CHANDLER – While the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State University football have gained traction locally in recent years in terms of wins and popularity, the teams lag behind the competition in national jersey sales.
The Cardinals are one of seven NFL teams without a player on the NFL Players Association’s most recent Top 50 player jersey sales list, which measured sales from the league’s licensees from March 1 to May 31.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rounded out the Top 3. As a team, the Seahawks had the most representatives on that list with six players.
Larry Fitzgerald, one of the Cardinals’ most recognizable stars, has been on such lists before. His jersey is the best selling among active players on the Cardinals online team shop, but he didn’t make the cut on the national list for this first quarter.
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Because most stores don’t distribute Cardinals merchandise nationally, the team’s overall numbers don’t compare favorably to teams in larger markets, said Mark Rolandson, general manager of Just Sports, an Arizona-based retail sports apparel and merchandise chain.
Rolandson said many football fans living in the Valley, which has a large population of transplants from across the U.S., are still fans of the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the most popular NFL franchises.
But local retailers said the buzz around the Cardinals’ regular season success in recent years has kept local sales high.
“We expect great things from the Cardinals this year,” Rolandson said. “After the first game, it was great. Sometimes it’s hard to replenish (stock) because we’re the only ones that sell them. You’re not going to buy it in Pittsburgh or in Dallas because there’s not really a Cardinals fan base there.”
Top 15 NFL player jersey sales
- Tom Brady (New England Patriots)
- Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers)
- Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)
- Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers)
- Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)
- J.J. Watt (Houston Texans)
- Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)
- Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants)
- Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
- Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- DeMarco Murray (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks)
- Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns)
- Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots)
- LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills)
Source: NFL Players Association
Marketing college football jerseys is a different game than the NFL, especially following the ruling earlier this year in the O’Bannon v. NCAA class-action lawsuit that prohibits the NCAA or member schools from profiting off of player likenesses. Some schools now only offer one jersey number as a result.
Some retailers – such as Sun Devil Marketplace, other ASU campus stores and the shop inside Sun Devil Stadium – have exclusive rights to popular throwback jerseys like the Pat Tillman No. 42 jersey.
Tillman, a former ASU linebacker, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted in the Army after 9/11. He was killed by friendly fire and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
Sun Devil Marketplace manager Jake Johnson said his store sold both ASU and Arizona Cardinals Pat Tillman jerseys last year, but the new “Desert Ice” Adidas jersey has become a bigger hit among students and younger fans.
“We’ve found a lot of people wanting the Adidas jerseys and the ‘Desert Ice’ jersey in particular since we switched over from Nike,” Johnson said.
But that doesn’t hold true for all fans.
“(Alumni) and traditionalists don’t like the Adidas jerseys as much as current students,” Johnson said. “Our sales have gone up with the new apparel, but alumni like Sparky-themed gear as well as the Nike apparel.”
“The majority of our sales come on game days,” Johnson said. “To get to the stadium, they have to walk past the store. That’s definitely a good gauge to see what students and fans are already wearing and what they come in to buy.”
Troy Scoma, president of Cactus Sports, said the intense heat of late summer and early fall in Arizona may deter fans from buying and wearing heavier polyester jerseys.
“It’s not really comfortable here to wear jerseys,” Scoma said. “If you compare ASU to schools that sell a lot of jerseys, ASU isn’t high up there.”
Heat and external factors notwithstanding, Rolandson said jerseys are among the highest sold items at his store.
“If somebody wants a jersey, it’s what they do,” Rolandson said. “They want their favorite player, and they want to wear that.”