A Derek Jeter Downturn

A selection of Derek Jeter jerseys at Stadium Souvenirs across the street from Yankee Stadium. (Daniel Mescon/NY City Lens)

A selection of Derek Jeter jerseys at Stadium Souvenirs across the street from Yankee Stadium. (Daniel Mescon/NY City Lens)

Kim Thompson is a fan of Derek Jeter, but, when it comes to her personal style, not of the home pinstripes he wears for the New York Yankees.

Though it might draw scorn from some Yankees purists, that sensibility led Thompson, a 23-year-old from Levittown, N.Y., to purchase a Jeter jersey in the Yankees’ road gray before last Thursday’s home game against the Red Sox.

Thompson said she shelled out $85 for her Jeter jersey because she’s never had a real one.

“I figured if I’m not gonna get it now, when am I ever gonna get it,” she said.

After 20 seasons with the Yankees, Jeter will retire at the end of this year. When he does, the Yankees won’t simply be losing New York’s most popular shortstop; they’ll also be losing a known merchandising draw. Some souvenir sellers expect a decline in business once #2 is no longer in the lineup, though it’s unclear exactly how big that dip might be.

Abdul Abdullah, a manager at Stadium Souvenirs across the street from Yankee Stadium, said he anticipates strong sales of Jeter items this year, but sees a decline once the 39-year-old retires. Over the years, the shortstop’s merchandise has been a consistent strong seller for the store, with at least five or six T-shirts and three to four jerseys sold per game. Business-wise, Abdullah said, “Everybody’s gonna miss him.”

“Sometimes when you have a new player, he takes the action for maybe two to three months,” Abdullah said, “and then it turns back to Jeter.”

Shortly after Thompson bought her Jeter jersey, Jeffrey Espinal, another Yankee fan, emerged from Stadium Souvenirs with a pinstriped version. Espinal said he had wanted to buy one for some time, and now that Jeter is retiring, the time was right. In addition, he wanted to replace his Robinson Cano jersey after Cano “did us dirty” and left for a large contract with Seattle.

Jeter’s Majestic-brand jersey was the third most popular sold by Major League Baseball’s official online store from the end of the 2013 World Series to the start of this season, the league reported early this month. It was the top seller since Jeter announced in mid-February that he would retire at year’s end. Jeter was also number one on the list of Majestic jerseys sold in the second half of the 2012 season, in addition to all of 2010 and 2011. Even last year, when injuries limited him to 17 games, Jeter still had the 12th most popular jersey in the months following the All-Star break.

David Hollander, who teaches sports management at New York University, said two ideas will help boost sales of Jeter memorabilia, such as jerseys, this year – the first being what he called “basking in reflective glory.”

“Jeter will be canonized every time he plays his last game at a stadium this year around the league,” Hollander said in a phone interview, “and the level of tribute will be so great that people will want to associate themselves with…that glory.”

The second principle, Hollander said, is scarcity: “It’s the first time you’ll be able to buy Jeter’s jersey for the last time.”

Hollander thinks sales of Jeter memorabilia and jerseys will fall off somewhat next year, but he said that a resurgence is possible in five years when Jeter becomes eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In addition, any milestones Jeter is able to reach this season could help to drive merchandise sales. Already this year, he has moved into ninth place on the all-time hits list. If he stays healthy, he could easily pass Carl Yastrzemski, Honus Wagner and Cap Anson for sixth place. He also has a shot at surpassing Babe Ruth for the most runs ever scored by a Yankee.

At Grand Slam New York, a large souvenir store in Times Square, jerseys, framed pictures and decals are just some of the Jeter-themed items sold currently. At the top of a staircase leading to the store’s second level, customers come face-to-face with a wall of Yankee jerseys, Jeter’s displayed prominently at eye-level. Manager John Palha said even after Jeter retires, the store will continue to stock a wide variety of Jeter items, though he expects they won’t sell as well as they do now.

Outside Stadium Souvenirs before Thursday’s Yankees-Red Sox game, Lenny Sturner, a 33-year-old attorney who lives on the Upper East Side, was considering buying a Jeter jersey, but wasn’t yet sure where he would get it. Sturner said he wanted the jersey because it’s Jeter’s last year; because of the 13-time All-Star’s work ethic; and because he’s been a diplomatic leader.

“It’s something I would like to wear with pride this year,” he said.

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