David Warsaw, Sports Merchandising Pioneer, Dies at 83


David Warsaw, founder of Sports Specialties Corp. in Irvine and the creator of modern sports merchandising, died late Monday of complications from cancer and heart ailments. He was 83.

“David Warsaw is the father of the sports licensing industry,” David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Assn., said Tuesday. “He did it with an intelligence and an integrity that sets the standard for all who came after him.”

The entire sports merchandising industry, a $25-billion business worldwide, “is the progeny of David Warsaw,” he said.

Born into a family that owned a successful pottery business in Chicago, Warsaw was only 16 when he formed Sport Specialties as a subsidiary of the family operation.


He fashioned ashtrays to look like Wrigley Field, put a Cubs logo on them and got approval from the team’s owners, the Wrigley chewing gum family, to sell the goods in the stands during the summer of 1928.

That launched Warsaw on a career that found him hobnobbing with sports legends--coaches and owners such as the Wrigleys, George Halas of the Chicago Bears and Walter O’Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Eventually, he once noted, “we made everything you saw in ballparks except food and jewelry.”

Warsaw moved his business to Southern California after World War II.


“Dave was sort of the granddaddy of it all,” Pete Rozelle, former National Football League commissioner, has said about sports merchandising.

The company was sold in 1993 to Nike Inc. for $78 million, and now operates as a Nike subsidiary.

After his retirement, Warsaw concentrated on philanthropy, especially for the City of Hope cancer center in Duarte. Last summer, he helped dedicate the opening of a four-story medical office building he funded at City of Hope.

He is survived by his widow, Anne; their children, Irwin of Santa Monica, Wendy Ruby of Los Angeles, and James and Robert, both of Newport Beach; and nine grandchildren.


Services were set for 11 a.m. Friday at Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary in Culver City.