Mere hours after the 49ers clinched a berth in the Super Bowl, brothers Matt and Dale Tolosa of Daly City ambled into a Sports Authority in San Francisco Sunday evening, dressed head-to-toe in 49ers gear and carrying a 49ers camp chair -- ready for a shopping spree.
"We have two weeks of hype," Dale Tolosa said. "So we'll probably buy more stuff."
49ers fever has gripped the Bay Area, and merchants are poised to cash in.
"Any team that's making a march for the (Super Bowl), you see an increase in demand from fans," said Joanna Hunter, a spokeswoman for NFLShop.com. "But for a team like the 49ers, who have a rich history and a robust and passionate fan base, the demand is huge."
Niners gear was a
hot seller even before Sunday's NFC Championship victory. San Francisco was the top-selling NFL team on Fanatics.com, one of the largest online retailers for pro-sports merchandise, both last week and for the month of January. Team sales are up 240 percent compared with January of last year, said spokesman Mark Vasquez.
On NFLShop.com, the league's official online store, the team's sales were up 85 percent from last year going into the playoffs, Hunter said. And just last week, sales shot up nearly 70 percent compared with the same week a year ago. The National Football League brought in about $3.3 billion in retail sales in 2010, ESPN reported.
On Monday, once the hangover of Sunday night's NFC Championship victory had cleared,
fans were on the prowl for newly minted Super Bowl T-shirts, hats and hoodies. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday gave many a free day to shop, and stores jumped at the opportunity. The Sports Authority opened an hour early for the occasion -- and first started selling the championship merchandise Sunday while the 49ers were still celebrating.
And while most fans say they will cheer for the entire roster, there's really one guy who's driving sales.
"What's his name?" asked Rose Hackett,
a vendor selling 49ers merchandise on Market Street in San Francisco, when asked about her top-selling jersey. "Yeah, Kaepernick."
Since Colin Kaepernick's record-setting performance against the Green Bay Packers this month, fans just can't get enough of the young star quarterback. The Sports Authority in San Francisco has been sold out of all Kaepernick merchandise for days, said sales manager David Vannatta. The NFL Shop online sold out of the star quarterback's jersey last week and had to scramble to restock. Hunter said the jersey is the hottest-selling in the NFL, and Kaepernick accounted for 35 percent of the team's total merchandise sales last week.
eBay (EBAY) saw the demand for Kaepernick merchandise first spike in mid-November, when the 49ers trounced the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." That day, the number of Kaepernick items sold on eBay was more than 10 times the number of items sold on the previous day, said eBay spokesman Todd Witkemper. As of Friday, eBay showed more than 4,000 active listings for Kaepernick merchandise, including a limited edition autographed rookie card with an asking price of $25,000, Witkemper said.
Some retailers could use the sales boost after a less-than-stellar holiday shopping season. The Niners craze also opens doors for entrepreneurial types to make some cash. Hackett, the vendor on Market Street, has a humble setup -- a cardboard table piled high with shirts and hats -- but fans seem to care little about the aesthetics. By Friday afternoon, she said, she had pulled in more than $400 for the day, and was offering a hat-and-shirt combo for $15 -- the best deal in town, she said.
Rachelle Nava stopped at the table for a T-shirt, but Hackett had sold out of her size. Nava, who works at a law firm in the city's Financial district, said her co-workers were wearing 49ers shirts to work.
At the Civic Center market in San Francisco, vendor Abraham Pando added 49ers merchandise to his assortment of scarves and hats Thursday.
"Everybody's asking" for the merchandise, he said. "Everybody's excited."
It's good for business when the Niners win, he said.
It's better business, though, when the Giants win. The surge in 49ers merchandise sales hasn't matched the shopping craze that swept the Bay Area when the Giants advanced to and then won the World Series. Sports stores and online retailers say Giants gear is still in high demand -- even in the off season, even when competing with the 49ers.
Sports Authority employee Darryl Rivera chalks it up to the difference between baseball fans and football fans.
"Baseball is a family sport. Football is more of a man's sport," he said. Baseball has a wider, more diverse fan base -- including more women, he said, who are more inclined to shop.
But never mind, he said. This is football season, and there's still one game left.
"If they win the Super Bowl, it's going to get crazy," Rivera said.
He then quickly corrected himself: "I mean, when they win, not if."
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