Lakers: Big Shots of Sales

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.

The website has had more than a million hits since its May 6 launch, he said, and the CityWalk store, which opened during All-Star weekend in February, has also done brisk business.

“It’s perfect demographically for this stuff,” he said “The nice thing about CityWalk is that Monday through Friday we get tourists, and Friday and Saturday evenings you get locals coming in.”

The Laker name, “is one of the last, true national sports brands,” he said. “You can sell it in any city.”


Both the NBA and the Team stores say they carry modestly priced to high-end goods. At the upper end are leather jackets -- a rhinestone-and-leather model costs about $2,500 -- and a $40,000 lithograph signed by the players voted the NBA’s 50 greatest, available at the NBA Store.

Both stores also sell likenesses of players: The NBA Store sells a life-sized O’Neal or a life-sized Kobe Bryant made of Legos -- a league partner -- for $25,000. Ordering a custom version of any other player runs $35,000.

“We use them in stores as fun, promotional items,” Bourne said. “Obviously we’ve got a range of products and not every fan can spend that kind of money.”

At the Laker Team store, there’s a life-size O’Neal bobble-head available for $25,000. Two have been sold, although Fey said the buyers asked not to be identified.

Buying souvenirs from street vendors is likely to be less costly, but Fey and Bourne, as could be expected, said the quality of such items was probably inferior to NBA-licensed goods. Both said it was impossible to estimate how much unauthorized merchandise was sold, but both the league and the Lakers have representatives policing near arenas on game nights to find counterfeiters.

“We don’t want somebody to think they’re getting an NBA T-shirt and then they wash it and it shrinks two sizes. That doesn’t reflect well on our relation to our fans,” Bourne said. “We want our fans to get stuff that meets our standards and has our seal of approval.”


Fey said undercover police routinely confiscated enough unauthorized merchandise to fill 18-25 big trash bags on game days.

“We don’t worry so much how it cuts into our sales,” he said. “We’re more worried how it cuts into our brands.”

Fey, a marketing veteran, said the Lakers’ merchandise sales had doubled from the regular season to the playoffs and had increased in small increments with each round.

“I’ve worked in Denver, for the Nuggets and Avalanche, and in Vancouver, for the Canucks and Grizzlies, and this is different from anything I’ve ever seen,” Fey said. “It’s the best reality TV show anyone’s got going.”



The Jerseys

Best-selling player jerseys, in order:

1. LeBron James*

2. Carmelo Anthony*

3. Stephon Marbury*

4. Tracy McGrady

5. Allen Iverson

6. Tim Duncan

7. Kobe Bryant

8. Steve Francis*

9. Shaquille O’Neal

10. Scottie Pippen*

11. Gary Payton

12. Jermaine O’Neal*

13. Anfernee Hardaway*

14. Rasheed Wallace*

15. Vince Carter

16. Allan Houston

17. Paul Pierce

18. Yao Ming

19. Kevin Garnett

20. Baron Davis*

21. Latrell Sprewell

22. Jalen Rose

23. Jason Richardson*

24. Chris Webber

25. Jason Kidd

*-new to season-ending top 25 selling jersey list compared to 2002-03 season-ending list; Based on sales at the NBA Store in New York and the NBA Store on, from October 2003 through April 7, 2004.


The Teams

Best-selling team merchandise, in order

1. Lakers

2. New York Knicks

3. Philadelphia 76ers

4. Cleveland Cavaliers*

5. Chicago Bulls

6. Boston Celtics

7. New Jersey Nets

8. San Antonio Spurs*

9. Orlando Magic

10. Denver Nuggets*

*-New to season-end top 10 team merchandise list compared to 2002-03 season-ending list.

Source: NBA