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Lakers: Big Shots of Sales

NBA merchandising is at an all-time high, thanks to L.A.'s playoff run and one particular Fisher shot

June 06, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Derek Fisher needed four-tenths of a second to turn a playoff series around. Marketing gurus needed only slightly more time to immortalize his fabulous fling against San Antonio and propel the Lakers higher into the stratosphere of merchandise sales.

Fisher made that desperation jumper to beat the Spurs on May 13, a Thursday. Within 48 hours, shirts imprinted on the front with Shaquille O'Neal's postgame declaration that "One lucky shot deserves another," and on the back with an image of a shot clock at 0.4, were available at Staples Center, the newly launched website, and the Team LA store at Universal CityWalk.

Soon available were the Fisher Foam Lucky Shot Fish Head -- produced through an NBA licensee -- and a limited-edition framed photo of the shot signed by Fisher in gold ink, yours for $300. The Fisher shirts, conceived by the Lakers, still are selling as fast as they're stocked.

"I don't want to say he's driving our business, but he's had a significant effect," said Alan Fey, vice president of merchandising for AEG, the Lakers' parent company.

"We've been fortunate to play for the championship four times in five years, so we know how important it is to stay ready and capitalize on a hot-market situation."

How ready were they? T-shirts, caps and hats celebrating the Lakers' Western Conference title were in stores at Staples Center and CityWalk when the final buzzer sounded on their series-clinching victory over Minnesota on Monday, ready to be plucked off shelves.

"It's very important for us to have it right after the game," Fey said. "That's our only exclusive window. We sold out almost every piece."

Laker merchandise, whether authorized by the NBA and marked with the league's logo or hastily produced and eagerly pushed by street-corner entrepreneurs, isn't merely hot, it's a must-have. And thanks to technology, experience and foresight, the Lakers and the league have made quick work of turning players into cult heroes and transforming significant moments into marketing bonanzas.

And that's in a league that wrote the book on marketing bonanzas.

Sales of NBA merchandise hit $3 billion for the 2002-03 season and are projected by league officials to increase by double digits for the period that began last October and runs through the end of September. If that proves true, the NBA will pass the NFL -- professional sports' acknowledged marketing monster -- which last year reported merchandise sales of $3 billion. About 20% of the NBA's sales come from outside the U.S., a league spokesman said.

Merchandising revenues are evenly split among all NBA teams after the league takes a cut for operational costs. And yes, that means Clipper owner Donald Sterling is profiting from the Lakers' success.

The Lakers are, and have been for several years, the top-selling team at the NBA Store in New York City and on Sales of Laker-related merchandise increased 25% this season, compared to last season, and sales of Laker playoff merchandise are up 50%, compared to the same time period last year, league spokesman Matt Bourne said this week, marveling at the team's staying power atop the fickle shopping heap.

"They've got the success and they've also got the superstars," he said.

He added that several of his key contacts among Southern California merchandisers told him that Kareem Rush, who had three three-pointers in the fourth quarter and 18 points overall in the Lakers' West-clinching victory Monday, had become almost as hot a commodity as Fisher. Western Conference champion T-shirts and caps are also popular.

"Regular jerseys, specifically Fisher and Rush jerseys, have been selling especially well," Bourne said. "Fans are still clamoring for Laker product, and that's evident in the increase we're seen this year from last."

Bourne said he was on the phone with the league's licensees to discuss marketing opportunities the morning after Fisher's shot had given the Lakers the 3-2 series lead over San Antonio, and the NBA recently licensed Fisher 0.4-themed car flags in response to the demand. During the Finals, basketballs laser-engraved with the Finals logo will be offered in limited quantities.

To ensure merchandise can be made and shipped without delay while demand is highest, the league uses U.S. manufacturers to make items it needs five minutes ago.

"We go into what's called a hot-market situation," Bourne said. "This time of year, we react quickly to what happens on the court and work with our manufacturers....

"What happens a lot of times in the past, against the Lakers, the popular chant is 'Beat L.A.' Once teams adopt that, we made T-shirts. We're constantly monitoring what happens on the court."

Fey wouldn't specify the average amount spent on each purchase at the Team Store in Staples Center but said customers "never" left with one item. Most buy three or four souvenirs, he said, lured by the store's ability to sell items before they're licensed to outside vendors.

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