Sporting Up the 'Man Cave'

By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 7, 2006

The sports world has come up with a new concept in game-day luxury: the Man Cave.

That would be the dad-dominated media room in that increasingly luxurious skybox called home. The concept comes from the National Basketball Association's merchandising experts, who see untapped opportunity in the explosion of affluence that has fueled spending on big-screen TVs in game-viewing rooms. Somebody's got to furnish them.

Next month, at its Fifth Avenue store in New York, the NBA will unveil a line of upscale sports-themed furnishings for the grotto. The catalogue includes $900 leather club chairs, a vending machine and an LCD TV framed in a choice of jersey colors. Designers worked hard to avoid anything crass. The NBA's "logoman" symbol will be subtly embossed in the dark leather upholstery. Pale wool carpets offer barely noticeable insignia sculpted in the pile.

In what could be a first for sports decor, the goal is to be "very tasteful," according to Pamela Gray, senior director of retail licensing. Gray is the source of "Man Cave," her designation for the expanding share of the castle devoted to media, den and office.

"We wanted to connect with the fan going into these larger and larger homes," she says. "Men are really involved in decorating more and more."

The road to championships is more often paved with kitsch, whether baseball logos emblazoned on bistro tables and bar stools or mailboxes shaped like football helmets. Online stores hawk Tiffany-style lamps customized with team colors. Players' signatures decorate curtains like ersatz fleurs-de-lis.

Depending on one's level of passion, the overall trend is fan-friendly. But things can still get ugly.

Just before Christmas, the Rival company unveiled a limited-edition NASCAR Crock-Pot wrapped with a montage of action photos. As the chili revs, cooks can ogle one of 17 smiling drivers -- from Greg Biffle to Rusty Wallace -- beside his race car. The casserole costs $59.90 on .

Tailgaters may thrill to the border of checkered flags, but the crock will stand out like a bumper sticker on a granite countertop.

There's more. Amid the avalanche of bed sheets and garden flags, shoppers also can find an assortment of NASCAR "snack bowl helmets" with removable dip bowls. offers an Elliott Sadler model for $44.99. Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel have absolutely nothing like it.

An NFL-themed desk lamp offers a cartoonish Dallas Cowboy riding a football under a brass-plated goalpost, and that's one of the more likable designs. Spa baths can revert to locker-room chic with team-themed shower curtains.

Licensing agreements have long encouraged branded merchandise, from jerseys and sweats to commuter mugs. On game or race days, fans happily wrap themselves in team hues, even when combos like wine with mustard defy the color wheel. As long as the passion remained temporary and sporadic, the excesses of team spirit over fashion could be ignored. But the creep from occasional trappings to permanent fixtures presents new challenges.

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