With the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games not too far away, it’s high season for Team USA merchandise.
Fanatics, a company that sells Team USA merchandise, has taken a novel approach to Olympic retail this year with a physical store in a major U.S. city. The store marks a milestone for Team USA: It’s their first in-person retail store outside the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. It will stay open through the end of the games on Feb. 25.
Through a pop-up store in New York City, consumers are able to browse and buy gear from official Olympic sponsors, such as Nike, Swatch and Oakley.
The 1,100-square-foot location, which is housed at 610 Rockefeller Center, was previously occupied by the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift store. With a location just steps away from Olympic sponsor NBC — and, of course, the ice rink at Rockefeller Center — it’s located in a prime spot for an experiment.
“We don’t truly know how big it could be, but, again, the location is fairly significant,” Peter Zeytoonjian, USOC managing director of marketing and consumer products, told SportsBusiness Daily when the store opened in December.
In addition to running Team USA’s pop-up shop — and eCommerce site — Fanatics is a major player in the licensed sports apparel market, selling fan merchandise for U.S. professional sports leagues such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL). Last year, it closed a $1 billion venture capital round, according to news reports from Reuters.
Fanatics is hardly the only retailer to take advantage of pop-up stores. This new model of retail seeks to solve two problems that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers face — inflexibility and expense — as retailers like Fanatics undertake retail experiments like a brick-and-mortar Olympic gear store.
With a standard lease in a mall, for example, retailers can face a 10-year commitment to stay in the same space. But landlords like Rockefeller Center are taking retail spaces that might otherwise be vacant and turning them into pop-up stores.
Mall operator Simon Properties, for example, has been trying out a pop-up concept called The Edit, which allows a much shorter commitment — only one to six months. That’s likely a good fit for a store like Team USA’s, which, like a Halloween costume store that opens in a mall in October, is seasonal.
From an expense standpoint, pop-ups can be an economic win-win for tenants and landlords. Simon also pitched The Edit as a turnkey solution, meaning that everything from fixtures to security to displays to background music are on offer, starting at a $500 per month price point. Pop-ups also help landlords like Simon fill empty space in a pinch, as Rockefeller Center was able to quickly replace the Met’s gift shop with the temporary Team USA store.
In the past, Olympic merchandise has sold at a fast clip. At the last Olympic games — Rio in 2016 — sales were so strong that Fanatics was often reordering their bestselling products, from caps to t-shirts to jackets, according to Fanatics President of Merchandising Jack Boyle.
Shoppers are inspired to buy “what the athletes are wearing, what they see on TV,” Boyle told Forbes. For example, after some Team USA basketball members were seen wearing the Nike Team USA Navy Snapback, the product became the top-selling product across all of Fanatics’ sales channels.
When an athlete wins a medal, customers in his or her hometown seek to celebrate by purchasing Olympic gear too. “When David Boudia won silver in diving, his hometown of Noblesville, IN, was the No. 1 city for sales of Team USA gear,” Boyle said. But, generally speaking, the most popular cities for Fanatics’ Olympic sales are New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles.
Beyond Team USA’s own sales channels, some U.S. retailers are selling Olympic merchandise directly from their own brick-and-mortar and eCommerce channels. Old Navy, for example, is offering a collection of Team USA knit mittens, winter hats and knit scarves. The Old Navy gear is available in the retailer’s Times Square location — not too far from the Team USA store — and through the retailer’s website in addition to TeamUSAShop.com.
In addition, brands are offering consumers replicas of uniforms that will be worn by the athletes. Nike is offering medal stand uniforms for $170 and Ralph Lauren is selling opening ceremony hats for a cool $165. For shoppers with a slightly lower budget, Burton is offering a snowboard athlete collection that starts at $25. The only thing a dedicated Olympic fan can’t buy this year is a spot on the slopes.