Licensed apparel sales for the NHL during the first quarter were down by more than 25% says SportsOneSource researcher Matt Powell, a sporting goods research and analysis group, in a newsletter. The analysis group studies both online and physical store retail data.
To note, among teams who released their numbers for their fan appreciation sales, the Buffalo Sabres seven day 50% off Fan Appreciation Sale sold more at their team store that week than during the entire 2010-2011 season.
But as we all remember, we missed about two-thirds of January to the lockout, including the Winter Classic (which is massive in terms of merchandise sales) and teams held fan appreciation sales when the league came back. Those factors I believe prevented the league from record sales this season. Missing those couple of weeks in January (along with the Winter Classic) left fans frustrated for the lack of National Hockey League action and would have the league behind to start. Plus, the fan appreciation sales might have given fans their merchandise “fill” and wouldn’t feel the need to buy anything else at full price.
Different measurements are also used for ratings and attendance versus apparel. Apparel sales from SportsOneSource are up against numbers from last year when there was hockey being played at the start January. Attendance and ratings are compared to last season as well, but not when there’s no hockey. That’s the difference. Merchandise sells in the off season, attendance and ratings aren’t.
And I’d imagine, for most people, buying merchandise is a once-a-season or once-in-a-while type thing. Where as, attending games, or at least tickets sold, are guaranteed by the thousands each game (season ticket holders) and many of us regularly watch games via TV, etc. Watching and attending games are more regularly consumed compared to buying merch.
So the season wasn’t as popular as some would think because you’d expect with the record-setting ratings and attendance numbers the apparel sales to have been a smash hit. However, looking deeper into this and you see the factors working against merchandise sales like not having a Winter Classic, missing the first few weeks of January, and 50% off sales to start the season were key in preventing the league from achieving a record year in apparel to go along with attendance and ratings.
Expect the NHL to break records next season though. With 3 out of the 6 rumored outdoor games already announced, those games will generate huge revenue with exclusive apparel designed for each event.
Luke Tully recently joined The Hockey Writers. He runs his own blog puckbiz.com and also contributes content to another sports business site. Follow him on twitter @LukeTully.