The sports apparel buyer is not your average shopper.

By Jahla Seppanen

When it comes to selling sports licensed products, it’s important to look at the consumer differently from your average shopper.

They’re not just a buyer, but a fan. Their emotions rise and fall with their team or player’s performance. They sit for hours in the rain, snow and sweltering heat to watch for moments of glory. It’s a “faithful devotion,” said Edward Hirt and Joshua Clarkson in an article titled “Consumer Behavior Knowledge For Effective Sports Marketing.”

With its roots in the construct of group identification, fandom is such a powerful buying state of mind because these shoppers personally attribute team and player characteristics as part of the individual self. In other words, if you’re a fan from Cleveland and the Cavs take the NBA championship, that win becomes internalized as a personal success.

There are of course many levels of devotion and identification (casual, fair-weather, diehards), but research has found that any degree of fandom is significant.

“For some individuals, their primary social identity may be their sports team affiliation (e.g., I am, first and foremost, a New York Yankee fan) … for others, their sports team affiliation is given less priority (i.e., I am a Red Sox fan, but also a staunch Democrat and a full professor),” said Hirt and Clarkson.

Researchers aren’t the only ones taking note of how a fan personally and emotionally identifies with teams and players. Marketers and licensed sports brands are too.

“The fan is buying into the league, team or athlete,” said Fanatics Branded President, Raphael Peck. “We’re now focused on saying here’s a fourth or fifth opportunity to buy into the moments and people.”

Fanantics, the fast-growing online retailer selling sports apparel and merchandise for every major U.S. sporting league, including the collegiate NCAA and special events like the Olympics, has climbed to the top of the sports licensing business because of its ability to mobilize design and production to respond to unpredictable sports moments that fans want to show pride, even love, for. Within seconds of a winning touchdown or player milestone, the fan can go on their phone and memorialize their inclusion in the special moment with a purchase.

According to SSI Data*, fans are primarily displaying pride with t-shirts, tanks and headwear. Point-of-sale data across the SSI Data Licensed Sports category shows t-shirts and tanks are leading roughly 30 percent in dollars, trailed by headwear at roughly 25 percent of the category in dollars, and finally jerseys at 15 to 20 percent in dollars. Much of this year-to-date growth is driven by NFL product.

But as we all know, it’s easy to find a shirt with Curry, Jeter or Gretzky’s name and number. According to fans, that’s no longer enough.

The next step in licensed sports apparel is to include the fan in the design and micro-moment decision process. “The fan will vote very quickly on what they want it to look like,” added Peck. Giving fans the ability to digitize has never been more important and possible. The product then becomes a personal creation that expresses their care for the team/athlete. Double whammy.

Another way Fanatics is increasing the emotional connection of fans with its sports licensed apparel is marrying different fandoms into one product. Call it hyper-fan apparel. Fanatics is in the process of taking a fans love for one thing and combining it with another; i.e., a product line for firefighters who also love football. This is how customization will look moving forward, Peck predicts.

*SSI Data, powered by SportsOneSource, collects and analyzes POS data from more than 15,000 retail doors across nine channels of distribution. To learn more, call 303.997.7302 or email Solutions @