Orioles' Hot Start Is A Victory For Local Retailers
By Tim Richardson
When a team puts together 14 consecutive losing seasons, its merchandise isn't typically flying off the shelves of local retailers. In fact, Majestic Athletic, the on-field provider of Major League Baseball, released its list of the top-selling jerseys from 2011 and not one Oriole made that list. To the contrary, a combined seven New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox made the top 20. The company's projections for the top 10 in 2012 did not include an Oriole either.
Of course this was before the Orioles started the season hot. They have been in sole possession of, tied for or within striking distance of first place in the AL East through more than one-third of the season.
In addition to the team's competitive start, the Orioles unveiled a new look for 2012, highlighted by the return of the cartoon bird as the logo on the club's home and road caps, and the introduction of an alternate orange jersey for Saturday home games. The 2012 cartoon bird head is a new design, using elements from both the 1970 and 1983 versions.
Greg Bader, Orioles director of communications, was unable to divulge numbers for the official team stores inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the York Galleria in York, Pa., so far this season, but did comment on the up-tick in merchandise sales.
"The popularity of the new cartoon bird has been as the club anticipated," Bader said, "with sales numbers reflecting significant interest in the new mark."
Although the new uniforms and on-field performance won't likely move the needle on Majestic's list, they certainly help local retailers.
Mike Durham and his wife, Jerry, own The Sport Shop, with locations in Harborplace and Towson. Their store at the Inner Harbor has been open 26 years, so they have lived through the ups and downs of the Orioles. This season has been productive at the cash register.
"Between the new logo and the team's hot start, our business is definitely better than it was this time last year," Durham said. "At Harborplace, we are up 15 percent for April and May."
Durham said his store in Towson -- whose clientele is more local than that of the Harborplace shop, which attracts more tourists -- had its best May in 16 years. According to Durham, the introduction of something new, like the new logo, helps business.
"Without question, the most popular sales items for us continue to be the Orioles hat with the new bird logo," Durham said. "Fans have also been very excited about Adam Jones, and we saw an increase in the sales of the center fielder's T-shirt after he signed his contract extension."
Even the larger retail chains are enjoying a spike in sales, thanks to the Orioles' performance so far.
"Looking at the numbers last year as compared to this season, we are absolutely seeing a rise in sales with how the team is playing," said Sheila Morrison, the store manger for Modell's Sporting Goods in Arundel Mills Mall. "It's not necessarily the new logo as much as it is fans seeing a player doing well, so they come in to get that jersey. Anything fans see at the game, they want."
Merchandise also expanded this year from traditional items as the Orioles partnered with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Association to create Orioles-themed, state of Maryland license plates that feature the new cartoon bird. Bader said there had been a tremendous response from fans about the plates, and the number of sales continues to rise.
Sales of MLB-licensed merchandise were up 10 percent in 2011 from the previous season. On April 4, Howard Smith, senior vice president of licensing at MLB, told the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch that MLB was even more optimistic that sales would continue to increase in 2012 and that the league hadn't had a start like this during the 14 years he had been with MLB.
As part of MLB's revenue sharing agreement, all 30 teams receive an equal portion of the money generated via league merchandise sales. According to The Licensing Letter, an industry newsletter, MLB reported more than $3 billion in retail sales in 2011.
Mike Gibbons is the executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, owners and operators of the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards. His attraction sits directly next to the main gate of Oriole Park. He said he would have liked to see the schedule pan out differently to increase revenue opportunities, but he still thought it had been a good start to the season.
"I don't think the schedule has been favorable for the Orioles or local businesses by having two series against New York and one against Boston so early in the season," Gibbons said. "I think everyone would like to see those games played later in the summer, or at least as weekend games if played in April and May.
"But as the season has progressed, our store at Sports Legends Museum has certainly seen an increase in traffic. One example is the Kansas City series in late May. We had a great turnout during that home stand, doing twice as much in sales as the same time last season."
Gibbons said this was not the case during previous seasons, when the Orioles played teams outside the AL East during a weekend series in May.
"The club's hot start is certainly good for everyone," Gibbons said.
Posted June 4, 2012