World Cup merchandise sales surge in the U.S.

By Sonja Ryst
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010

For sporting goods retailers in Washington, the U.S. soccer team's stirring World Cup victory on Wednesday proved a game changer.

Sales of World Cup merchandise in the country has surged in recent weeks. After the 1-0 U.S. win over Algeria, which propelled the United States into the next round of the quadrennial championship, many stores struggled to keep up with demand, as fans hunted jerseys to wear for Saturday's game against Ghana.

When Juju Garabed ordered about 100 of this year's jerseys at Frederick Soccer Supplies in Maryland, the manager hoped he would be able to sell them all. After the 2006 World Cup, it took a couple of years to sell the 40 or 50 jerseys that were left over.

"Normally there's an attitude among certain soccer players -- Americans -- where they act like they don't like the U.S. teams because they're not as good," Garabed said.

But now Garabed has had to turn away a couple of hundred people who wanted U.S. jerseys that sold out three weeks ago. Others were willing to pay $70 for extra-large jerseys that hung to their knees because they couldn't find one that fit.

Sales of World Cup merchandise in the United States totaled $7 million during the week ending June 20, three times the amount sold during the previous week, according to Matt Powell, an analyst at The SportsOneSource Group, a Charlotte-based industry research firm. By comparison, that was less than half of the $15 million worth of NBA merchandise sold during the same week, when the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were wrapping up their championship series. So far this year, sales of World Cup merchandise in the United States has amounted to $35 million, the firm said. Compare that to last year's sales of NFL gear: $2.5 billion.

Powell said he thinks many U.S. sporting goods stores that he follows did not buy huge amounts of World Cup gear for any of the foreign teams. "If they knew which team was going to win, they'd make more money," he added. He noted that some retailers have already begun to mark down France and Italy gear after both teams were dealt surprise early eliminations. "It's like the fruit that doesn't get better with age," he said.

Michael Mosca, vice president of merchandise at Boston-based City Sports, said that if his company ordered new jerseys at this point, the World Cup would be over by the time the supply arrived. But he can get some T-shirts in a couple of weeks in case the U.S. team advances far into the tourney. At the City Sports store in downtown Washington, customers wandered by World Cup gear for sale every few minutes during lunch time Friday.

For Endalk Asfaw, an Ethiopian audit supervisor who lives in Alexandria, the dearth of U.S. jerseys was no problem. He wanted the Argentine jersey anyway. "I like the way they play," he said.

Some customers were flexible. Montgomery County resident Ken Brown came in thinking he might get a jersey for his son's birthday. "He's a soccer player," Brown said. "He was really excited about the winning goal in the last game." Brown ended up buying his son a replica soccer ball.

As of Friday, one Washington-area Sports Authority still had a few U.S. youth-sized jerseys but had sold out of its adult ones. Demand for U.S. team jerseys at the store jumped after Wednesday's win, and World Cup gear also sold fast before Father's Day.

U.S. jerseys at Dick's Sporting Goods in Fairfax County sold out three weeks ago, said store manager Jason Martino. "If the U.S. wins the World Cup, it will be very meaningful for license sales," SportsOneSource's Powell said. But he noted that people quickly forgot the U.S. women's team World Cup title in 1999. Further, he said, "I don't think stores are saying, 'We think the U.S. can win, so we'll buy more product in anticipation.' "

And just like in television ratings, soccer still has an uphill climb against football, basketball and baseball, Powell said.

"I don't expect interest in soccer to be anywhere close to the American sports, no matter what happens," he said.

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