Back when New York Yankees execs were trying to tear down Yankee Stadium and get a billion dollars or so in public cash and tax breaks to build a new one in a public park, one argument was that moving the Bronx Bombers across the street would be a boon for local residents via all the new jobs it would create. While this was dubious from the start — Yankees attendance actually went down at the new building, in part because it holds fewer fans, and in any event the added dining and shopping options inside the gates only draw off spending from the surrounding neighborhood — it’s doubly so now that MLB has cut a deal with Nike that will apparently prohibit much team merchandise from being sold at local souvenir stores:
The agreement only allows the sale of official league merchandise at Nike “premium distribution points”, and therefore, would prevent several local retailers from selling Yankees merchandise outside of the stadium, which accounts for the vast majority of their revenue, according to [Borough President Ruben] Diaz.
I actually heard rumblings about the implications of this Nike deal a couple of months ago, but wasn’t able to confirm at the time which products would be banned for independent sale, or at which stores. Nike’s deal with MLB is for all “on-field apparel,” so would include replica jerseys and caps; presumably other Yankees-themed shirts and such would still be allowed, though other reports say the ban would affect all “officially licensed Yankees merchandise.” Nike has partnered with the online retail giant Fanatics for sale of its products, and Fanatics presumably doesn’t want Yankee fans buying Aaron Judge jerseys at Stan’s Sports World when they can order them online, though if so that seems to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of where and why sports fans buy team merch. (The Yankees, meanwhile, undoubtedly would stand to gain if fans were forced to buy jerseys from them instead of across the street, as then they could monopolize the market, jack up prices, etc.)
Yankees management fired back with an open letter to Diaz saying they agree with his concerns (if not his decision to go public with the matter, which is just so gauche):
The team said they immediately reached out to MLB with similar concerns when they first learned of Nike’s plan last week.
Quoting an email sent to the MLB dated Oct. 25, the team wrote, “Yankee Stadium is located in a diverse and one of the poorest communities in the United States. As such, the local retailers expend substantial time in developing their businesses, especially with respect to their ability to sell MLB licensed product.”…
The Yankees said MLB feels similarly and wants Diaz and all elected officials to know that the league is “actively working with Nike to resolve the issue and is very confident that our respective concerns will be resolved in a matter that will allow local businesses to sell Yankees merchandise.”
There’s some definite weirdness there — the Yankees only learned of Nike’s plan last week, when even I’d heard about it in August? — but clearly team execs at least are being responsive to the controversy. (And it does seem like this deal was concocted at the MLB level, so it’s not like the Steinbrenners started it, even if it took them a while to address it; for that matter, this is likely to be an issue as well in other cities with lots of local independent souvenir stands, not that I can think of a ton offhand — the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, maybe.) The hope is that the local media will continue to shine a light on this issue as the 2020 baseball season approaches — that is, if New York still has any local media left by then.