsOneSource, which collects data from major retailers. In the last 13 weeks, sales rose 33 percent compared with the same period in 2013.

On MLB.com and Orioles.com, September sales of O's merchandise are up 854 percent compared with the same month last year, said Greg Bader, the team's vice president for communications and marketing.

"That Orioles magic is coming back," said Connie Taylor, 46, of Hereford, who was at Camden Yards the night the team clinched the division title and waited in line for more than an hour for a T-shirt and cap to commemorate the moment. "It took me back to the Cal Ripken days. … I think it's bringing a new era of fans."

On Fanatics.com, an online retailer for officially licensed products, the Orioles represent the No. 1-selling team in the league for gear that is not affiliated with individual players over the last four weeks, said Jack Boyle, the company's president of merchandising. Compared with 2012, the last time the Orioles made the postseason, O's merchandise sales this season are up 60 percent, according to the company.

Even including player gear — which means facing the New York Yankees' "Derek Jeter phenomenon" — the Orioles come in second, Boyle said.

"As their postseason really came into full view is when the Orioles took off," Boyle said.

Nationwide, baseball is struggling to increase its sales, as its audience skews older, according to SportsOneSource.

With the exception of the Jeter-powered New York Yankees, the market is down about 5 percent this season, said Matt Powell, a SportsOneSource analyst. By the time the season ends, the $3.4 billion industry is likely to remain flat compared with last year, he said.

The Orioles represent about 2.7 percent of that market, or ninth in the league, with sales trends for the season in line with the downward slope of the rest of the league, Powell said. Last year, the team had the seventh-largest market share, he said.

The Yankees are the biggest seller, accounting for 35 percent of the market. The O's are at least faring better than the Nationals, who saw sales drop 30 percent this year, giving the team a 2 percent market share, or 15th in the league.

Lower expectations at the start of the season likely dampened Orioles' sales, but the gap is starting to close, Powell said.

"It's sort of a prove-it-to-me kind of deal," he said. "They had a deficit, which they're starting to make up based on their more recent numbers."

Attendance at O's games is up about 5 percent this year, to 2,464,473 from 2,357,561 in 2013, according to ESPN records. That's the 13th-highest in the league and the most since 2005.

More than 120,000 people signed up for the chance to buy postseason tickets. Tickets for three possible American League Division Series games at Camden Yards sold out in less than 15 minutes Monday, Bader said.

Two years ago, the team replaced its logo with a cartoon bird reminiscent of the 1960s-era World Series champions and — coincidentally — the team's performance improved. Fans — and buyers — followed.

Yolanda Wilson, 48, of Parkville said she has decorated her house with an Orioles flag and black-and-orange flamingos, and purchased O's yoga pants, sweatpants and T-shirts.

"I was buying it before they went to the playoffs," she said. "They were already good last year, and they're doing great this year, so it does make you want to show your pride."

Since the Orioles clinched earlier this month, apparel promoting the American League East win has been the most popular, with the inventory of T-shirts and hats running low at some locations, retailers said.

Bobbie Bardzik, community marketing manager for Dick's Sporting Goods in Baltimore and central Pennsylvania, said the company just ordered a supply of hoodies and receives new deliveries several times a week.

"Inventory is not low," she said. But "we have sold through a lot of our divisional product."

Fans are starting to identify with the team, after a few seasons of getting to know players, such as Adam Jones, who has turned in a sales record as consistent as his All Star-performance on the field, said Robbie Davis Jr., manager of Robbie's First Base on Ridgely Road in Lutherville-Timonium.

"I think people identify with this team way more than they did two years ago," he said. "Two years ago, the team didn't have an identity like this team does."

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