Retailers suffer as hockey merchandise sales take a hit
An employee at the Vancouver Canucks store unpacks merchandise at Rogers Arena Friday, May 27, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, December 17, 2012 9:56PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 25, 2012 7:36AM EST
Sporting goods retailers are feeling the cold chill of a bitter NHL lockout that has kept players off the ice and fans out of their heroes’ hockey jerseys for three months.
With a large chunk of the regular season gone, a much-hyped Winter Classic cancelled and the increasing likelihood that NHL players won’t be suiting up this season, some retailers are watching helplessly as hockey merchandise sales take a dive.
Wayne Renick, president and CEO of Jersey City, won’t say just how much of a sales decline his chain of licensed novelty and clothing stores is experiencing, but acknowledged that, much like exasperated hockey fans, he is not pleased.
Though Jersey City sells official T-shirts, hats and hoodies from all the “Big Four” sports leagues, NHL-licensed apparel and merchandise in particular accounts for a hefty 30-50 per cent of overall sales during the frenzied Christmas shopping period, Renick said in a phone interview days after the NHL announced that all games had been cancelled through Dec. 30.
The timing of the stalemate is particularly bad given that the regular game schedule coincides with the holiday shopping season -- when hockey lovers are primed to fork out big bucks for an expensive stick or jersey to slip under the Christmas tree.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, Renick said, but all is not lost.
“We’re seeing lots of fans transcend their purchases into things like MBA, NFL -- the Blue Jays with all the trades they’ve made,” he said. “So it’s actually a little negative for the NHL, but very positive for the other leagues that we deal with.”
But there’s no denying that in Canada, hockey reigns. That fervent devotion translates into big business for vendors licensed to carry official NHL gear.
Mike Lorentz, manager of Sports Zone in Waterloo, Ont., says retailers like himself are experiencing a decline in sales due to the lockout, in addition to contending with the rising prevalence of counterfeit merchandise. Lorentz says retailers simply aren’t putting in mass orders for jerseys or other hockey paraphernalia.
“A lot of guys just said, ‘Nope, we’re not carrying it.’”
Further up the chain, suppliers also rely on maximum exposure when players are on the ice, and the cameras are rolling.
“Most of the companies are introducing a holiday launch with the new hockey sticks and you`ll see them on the ice with the players -- you`re not seeing them right now,” Lorentz said.
For that reason, a lot of people in the sports merchandise industry are likely opting out of ordering NHL gear this year, Lorentz said.
The prolonged lockout is affecting all aspects of the sports industry, Renick said.
“(No one) is generating the sales that they did this time last year obviously, whether it be the bar business, the taxi business, the restaurant business,” Renick says. “Sometimes, out of sight, out of mind.”
Renick says whether you have a business interest or you’re a fan, there’s a general frustration over what’s happening with Canada’s most cherished sport.
“It’s ingrained in our culture and I think everybody is tired of the lockout and they just want the two sides to get together and get a deal done,” he said.