August 19, 2022

After 3,000, Even Dirt Will Sell

After the game, a groundskeeper will tote a shovel and bucket onto the field to scoop five gallons of dirt from the batter’s box and shortstop’s patch. In baseball’s version of preserving the chain of evidence, the bucket will be sealed with tape and verified as the dirt beneath Jeter’s feet with tamper-proof holograms.

“It will be scooped in our presence,” said Cosmo Lubrano, an authenticator for Major League Baseball who would prove the dirt’s veracity if the 3,000th hit occurs at Yankee Stadium as he follows a bucket-carrying groundskeeper, probably Dan Cunningham. “We’re there as a witness.”

The dirt — from Yankee Stadium if all goes perfectly, but from some ballpark, perhaps Citi Field July 1 to 3 — will find its way into a vast and lucrative universe of celebrity memorabilia and collectibles, much of it orchestrated by a company named Steiner Sports. Tablespoonfuls of the dirt will be poured into capsules to dangle on key chains; ladled into disks to be framed with photographs of the hit (in what is called a dirt collage); and glued into the interlocking NY carved into commemorative bats.

“That bucket of dirt will go a long way,” said Brandon Steiner, the chairman of Steiner Sports, who has a memorabilia partnership with the Yankees and a marketing deal with Jeter.

The selling of Jeter’s historic hit — he is six short of 3,000 as he waits to heal from a calf strain — actually has its own campaign name: “DJ 3K,” and a logo that will appear on much of the merchandise capitalizing on his achievement. It is quite a list: T-shirts, caps, jerseys, bobbleheads, decals, cellphone skins, wall murals, patches, bats, balls, license plates and necklaces made by two dozen M.L.B. licensees.

Modell’s, the venerable New York sports goods chain, is not going to miss out. The chain’s Times Square location will stay open past its midnight or 1 a.m. closing time as long as fans keep shopping on the day or night of the accomplishment.

”We’re locked and loaded,” said Mitchell Modell, the chief executive of Modell’s.

The ingenious and sometimes crass rush to cash in on sports achievements is hardly new, whether it focuses on championship teams or great players. Each new chapter, however, adds some new flourish in the grab for nostalgia dollars, whether in the form of a new product or a different commercial approach.

The so-called “hot market” for Jeter’s 3,000th hit — the player’s equivalent of a World Series championship — will test his sky-high popularity during a season in which he is batting .260.

“I’ve been here for 13 years,” said Howard Smith, the senior vice president for licensing of Major League Baseball. “And other than the home run race in 1998, this is the most significant business we’ve done for a hot market for a player.”

Warehouses of some of the biggest licensees, like Majestic and New Era, which are accustomed to supplying stores with World Series merchandise, are ready to deliver their Jeter material to retailers. Modell’s distribution center in the Bronx is preparing to ship to its 94 New York and New Jersey stores.

“Between the New York market and how revered Jeter is, it’s going to be a huge event,” said Michael Johnson, a spokesman for Majestic, which is producing an array of jerseys and T-shirts.

And already, John Killen, the president of Wincraft, one of the 24 licensees, said he has booked substantial business for his Jeter flags, lanyards, pennants, travel mugs, pins and magnets.

“Short of someone of Jeter’s caliber retiring, you won’t get an event bigger than this,” he said.

And, Jeter will get a cut of some of it. For all the licensed products sold by the likes of Rawlings, Nike, Majestic, Louisville Slugger, Fathead and New Era, he will share royalties with M.L.B. and the players’ union; he will also share in the sale of products sold under his deal with Steiner Sports. Already, he has designated proceeds from the sale of a silicone bracelet to benefit his Turn 2 Foundation.

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