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Not buying it

Success doesn't breed sales for the 4-0 Bucs or the Stanley Cup champ Lightning this year.

By LOUIS HAU
Published October 7, 2005


  photo
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Andy Waligora of Tampa tries on a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat while browsing the hats at Buccaneer Heaven on Florida Avenue.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning made a triumphant return this week as defending Stanley Cup champions. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to a 4-0 start.

So you might expect excited fans would be falling over themselves to buy jerseys, T-shirts and other logo-embossed gear.

But things haven't quite turned out that rosy, according to SportScanINFO of West Palm Beach, which tracks retail sales of officially licensed team merchandise.

Despite the Bucs' strong start, 2005 team merchandise sales through Oct. 2 totaled $10.3-million , little improved from sales of $9.7-million during the same period last year when the team started the season with four straight losses. National Football League merchandise sales totaled $696.9-million, up about 33 percent from $523.2-million during the same period last year, SportScanINFO said.

Meanwhile, the loss of the National Hockey League's 2004-2005 season to a labor dispute contributed to a breathtaking drop-off in Lightning merchandise sales. SportScanINFO said sales through Oct. 2 totaled $164,560, down from $6.3-million during the same period last year when the team was basking in the glow of its Stanley Cup championship. During the same period, NHL merchandise sales plummeted from $68.4-million to $13.6-million.

All the figures exclude sales that teams post at their stadiums or arenas.

Shawn Bradley, chief operating officer of the Bonham Group, a Colorado sports marketing firm, said merchandise sales are an important barometer of team loyalty, although not as crucial as ticket sales or TV ratings.

"To make the commitment to buy a piece of merchandise, you have to have a certain degree of passion," Bradley said. "That is an indication of fan enthusiasm."

In the case of the Lightning, winning the Stanley Cup led to a surge in the sale of officially licensed products, so "the market got saturated with that merchandise," he said.

Lightning president Ron Campbell agreed. "Everyone bought more than they could use at the time," he said.

The work stoppage also had a major effect, Campbell said, predicting that "now that we're back at it, those numbers will spike."

Campbell pointed to other evidence that fan support for the Lightning remains strong. Ticket sales for the 2005-2006 season have outpaced by nearly 20 percent the sales registered during the team's 2003-2004 championship season, he said. In addition, more than 93 percent of those who had put a deposit down on season tickets for the lost 2004-2005 season decided to re-up for this season.

Still, Campbell acknowledged Lightning team merchandise sales aren't likely to be strong enough in the near future to justify the opening of a Lightning-only retail store. The hockey team is the only one of the Tampa Bay area's professional sports franchises that hasn't spawned a team-exclusive retailer outside of its playing venue, such as Buccaneer Heaven on N Florida Avenue in Tampa and the Devil Rays Dugout at Westshore Plaza in Tampa.

Baseball and football team merchandise sales benefit from the broader-based appeal of those sports, Campbell said.

In addition, given the Lightning's struggles during its early years, "in the evolution of our franchise, we just didn't do a lot of merchandise sales," he said. And the league-wide work stoppage stunted plans to capitalize on its championship season.

"There just hasn't been enough consistent business momentum to make it a good business proposition," he said of a team-exclusive retailer.

As for the Bucs, team spokesman Jeff Kamis pointed out that the team is entering its eighth straight sold-out season and has more than 116,000 people on its waiting list for season tickets.

"Our fans are the best," he said.

Some contend the data from SportScanINFO doesn't reflect growing fan interest in the Bucs during the past few weeks.

Jeffrey Neil Fox, president of Authentic Team Merchandise, which operates Buccaneer Heaven and publishes the monthly Pewter Report fan magazine, said his store's sales were up about 25 percent in September from the same month last year.

The team's perfect record and the popularity of new stars such as running back Cadillac Williams and wide receiver Michael Clayton have helped.

"Winning's everything," Fox said.

Louis Hau can be reached at 813 226-3404 or hau@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 7, 2005, 01:49:15]


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