Saturday, August 14, 1999

Merchandise sales match team's success




BY PHILLIP PINA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Clyde Pridemore glanced around at a recent Cincinnati Reds game and noticed a new look. Not to Cinergy Field, which has had some painting done to it, but to the fans around him.

        People are beginning to part with their faded Reds ball caps and T-shirts. They are buying new ones. And that bodes well for the team, as well as the retailers who cater to their fans.

        Merchants say Reds merchandise sales are taking off after years of declining interest.

        The past two years — when the team lost more games than they won — people would walk right past the Queen City Novelties stand at Walnut and Third streets. Those who stopped and bought something were few and far between, said James Worthington, who has manned the location since 1988.

        Last year, the team finished with 77 wins and 85 losses. Going into Friday night's game, the team was 20 games above .500 and trailing the Central Division's leading Houston Astros by one game.

        “It was rough last year,” Mr. Worthington said. People were not all that interested in shelling out money for a losing team, he said. Today, it's a different story.

        Business has about doubled at Mr. Worthington's stand this year compared to last season and is nearing the levels seen before the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, he said.

        Sales are up about 60 percent at the 18 stadium merchandise stands and one downtown store run by Sportservice, which handles concession sales and retail outlets inside the stadium. And after more than 500 requests for merchandise since May 1 from fans around the world, the Reds set up an Internet store at www.cincinnatireds.com/store/index2.html on Tuesday.

        “Winning has a lot to do with it,” said Monte Gibbs, baseball marketing manager for Russell Athletic. An Alabama-based licensed manufacturer of apparel for Major League Baseball, Russell Athletic has seen an increase in sales of the Reds jersey it sells in stores throughout the country.

        Although the big sellers nationwide continue to be products promoting such large-market teams as the New York Yankees, the company has noticed an increased interest in Reds merchandise, he said. While the team did introduce new uniforms and ball caps this year, which often boosts business, the winning record is pushing sales even more, he said.

        Sports apparel is big business. In 1998, sales of clothing with professional sports team logos topped $1.4 billion, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. For the Reds, it's a way of generating cash.

        The Reds, Sportservice and Russell Athletics all said sales are on the rise, though they would not divulge exact sales figures. Jill Perrin, merchandise manager of the Reds, said that while the money benefiting the team from retail sales is small compared to ticket sales, the team is pushing merchandise to make a profit.

        “This is the best year we've had in many years,” said Don Dierig, operations manager for Sportservice in Cincinnati.The biggest sellers are the redesigned ball caps and jerseys, he said.

        Mr. Pridemore, who attends about 20 games a year, considers himself a big fan. The Price Hill man has always had a number of Reds ball caps from past years, but he saw the new designs and bought himself one the other day.

        “You like to see the Reds doing good,” he said.

       



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