Player Merch

This is different:

The Major League Baseball Players Association on Friday will open its first retail outlet devoted to selling player-only merchandise.

The store, which will be inside Citi Field and be operated by Aramark, is an attempt to boost licensing revenue for the union and to promote star players, much as the N.B.A. and other leagues have done. The outlet will be called The Players Clubhouse: A Players Choice Store and is being billed by the union as a prototype for future retail stores . . .

. . . “The intention is not to block out New York Mets logos,” Heeter said. But “fans believe the players are their connection to the games and they want to keep jerseys of their favorite players” . . . Sports industry analysts say fans increasingly follow players more than their teams because they switch teams so frequently. The union is trying to make the most of that trend, it said.

“You don’t necessarily grow up a Mets fan, but a David Wright fan, and your affinity changes when he changes teams,” said Dan Migala, director of the Graduate School of Sports Business at Northwestern University. “People are there to support the Mets, but also David.”

I’m highly dubious of that last part. Outside of maybe Jackie Robinson, I can’t think of a single player with an independent fan base like NBA players often have (and I don’t know that people’s appreciation of Robinson is the kind of “fandom” we’re talking about here as much as it is an appreciation). David Wright has been adopted by Mets fans because he’s their young star third baseman. If he ever leaves for, say, the Cardinals or something, Mets fans will retain some affection for him, but nothing approaching anything you’d call fandom, especially not the brand of fandom that inspires one to continue to wear merchandise with his name on it. Indeed, the majority of Mets’ Wright fans would put their Wright stuff away and latch on to the next big Mets player.

So good luck with the David Wright shirts, MLBPA, but I have this feeling that the purveyors of team-branded merchandise are not too worried about it.

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Comments

  1. Millsy said...

    Chris,

    I think ‘dumbest thing I’ve ever heard’ is a bit harsh.  I would imagine that one of the reasons Migala sees this trend is Fantasy Baseball.  I, for one, grew up a Baltimore Orioles fan…watching Cal Ripken, Jr.  However, my team-specific ‘fandom’ isn’t terribly strong, as is the case with a LARGE number of fans.  Many fans like this latch onto fantasy baseball these days in order to feel a closer relationship to someone that doesn’t necessarily play for their home team.  However, when my first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, hits a home run, I cheer.  Fans are becoming fairly non-traditional, and claiming that this statement is ‘the dumbest thing ever’ is a bit much.

    I would imagine there are plenty of fans who’s favorite player isn’t on their home team.  When Ripken was toward the end of his career, I decided to collect Alex Rodriguez baseball cards.  I went out of my way to find them.  A-Rod played for the Mariners and Texas and even the Baltimore-hated Yankees.  I think athletes are becoming more individually marketable than they ever have been and the Union is trying to take advantage of that.  And I strongly believe that Fantasy Baseball plays a large role.

    All in all, he said that they aren’t NECESSARILY just Mets fans.  A rational sports fan who roots for the Yankees probably would be fairly enamored with a guy like David Wright, despite his playing across town.  Of course, finding a RATIONAL Yankee fan may be a difficult task.  But they’re out there…and I’m sure they’re more prevalent in other cities.

    Don’t forget that New York is a place where people from all over the place are relocated for work and living reasons.  I’m sure it was no mistake that the MLBPA put their first store there.  It shouldn’t take much away from the sales of Mets merchandise…it’s a different team…meaning it’s a different product.  Ultimately, the teams and MLB allowing these stores probably realized this, and that is why they’re not too worried.

  2. Tim Kelly said...

    I’m going to buy a Kerry Wood Cleveland Indians jersey, I have tickets to all three games that they’re playing in Wrigley this year, I will probably make the Cell a few times when they play there, and I’m going to Cleveland for the Yankees-Tribe game on May 30th at the Prog.  I feel shame…

  3. Millsy said...

    One thing I think that can be misconstrued by the statements made are that ‘player following’ are the sole reason for the stores.  I have no doubt that this phenomenon can be profitable for them.  However, I can gaurantee you that selling Yankee and Red Sox merchandise at Camden Yards will bring in a LOT of money.  Perhaps MLB doesn’t try to capitalize on this as much, thinking that it would offend home fans, but the MLBPA doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.  Also, considering that the cost for them to run the stores is very low (the venue is already built, staff is probably paid minimum wage, etc), I can’t imagine this can’t at least turn a little profit.

  4. Chris H. said...

    Millsy:

    Well, my “dumbest thing” remark was exaggeration, naturally.

    Since we’re both discussing points of view that, essentially, are based on anecdotal evidence, it’s tough to know for sure.  I just have a hard time believing that the fandom you describe is really widespread.

    Maybe it’s because I’m not really a fantasy baseball guy.  I dunno.  But my own rooting interest is for the Cubs, plain and simple; I was happy for Mark Grace when he went to the Diamondbacks and won a ring, but it would never even occur to me to get a non-Cubs Grace jersey.

    (Then again, I’m not much for wearing jerseys with a player’s name on it anyway, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

  5. Millsy said...

    Agreed.  I actually think this topic would make for a very interesting piece on fan preferences and their change over time (assuming there is any).  Is fantasy baseball the culprit (I’ve heard the accusation that fantasy keeps people from being ‘real fans’…whatever that means).  What I have at this point is, as you say, anecdotal and I haven’t read much on the subject.

    From the data I HAVE seen, you sir, as a Cubs fan, are quite unique.  They seem to be everywhere and the Cubs draw huge crowds when they visit other teams (only second to the Yankees over the past 10 years), despite being historically not very good.  That’s what makes discussions like this one a lot of fun.

  6. Grant said...

    Exhibit 1, for me, is Mike Mussina. Orioles fans loved the guy. He leaves for the Yankees and suddenly he’s public enemy #1. Many of us have forgiven him, at least partially, seeing how awful Angelos was for the years and years after Mussina left. I even want him to make the Hall, regardless of what team he goes in with. But he used to be one of my favorite players. Certainly can’t say _that_ anymore.

  7. mkd said...

    I have to agree with Chris H that the director of the Graduate School of Sports Business at Northwestern University just said something pretty dumb. The notion that players will ever be followed with the same enthusiasm as teams is patently ridiculous. Teams are the basic unit of baseball fandom and nothing will ever change that fact. If anything, the fluid nature of modern rosters increases attachment to the Team, which is left as the only constant.

  8. GBS said...

    I’m a Cardinals fan, and I love Albert Pujols, but if he leaves St. Louis, my “love” will become “like” because he will no longer be wearing my team’s birds-on-a-bat jersey.

    I don’t buy team merchandise with player names on it because that player may not always be there.  Or because the player just might do something monumentally stupid.

  9. Joao said...

    I assume they would be selling a, say, Mets jersey with David Wright’s name, rather than a generic baseball jersey that has, instead of a team logo, a “David Wright” logo, like I sometimes see for NBA players.  If its the former, then I hope they sell some with retired players names on them.  That’s the only type I ever buy for reasons mentioned by GBS.  I could see buying a Lou Whitaker jersey or a Clemente one (not the sleeveless or pullover kind though).

  10. Chris H. said...

    “‘You don’t necessarily grow up a Mets fan, but a David Wright fan, and your affinity changes when he changes teams,’ said Dan Migala, director of the Graduate School of Sports Business at Northwestern University.”

    With all due respect to Dan and my Wildcats, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.  Perhaps Dan meant this as some sort of bizarre April Fools’ joke or something.  Has ANYONE here ever met ANYONE who thinks this way?

    Ridiculous.

  11. Kevin said...

    The odd thing is, I would probably wear a Wright or Santana shirt sans team, but probably not a Mets shirt of either…I’m not a fan of any team in particular, so I don’t like wearing team shirts because people just assume I’m a fan of that team.  I definitely don’t think there are enough people like me to make a target market, but just thought I’d throw it out there…

  12. pault said...

    put’s me in mind of a contribution i made to the pujols awards last year. see the section on my blue jays and amarak:

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-pujols-awards-weeks-23-and-24/

    think the staff will be in the union this time, seeing it’s a union shop? the wobblies need to know about this…

    ——-
    would also take this op to say: john b—gonna miss you and your writing. this has made me reread our email exchanges on the jays again. grin

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