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Lightning

After Cup win, stores enter OT

Retailers' shelves are quickly cleared of T-shirts and hats, but more Lightning championship gear is set to arrive today.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published June 9, 2004

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Richard Toth of Columbus, Ohio, sizes up a Lightning Stanley Cup championship T-shirt Tuesday at Buccaneer Heaven in Tampa. Toth, who is planning to move his family to Brooksville, attended the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday. He was visiting the store in hopes of buying shirts for his three sons and himself.

Tampa Bay Lightning fans flocked to stores Tuesday to get their hands on everything from $18 T-shirts to $155 Waterford crystal hockey pucks to commemorate their team's capturing the Stanley Cup.

Sports Fan-Attics in the area opened an hour early, at 9 a.m., and stunned store managers arrived to find lines at the doors. By mid afternoon all eight stores in the region had to be resupplied four times with a Majestic T-shirt that lists the entire team roster.

"We knew this was going to be big, but we underestimated," said Bob Durda, buyer for the Tampa-based chain of 30 stores. "Sales are not going to be as big as the Bucs winning the Super Bowl, but it's starting to get there."

The Stanley Cup commemoratives promise to stimulate a whole new round of buying by fans: car flags, bumper stickers, posters, key chains, bar ware and decorative pins. Sports Fan-Attic alone will stock 12 types of commemorative T-shirts, six types of polo shirts and two hat styles.

Indeed, the NHL licenses more than 200 Stanley Cup commemorative items made by 45 suppliers. And the Tampa Bay area is where most manufacturers plan to unload them.

On Tuesday fans snapped up commemorative garments fresh from the factory such as the steel gray LeeSport Official Locker Room T-shirts and New Era caps. But retailers could take only advance orders for collectibles and hope the first-day mobs come back when the shelves fill up once the United Parcel Service deliveries and air freight orders arrive today.

"We sold a lot of first-day T-shirts, but most of our Stanley Cup stuff comes in Wednesday from suppliers beyond the Tampa Bay area," said Conrad Szymanski, president of Beall's Department Stores. "We've got some really big expectations because this leads right into the Father's Day gift giving. It's all new merchandise."

For Florida retailers, the buying splurge happened quickly, so many weren't sure how much to order. With licensed merchandise sales of $1.3-billion in 2003, the National Hockey League is a distant fourth among the big North American pro sports leagues in merchandise sales. Plus Lightning merchandise sales didn't take off until the playoffs, so there is a lingering uncertainty of how far their popularity reaches beyond the Tampa Bay area. Beall's, for instance, stocks Bucs merchandise in 22 of its 60 Florida stores. But Lightning goods can be found in only 14 stores as far south as Manatee County and as far north as Pasco.

The league estimates sales of Lightning gear, which had ranked 22nd of the 30 NHL teams through April, will get a 15 to 25 percent bump up because of the Stanley Cup performance. That would propel the Lightning closer to the head of the middle-of-the-pack franchises.

"While our sales are not as big as the other leagues, our fans are very passionate about their sport," said Jim Haskins, vice president of consumer products marketing for the NHL. "We have seen already that Tampa Bay fans are very rabid about their sports teams."

Tampa Bay area retailers know first-day impulse shoppers don't want to search high and low. So many stores set up special Lightning departments. The preferred location: right at the front door.

"You cannot miss it," said Jerome Wiska, manager of a Sports Authority on Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

Because NHL championships can be once-in-a-lifetime events, the memento industry is all over Stanley Cup memories. It's a limited-edition festival.

Special edition ceramic bobble-head dolls of many of the Lightning players will go for $25. An 8-inch ceramic replica of the Stanley Cup with the Lightning logo is priced at $30. One online shopping site is offering a framed team poster for $70.

For those with bigger budgets, Dillard's is taking reservations for a commemorative $155 Waterford crystal hockey puck with the Lightning logo. NHL.com and the Lightning's Team Store have 24-carat gold commemorative coins for $30 apiece, and special edition watches priced as high as $250.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

[Last modified June 9, 2004, 01:00:39]

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