The Big Business of Bandwagon Baseball

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Obviously, sports fans root for their teams to do well. But business owners who sell team merchandise probably root even harder, considering how much of an impact a team’s success (or failure) can have on sales of hats, jerseys, and even things like team-themed doggie treats and lottery tickets.

Toward the end of the summer, the Philadelphia Inquirer recalled that during the previous season, the Phillies boasted 102 wins, as well as $812 million in team merchandise sales—the highest total of all MLB teams that aren’t the New York Yankees.

This year, it’s a different story. On the field in 2012, the Phillies have not measured up to the team’s expectations, losing about as many games as they’ve won. By now, they’re almost sure to miss the playoffs, but even in August, when they still technically had a chance to make it to the post-season, sales of team merchandise was way off its 2011 pace, reported the Inquirer:

According to SportsOneSource, a Maine firm that monitors the sale of sports-related merchandise at outlets other than ballparks, the purchase of Phillies-related products has declined by 60 percent.

(MORE: 9 Products Enjoying a Curious Surge in Sales)

Head a couple hours south of Philadelphia, however, and ballparks and sports apparel retailers are experiencing boom times thanks to surprising surges in 2012 by the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals. Over a four-week period from mid-August to mid-September, while the Orioles were in the thick of a battle for the playoffs, sales of team merchandise soared 278% nationally, according to data cited by the Baltimore Sun. The online retailer Fanatics.com says that Orioles gear sales soared “565 percent during the first 18 days of September, with 67 percent of sales coming from outside Maryland.”

Sales of Washington Nationals merchandise, meanwhile, is up 235% for the season, per Fanatics.com, thanks to emerging superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, as well as the best overall record in baseball. (Interestingly enough, despite the Nationals outstanding year, tickets for home games have been selling for as little as $1 or $2 each.)

On the other hand, the Boston Red Sox, arguably this year’s most disappointing team, have naturally experienced a disappointing year in team merchandising sales as well. By mid-July, with the team sporting a barely .500 record, team jersey sales were down to a “single digit pace,” while jersey sales were up 40% for the league as a whole.

(MORE: Major League Baseball Tickets for 1¢? Yep, Even for Teams in Playoff Hunt)

In early September, soon after the Sox suffered a 20-2 loss and an exasperated manager Bobby Valentine appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for a story about the highly “dysfunctional” team, the Boston Globe noted widespread relief in the city due to the fact that football season was starting, giving sports fans something to think about other than the “Sawx.”

Interest in anything Red Sox-related was in the doldrums as well. Lottery players have been buying $100,000 more of Patriots-themed instant tickets than games featuring the Red Sox every week. At one ice cream shop, sales of sundaes in Sox helmets were down 30% for the summer. “Only the tourists were buying Sox gear,” reportedly, at a dog boutique in Back Bay, while “Go Pats” dog treats were selling like gangbusters.

The clearance section of Red Sox-crazed sites like YawkeyWayStore are now clogged with $5 T-shirts featuring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, who were traded this season to the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Curiously, there are still some Sox jerseys for Crawford and Gonzalez priced at $75.)

(MORE: Trading Places: 10 Best & Worst Sports-Team Relocations in History)

It’s not all bad news for businesses whose fortunes rely at least partially on the Red Sox, however. As the team struggled through the summer, restaurants near Fenway Park actually offered a reason for them to wish for subpar years for the Sox:

“If anything it’s improved our business,” said [Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar] manager Joy Richard of the team’s underwhelming performance. “People are staying longer before the game and leaving the game earlier to come to us.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

4 comments
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John Macera
John Macera

You didn't bother mentioning that the mediocre Phillies still lead the National League in attendance, over 3 million.  Much higher than the first place Nationals.

JennyG89
JennyG89

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BlakeCole
BlakeCole

like Mary replied I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can get paid $6618 in 1 month on the network. did you see this (Click on menu Home)