- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Washington Nationals fans are gearing up for the team’s inaugural season with jerseys, pullover jackets, hats, foam fingers and pompoms.

Retailers selling Nationals merchandise are hitting a home run with patrons willing to shell out money to show support for a baseball team they haven’t had in 33 years.

“This is new and exciting for the fans,” said Sean Ryan, national general manager of Facility Merchandising Inc., which operates the Washington Nationals team shop at RFK Stadium.

The team store has had constant traffic since opening in December in an 800-square-foot trailer outside the stadium.

It is packed with everything from $199 authentic team jerseys, $152 pullover jackets and $18 baby T-shirts to $32 wall clocks, $13 stadium seat cushions and $9 wallets — all emblazoned with the Nationals logo.

But that is just a portion of the merchandise that the store will be selling this season.

By the home opener on April 14, the number of products will more than double to 1,800. The merchandise also will be sold at about 18 other locations throughout the stadium during the season, Mr. Ryan said. There is no word on whether any permanent stores will open outside the stadium.

Because the Nationals are new, fans have been eager to stock up on team paraphernalia. Some national chains such as Dick’s and the Sports Authority have limited supplies of hats, jerseys and T-shirts.

“The demand from the marketplace has been amazing,” said Todd Sokolowski, fan business unit director of New Era Cap, which makes the official team caps for Major League Baseball.

Sales have exceeded expectations at Majestic Athletic, which makes the MLB game uniforms.

“Fans want to wear what they see on the field,” said Faust Capobianco IV, president of the Bangor, Pa., company. “It is related to how consumers crave brands. When dealing with a team — that’s a brand.”

The Washington Nationals ranks among the fourth or fifth best-selling teams on SportsFanfare.com, which has about two dozen Nationals products including hats, T-shirts, wastebaskets, blankets and doormats.

“I imagine we’ll sell a lot more Nationals stuff this year than next year,” said Brian Feeny, president of the Bear, Del., online retailer that sells merchandise for professional and college sports. “People are gearing up.”

Mr. Feeny said he is waiting for more products from manufacturers, who had little time to turn out products and get them to retailers before the start of the season. The team’s name, logo and colors were announced in November.

Manufacturers with domestic facilities — like Majestic Athletic and New Era Cap — are able to produce merchandise more quickly.

SportsFanfare started selling Nationals merchandise about a month ago. The selection will double within the next several weeks, Mr. Feeny said.

The Washington Nationals selection at www.allstarsportshop.com also will expand as more merchandise arrives.

Despite a limited selection, the Washington Nationals is the second best-selling team on the site, behind the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

“It’s going great,” said Chris Reade, who co-owns the company with his father, Harris. “Washington is such a large area and hasn’t had baseball in such a long time. We’re pretty excited about that.”

The Reades also have a local connection to the team, because they are originally from Richmond.

“We anticipated [the team] would be good for us saleswise but also good for us as fans,” Chris Reade said.

The site is selling a few hats with the W logo, but Mr. Reade expects the site to have 20 to 25 styles as the season continues. By comparison, the Red Sox have almost 40 hat styles on the site.

“We’re just getting started with the Nationals,” he said.

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