MLB and Nike team up to block Bronx stores from selling Yankees jerseys

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.

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4 comments on “MLB and Nike team up to block Bronx stores from selling Yankees jerseys

  1. Someday in my wildest fantasies, a team is going to piss off the wrong elected official with their endless lies and swindling, and are going to get evicted from their lease 30 days before the season starts.

  2. The logical next step here is that the Yankees (and everyone else) should be selling Personal Apparel Licenses. It’s ludicrous that you have to have a PSL to buy a ticket, but yet can walk into any (team or league authorized) retailer and buy a jersey without having to pay anything other than the purchase price plus whatever premium the seller feels he can charge for whichever number you want on the back. It’s leaving money on the table and, as we know, leaving money in a fans pocket is ungodly.

    And if there’s anyone who can take this leap, it’s got to be the Yankees, right?

    Years ago I went to support my (then local) football team by buying a ticket for one of their preseason (uurrrgghhh) games. I wandered in an hour early so I could go to the team store to buy a jersey. Nothing spectacular, I just wanted a road jersey (the home one was black and it was waaaay too hot to be wearing black).

    Nope. Don’t have any. Try the downtown team store in the mall. So the next day I go downtown to buy my road jersey at the official team outlet in the mall.

    “Why would you want a road jersey sir?”

    “Really? That’s your answer? Don’t you, you know, sell merchandise to fans as your central business model, being the team store and all?”

    “Yes, we have a large selection”.

    “Of home jerseys only”.

    “Yes, Sir, we are located in the home city so we sell home jerseys”.

    “Are you trying to tell me that if I want a road jersey I should go to another team’s official merchandise store and try to get one of your road jerseys there?”

    “We have no information on what other teams carry in their store sir”.

    “Imagine that”.


    Never did get the road jersey. So I guess I saved nearly $100 on that annoying exchange.

  3. MLS/Adidas are just as predatory about local retailers (and even supporters’ merch). They wouldn’t let our team sell jerseys for our developmental team because they said it would take away sales for first-team merchandise. They also wouldn’t let our team’s fans sell fan-scarves or merch within a certain radius of the stadium. (The fan stuff was better and cheaper than official merch of course). They also shut down the ‘soccer store’ website that we ran to sell developmental team and women’s team merch.

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