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.