Sales of Penn State sports merchandise are down about 40%, sports analysts and marketers say, and the typical antidote – winning – does not apply this time.
“Winning is the ultimate driver of team sales,” said Brian Swallow, vice president of business development at Fanatics LLC, a sports merchandiser.
“I think that while it’s the last thing on anyone’s mind right now as we’re all concerned about the victims (of the child sex scandal) and their families, Penn State merchandise sales will rebound as soon as the university has a clearly communicated direction and its alumni and fans are ready to move past this terrible situation.”
And that will take some time, analysts say.
Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually molesting eight boys he befriended through his charity. In an interview last week with NBC’s Bob Costas, Sandusky denied the charges and insisted he is not a pedophile.
The scandal has taken an obvious toll on the alleged victims and their families and communities, but the collateral damage has also been extensive: Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in Division 1 college football, was fired, sparking a student riot. Penn State’s President Graham Spanier also lost his job, and two administrators face criminal charges.
Across the nation the impact can be felt at cash registers at large and small sports retailers as consumers turn away from Penn State’s dark royal blue jerseys. "We are seeing similar drop-offs across all categories," Swallow said. "All (Penn State) apparel and merchandise, including T-shirts, fleece, women and kids, collectibles, etc."
And make no mistake, the monetary loss is significant. NCAA-branded merchandising is a $4 billion business, with Penn State pulling in about $80 million per year in sales, according to Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, a sports research organization.
Winning on the field usually means winning at the bank as well. The college football Bowl Championship Series title-holder usually is tops in the sale of merchandising for the year. Swallow said the University of Texas was No. 1 for the past few years.
When a scandal hits a college football program, the loss in sales is usually offset by support from the fan base and student body, Powell said.
“Like when Ohio State went through their problems, the fans actually rallied around the school and sales went up,” he said.
Not so with Penn State.
Because of the gravity of the allegations, merchandising sales are evidently not being buoyed by the Nittany Lion fan base. “This is the first time I’ve seen that,” Powell said.