Holiday shirts bolster Penguins' revenue

What do you do with fans who already have all the merchandise they want?

Convince them they want more.

In trying to reach the fans who own a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin jersey, the Penguins who are tied 2-2 in an opening-round playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, sold six holiday-themed T-shirts this year, featuring their logo -- a skating penguin holding a hockey stick -- dressed in various festive garb.

For Thanksgiving, the penguin is wearing a pilgrim’s hat. For Christmas, it is dressed as Santa Claus. It does its best Cupid impression for Valentine’s Day, carrying a bow and arrows. On Halloween, it isn’t wearing anything at all -- it’s a skeleton.

As simple, and maybe silly, as it seems, the new shirts generated $100,000 in additional revenue for the team, said senior vice president David Peart.

The shirts, which retail for about $22, were developed in the offseason as a way to sell merchandise to fans who already owned the fan essentials -- a basic Penguins T-shirt or a jersey of their favorite player. In the past, the Penguins have used throwback jerseys, such as the kinds worn during the Winter Classic in 2008 and 2011, to market merchandise to fans who already owned jerseys and other apparel.

The Penguins developed two shirts for Halloween and one shirt each for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The Penguins have marketed St. Patrick’s Day apparel for several years but featured a new design for the holiday-themed apparel.

The Penguins weren’t necessarily hurting in merchandise sales. According to the NHL, the Penguins had three players rank among the 25 best-selling jerseys during the 2013-14 season -- Sidney Crosby (No. 1), Evgeni Malkin (No. 8) and Marc-Andre Fleury (No. 25).

League-wide, the NHL pulls in about $400 million in jersey sales annually, according to Matt Powell, a Scarborough, Maine-based analyst with SportsOneSource.

According to Forbes, which publishes an annual valuation of all American professional sports teams, the Penguins generated $107 million in revenue during the 2012-13 season, only $40 million of which came from gate receipts. The rest is a mix of sponsorship deals, merchandise sales, TV contracts and other secondary sources of income.

The Pirates do not have the ability to tie their brand to retail's heavy-hitting holidays, said Steve Musciano, general manager of Aramark at PNC Park. Aramark is a Philadelphia-based food, vending, clothing and merchandise supplier for sports venues and other organizations. It also services Consol Energy Center and Heinz Field.

“We don’t really have a whole lot of holidays through the summer,” Mr. Musciano said.

While Major League Baseball has successfully marketed the Fourth of July, selling star-spangled hats and patriotic merchandise, it is much more difficult to market Memorial Day and Labor Day. And Fourth of July holiday spending is easily dwarfed by Christmas.

But the Pirates try, like the Penguins, to capitalize on novelty. The Pirates introduced new spring training and batting practice jerseys this season and last year introduced a retro-themed alternate jersey that the team wears Sunday during home games.

“We customize different things. We always come up with whatever the new fad is. Whatever it is, we go with it,” Mr. Musciano said. “It’s such a large variety of stuff. It’s changed so much. You can come in here and find anything you want, all the way down to a bathing suit.”

Michael Sanserino:, 412-263-1969 or on Twitter @msanserino.

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