|Wednesday, May 8
Old-school is still cool with today's star athletes
By Darren Rovell
Peter Capolino is rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to reach this year's NBA Finals. If he gets his dream matchup, the 57-year-old owner of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgic Co., likely will see a bump in revenue.
Jerseys and warm-up jackets aren't cheap; prices range from $175 to $400 apiece. But that hasn't stopped the target demographic of 16- to 35-year-old African-American males from buying the jerseys -- sometimes two or three at a time.
It wasn't always that way. When Capolino started making baseball jerseys in 1989, he was mostly dealing with 35- to 55-year-old Caucasian males. That changed 10 years later when members of the hip-hop group OutKast began wearing his reproductions of Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals jerseys during concerts and in music videos.
"I used to watch MTV and BET with the sound off just so that I could see my garments," Capolino said. "Now I've become friends with the guys, so I actually like their music."
Thanks to exposure provided by rappers and hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, Lil' Bow Wow and P. Diddy, revenues have risen from $2.2 million in 1999 to more than $5 million last year. In June 2001, Capolino hired a director of urban marketing to help place his jerseys on the backs of more entertainers in the limelight. The strategy has worked.
Athletes also have opened accounts with the company. Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has specially tailored jerseys of Jerry West (Lakers, 1961-62 home), Bill Russell (Celtics, 1962-63 road) and Wilt Chamberlain (76ers, 1966-67 home) -- all measuring a chest size 60.
"He's trying to collect a lot of the jerseys of the older centers," said Capolino, who also counts Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal and Bulls forward Jalen Rose among his clients.
"The players want stuff that's real, and a lot of them have a nice appreciation of history," said Capolino, who made 1,200 sales in three days in his 800-square-foot store in Philadelphia when the NBA All-Star Game was in town in February.
He also has his share of mothers of NBA players as customers. Ann Iverson, mother of Allen Iverson, has eight vintage Philadelphia 76ers jerseys with her son's name and number on the back. The mothers of Darius Miles and Mark Jackson also have accounts with Capolino. "I love the moms," Capolino said.
Comic book and toy mogul Todd McFarlane didn't panic in early March when he heard running back Ricky Williams was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Miami Dolphins -- even though Williams was supposed to be painted as a Saints player in Series 4 of McFarlane's NFL figurines scheduled to debut in September.
"Working with active players is a whole lot different than working with retired players," McFarlane said. "Sandy Koufax will always be a Dodger, but guys playing now won't always be with their teams. That's why you have to play general manager. You have to know when the draft is coming, when the trade deadlines are, how many years left a guy has in his contract or whether he'll be a free agent."
Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds were originally scheduled to appear in Series 1 of McFarlane's baseball figures, which debuted in April. But McFarlane said he couldn't afford to gamble in the offseason since Bonds hadn't signed his Giants contract and Giambi had yet to sign with the Yankees when it was time to go into production.
"You want to make the figures as accurate as possible and in their current uniforms," McFarlane said. "In the case of Bonds, it wouldn't have mattered, but for Giambi I would have had a bunch of him on the A's with a goatee instead of having him in the Yankees uniform without that cool-dude facial hair."
Bonds will now appear in Series 2 and Giambi will appear in Series 3. McFarlane said some Ricky Williams Saints figures will be made for nostalgic diehard Saints fans.
Seattle Slew crew
He also was believed to be the only stakeswinner to grace the cover of a clothing catalog when Land's End used a tightly cropped photo of Seattle Slew's distinctive golden-color eye on its March 1999 catalog, Layton said.
Roseanne Rosannadanna award
The Fila contract included a clause stipulating that if Amaker accepted another coaching job, he was to pressure his new school to sign with Fila. Howe Burch, Fila's senior vice president for sports marketing, told ESPN.com that the company agreed to drop the suit for the time being.
Amaker was unavailable for comment, and a Michigan spokesman acknowledged only that the case was dropped by Fila on Feb. 28.
Morris reportedly received a $500,000 advance from publisher Little Brown for his hardcover book "The Oldest Rookie," which debuted last April. The softcover, by Warner Books, hit shelves this March.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org