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Lakers gear rings up sales

What recession? Fans of the NBA champions snap up T-shirts, hats and flags ahead of today's parade.

June 17, 2009|W.J. Hennigan

Lakers fans aren't letting the recession rein in their parade.

Los Angeles sports retailers are reporting record sales as adoring fans snap up championship T-shirts, hats and flags. The outpouring of pride is more than welcome for business owners, who have been fighting a down economy for months.

"Winning a championship seems to be curing a lot of people's blues," said Sean Ryan, vice president of merchandise for Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner and operator of Staples Center.

In the 24 hours after the Lakers' Sunday night victory, AEG's three Team LA stores pulled in 14 times what they did when the team last won a championship in 2002. In addition, the company's website had its best sales day ever, eclipsing the previous high by 650%. Ryan declined to discuss exact sales numbers.

There wasn't a trace of financial distress on customer faces at the Team LA Staples Center location. Fans lined the aisles, perusing pins, balls, towels -- anything with a championship logo.

Megan King, 23, and Steven Tillman, 20, of Cerritos emerged with a bag of Lakers gear, including a Pau Gasol jersey, an official championship shirt and several flags. Then it hit them: It wasn't enough. So, they headed back in for a few more championship flags.

The total tab hovered around $150.

"The price on the bill doesn't matter to us," King said. "We've waited so long that we're willing to pay for it."

Some customers just happened upon the store.

Christian Campos, 30, left his San Diego home at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday in hopes of securing a spot at Staples Center before the parade began. The problem was that the parade wasn't scheduled to start until today. Campos decided to stick around and pick up a hat and a championship basketball, totaling about $30.

Team LA isn't the only store to reap the benefits.

Sport Chalet Inc., based in La Canada Flintridge, became the Lakers' official sports retailer before the basketball season began. It paid off.

The company experienced "its single biggest sales day by far," said Craig Levra, its chairman and chief executive.

Just two minutes after the Lakers' win, Sport Chalet put official championship products on its website. Demand was so strong that website orders backed up. The company had to manually override the system to ensure that everybody received their items on time. Sport Chalet also had to tack on extra hours to employee work schedules.

"We were caught a bit off guard on the high demand, but that's a good thing," Levra said. "This championship is great for our city and state, especially at a time like this."

The sales bounce stretched beyond Southern California.

After the Lakers clinched the championship, NBAstore.com broke its previous sales record, set after the Boston Celtics won last year, said NBA spokeswoman Kristin Conte, who didn't give sales figures. The biggest sellers were T-shirts, hats and a replica of a towel draped over Kobe Bryant's shoulder during a postgame interview.

Some fans were having trouble ignoring the harsh economic times. News that the city would shoulder some of the financial burden for throwing today's $2-million parade brought widespread criticism given the yawning municipal budget deficit.

"People are having a tough time out there with their finances and still paying for Laker shirts," self-described die-hard Laker fan Vijay Cheriyan, a Los Angeles resident, said early Tuesday. "The team should give a little of that back by paying for all of the parade costs."

Later in the day, Los Angeles officials said private donors had stepped forward to cover most of the city's costs.

According to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the team already pulls its weight. During a news conference at the Lakers practice center in El Segundo, the mayor estimated that the team generated an annual economic benefit of about $150 million for the city. The parade will add $15 million more, Villaraigosa said.

Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees with the mayor.

"There is going to be a lot of hot dogs, beer and jerseys sold at the parade," Toebben said. "There's about a 10% sales tax on each of those items."

But more important, he said, is that the parade is an opportunity for people from across the community to come together.

"In this economic climate," Toebben said, "it's nice to have something to cheer about."

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william.hennigan@latimes.com

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