Steelers gear sales defy odds


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Steelers fans may have something else to prove now:

Just how much merchandise they are willing to buy even if they already have several Terrible Towels, plus a few jerseys for players still with the team and other assorted licensed accoutrements necessary for the well-stocked fan.

Matt Powell had his doubts earlier this week, although a few days later he tracked a surge in spending after the team clinched a berth in the Super Bowl Jan. 23.

"No question when [a] team has been recently in the Super Bowl, it's much less meaningful to sales," said Powell when contacted Monday for the latest data on sales of NFL licensed merchandise. He's an analyst with SportsOneSource, a company that tracks the sporting goods industry.

PG VIDEO: STEELERS MERCHANDISE

"If you've already got a Polamalu jersey, you don't need another," he said.

Or maybe you do.

Two weeks ago, the data showed the Steelers' market share of all NFL licensed merchandise sales at 7.4 percent, far below the 28.4 percent share claimed by the New York Jets.

The Steelers' market share had surged to 13.4 percent a week later, Powell reported Wednesday when the latest numbers came in.

Under the current system the revenues are split evenly among NFL teams, so that doesn't mean a windfall for the Steelers. It does help the league overall, though, and the league could use some help.

Although total sales of NFL licensed merchandise for the fiscal year ended Feb. 1 hit $2.1 billion, Powell's data showed that was down more than 10 percent from a year ago when sales had dropped 25 percent from the previous year.

Even with the late surge by Steelers fans, his data shows that the strongest Super Bowl combination from a merchandise sales point would have been a matchup between the Jets and the Chicago Bears.

"I'm sure [the NFL was] disappointed," he said.

Both came from big markets and it has been a while since they made it to the big game, creating pent-up demand among fans. Demand is so pent-up in New York that, even with the loss in the AFC championship, that team claims the top market share in the most recent week with 15.3 percent.

"There's still a lot of euphoria about the Jets in New York," Powell said.

Green Bay's market share two weeks ago stood at 5.5 percent and rose to 9.9 percent after making it into the Super Bowl.

The Wisconsin team does manage to counterbalance its small-market status with a great tradition and an extensive network of loyal fans. "It would be more of a national team than, say, the Kansas City Chiefs," said Powell.

The surge in Steelers-related sales that his data was tracking appears to be in sync with numbers put out by online comparison site PriceGrabber.com,

That site announced Wednesday that searches for merchandise under Steelers are being done more than five times as often as for Packers.

PriceGrabber went on to explain that this could be foreshadowing because last year Saints was searched four times as often as Colts, and, in 2009, Steelers searches were twice as popular as Cardinals.

Powell, at SportsOneSource, was willing to play that game, too, noting that last year the Saints and the Colts had similar market share to this year's Steelers going into the game.

Perhaps a better bet will be that the merchandising picture is likely to be disrupted in 2012 when Nike takes over the job of supplying the official NFL uniforms. Reebok has been doing it for a while.

First, the NFL has a lot of the existing merchandise on hand and it's not clear how that will be liquidated, said Eric Smallwood, senior vice president of Front Row Marketing, near Philadelphia. Maybe there will be a big sale.

Then, the league probably wouldn't mind another surge in interest in the new gear. Powell thinks it's possible. "My gut is a lot of people will go out and rebuy their favorite player's jersey."

Steelers fans are probably up to that challenge, too.


Teresa Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018. First Published February 3, 2011 6:00 AM


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