IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
WHAT MAKES A true fan? It seems to be more than simple enthusiasm. A dedicated fan will drive hundreds of miles and pay hundreds of dollars to see the source of his or her admiration. In a way, a dedicated fan is much like an adolescent in love. The fan is dedicated to the point of irrationality. No wrong can be perpetrated that will sway the fan’s feelings. No loss is great enough to make the fan lose hope; no foul is ever fairly called in the fan’s mind.
It’s best not to inadvertently insult a fan. Luckily, most are easy to spot. Most fans are given a plethora of apparel options to best display the object of their affection (obsession). From high school wrestling and chess teams, to college crew and ultimate Frisbee teams, to the professional sports leagues, fan apparel is everywhere.
According to Michael Chen, marketing manager at Tonix, Fremont, Calif., “The best team apparel is styled to stand out from the crowd and highlight team colors.” Chen continued, pointing out, “Fans and teams want to distinguish themselves from others
and one of the best ways to do this is through their apparel. In addition, team apparel is generally designed to allow for ease of decoration of the school logo [or] name.”
While T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts have traditionally been the best selling items, Craig Dudley, vice president of sales and marketing at Ouray Sportswear, Englewood, Colo., said performance apparel is the fastest growing segment of the market. Chen agreed. “Performance features matter now more than ever before,” he said. “Moisture management properties and breathability continue to be highly sought after.” While these factors are important, they do not seem to be the most important.
Overall, quality seems to be the greatest factor in selling fan apparel, especially when dealing with professional teams, leagues or individuals. Dudley said big companies, such as Champion and Nike are very influential in the professional fan arena. “The marketplace really expects quality,” Dudley said, “because the bar has been set high by those larger companies.”
Chen said the quality can also be reflective of the level of commitment of the fan. “In general, the quality expectations for these products are going to be very high as fans and players want to be proud of any apparel that represents their team,” he pointed out. This does not necessarily mean all fan apparel must be of consistently high quality. When it comes to high school or college promotions, areas where the biggest apparel providers may not focus attention, there will be more latitude for the garments. “In reality, there is a wide range of quality among team products in the marketplace,” Chen commented. Dudley also noted the disparity. “You’ll see more high-end jackets and jerseys,” he said, including replica players’ jerseys at professional events.
As far as style is concerned, men’s wear continues to dominate. Chen noted, “The market for team and fan wear is predominately geared toward men. However, availability of women’s-specific styles and cuts has been growing.” Dudley further stressed this point, stating that only a few years ago there was “virtually nothing” in this market styled for women, but now the market has shifted. He said 65 to 75 percent of the market is still unisex or male oriented, but that leaves 25 to 35 percent as women’s wear. This most likely represents the highest percentage distributors will see in the near future for this market. Some companies are beginning to reduce their women’s lines, according to Dudley
Fan apparel provides a wide range of opportunities for sales. Almost any piece of clothing has the ability to become a garment for promoting a team. Chen mentioned socks as the most obscure piece of apparel he has seen decorated for a team, but among sports aficionados lucky underwear also seems to be a strong thematic element.
Luckily for distributors, it requires little effort to convince a fan to wear a garment with his or her team’s or hero’s logo. As long as distributors are able to find garments that people want to wear, the fans will keep buying. It’s enough to make a distributor a fan of fans.