Nike shuts down small NFL jersey trade stores, owners say

Co-owner Alison Hender is concerned that she doesn’t have NFL merchandise so she can sell to her customers at the Stadium Shop at Gateway Mall in Newark. The store was opened 14 years ago by his father, co-owner Norman Leventhal.

It should be a time of pure joy for stores selling Giants merchandise, but some smaller players in the sportswear industry say they are being shut out of the replica jerseys market by Nike, which will take over the jerseys contract from the NFL for the upcoming season. .

“I’ve been in business for 38 years, I’ve always worn NFL jerseys, and they won’t sell them to me,” said Buddy Kurzweil, owner of Buddy’s Sports Corner in Paramus Park Mall. “They don’t even want to be bothered with me, they never even answered me. It’s their prerogative, they can deal with whoever they want, it’s free enterprise, but it hurts the little guy a bit. . “

Nike spokesman Brian Strong declined to comment for the story, saying the company will be talking about its partnership with the NFL closer to April, when it will officially launch the jersey line. Reebok also did not comment.

But if Nike refused to sell to small suppliers who worked with Reebok, it wouldn’t violate any licensing rules, according to the NFL.

“Licensees determine which outlets they sell to,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Nike replaces Reebok for the exclusive right to manufacture replica jerseys after the end of a decade-long contract after the 2011 season. Nike has already made waves with drastic changes in college football jersey designs for the. Oregon and other teams


but won’t necessarily do so in the NFL as teams must approve changes.

If Nike excluded small merchants from selling exclusively to big box sports stores like Dick’s and Modell’s, that would be a huge change, say small store owners.

Without Nike, stores could still sell football apparel like t-shirts and sweatshirts, but owners say selling jerseys is important to their customers, even if it’s not the biggest generator of football. ‘money.

“We are a sports store. How not to wear the jersey of the local football team? Kurzweil asked.

It couldn’t come at a worse time for stores hoping to sell to the Giants fan base: Super Bowl winners traditionally lead the league in merchandise sales immediately after their championship, which was true in 2008 for the Giants. Giants and last year for the Packers.

That’s a problem for Norman Leventhal, owner of the Stadium Shop in the Gateway complex in Newark, which sells Giants, Devils and other sporting goods.

He said his store account was supposed to automatically transfer from Reebok to Nike, just as his hat contract was when New Era took over the NFL hat license for the new season.

“Reebok came back and said I wasn’t accepted by Nike,” said Leventhal, 70. “I said, ‘Am I the only one? (Reebok) replied … it’s all small stores. “

It’s not just a New Jersey issue – the same story was picked up by Elliot Cohen, who helps lead the New York Grand Slam to Times Square, where he said NFL clothing was second best. seller after Yankees goods.

“(Nike) sent me a letter saying we can’t sell you,” Cohen said.

The exact wording, according to Cohen:

“Thank you for your recent interest in opening a Nike account.… We have determined that your business is not aligned with Nike’s overall development plans.”

Cohen said this happened despite an existing relationship with which he sold material for Converse, which is a subsidiary of Nike.

“I’m a pretty big dealer, so if they don’t sell me, I imagine they will only sell to big box stores,” Cohen said. “All the little guys are probably going to be kicked out of it.”

This view is also shared by Brian LeBoeuf, owner of Sports Minded Unlimited in Warren.

“I think they’re going to protect the stores that carry the line of shoes,” LeBoeuf said. “It’s just another way the mom and pop stores get crushed.… We sponsor Little League, but the mall stores get the sales. There aren’t many of us anymore.”

Eliot Caroom: (973) 392-7919, [email protected], @eliotter on Twitter

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the company had designed new uniforms for Oregon and Maryland. In fact, the new Maryland jerseys were designed by Baltimore-based Under Armor.

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