Selling Merchandise in MLS: Interview With Stu Crystal

We have repeatedly posted about the MLS shopping experience. From a shortage of gear at brick and mortar retailers, to the absence of infant sized Galaxy items to the improved online experience, we have repeatedly written about procuring MLS items.  Today we are pleased to present some thoughts from Stu Crystal, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Consumer Products, about shopping for league merchandise.  Mr. Crystal is a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and has been with the league for more than 10 years.  Thanks to Mr. Crystal.  Please drop a line in the comments section telling us about your MLS shopping experience.

Footiebusiness.com:  On MLSSoccer.com, the primary “shop” link brings fans to MLS Gear rather than individual team stores. Is MLS Gear the league’s preferred online shopping destination?  Does the league have relationships with third party vendors that sell official merchandise online?  Certain teams (e.g. DC and NY) appear to have individual team stores that carry a wide variety of team merchandise and apparel, while others seem to rely on MLS Gear.  Why do some teams have individual stores and others do not?  For those that have team stores, do those outlets typically carry more variety than the MLS Gear Shop?  Does the league encourage teams to operate their own shops online?

Stu Crystal: MLS Gear is the official online store for Major League Soccer. We’re testing some online team stores and exploring the option to allow all teams to have official club stores. At this time, we are not encouraging teams to operate their own shops online. We have a centralized option in MLS Gear but are open to team shops if we determine that fans prefer to shop at team branded stores. We hope to have a definitive direction by the start of the 2013 season. We do have relationships with other online retailers, including World Soccer Shop, Fan’s Edge, Amazon, etc.

FB: What types of merchandise (e.g. jerseys, youth gear, etc…) are typically the best sellers?  What items are the least popular? What individual player jerseys are the top sellers this year?  Are there items that aren’t currently available that fans should expect to see soon?

SC:  Jerseys and other core fan items, such as scarves and t-shirts, are the best sellers. We’re currently coordinating with our licensees to add higher end items, such as foosball tables and Dream Seats, for the holiday season.

FB: How has the online MLS shopping experience improved over the years?  What changes should shoppers expect in the coming months?

SC:  Last year, we shifted to working with Sports Endeavors, the dominant online soccer retailer in this country. This partnership allows us to provide fans with the highest level of customer service and an increased variety in what we can offer – footwear, international club items, etc.

FB: One commonly heard complaint from fans is that league merchandise is hard to find at brick and mortar retailers, including those operated by league partners. What efforts are made to increase the presence of league items at these locations?

SC:  We’ve hired someone to focus on retail development, and we’re working closely with Dick’s Sporting Goods to increase the selection of MLS merchandise in our markets. As the league grows and the demand for MLS merchandise grows, we will see an increase in merchandise in brick and mortar retailers.

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8 Responses

  1. I agree about finding items for babies. Sometimes there is nothing on MLS Gear. The selection is always pretty limited for most items but unless you are at the stadium, where would you find MLS stuff?

    Foosball tables would be neat

  2. I came across some MLS branded items at Target a few weeks ago (I think it was a small training goal). I thought it was interesting in that the brand was MLS, and not a player or a team. Considering all of the youth soccer teams in the U.S., establishing an MLS brand for equipment can be a significant revenue source. Assuming, of course, that the league’s corporate sponsors don’t object to direct competition.

  3. I don’t mind if everything gets sold via mlsgear.com or their online partners.

    What irkes me is that there is no online store which has all team (or league) related items that exist and neither there’s a retail one (whether at the stadium, DSG, Sports Authority, TeamLA and so on).

    2 examples:

    LA Galaxy 3/4 pants, you don’t find them online, but you can get them at the stadium store.

    LA Galaxy winter jacket, you don’t find it at the stadium store, nor in any retail shop, but only online.

    As I live across the atlantic I rely entirely on online stores or with luck an annual trip to a game.

    Thanks for the cool website and the Q&A’s with all those folks btw.

  4. Thanks Ben. Good points. Consistency would be nice. I have made a habit of buying local team infant gear as a congratulations gift when friends/family have a new baby. The consistency across teams is also pretty bad. I found great stuff online from DC/Phlly/NY, but LA was pretty poor.

  5. [...] Footiebusiness.com talks to MLS Vice President of Consumer Products Stu Crystal. [...]

  6. MLS Gear shipped us the incorrect item, then made us pay the shipping back to return the incorrect item, and THEN wouldn’t even refund the full amount of the item. As far as I’m concerned, we’ll never purchase anything from them ever again.

  7. I really love all of the demanding work that you’ve put into keeping this place around for all of us. I seriously hope this stays around for a nice long time.

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