(Wait, people bet on things like that?)
When a person is good at sports and good-looking and his life has traced a compelling narrative (seriously, read this profile) that suddenly emerges on the national scene, there is one thing sure to follow: marketability.
Sales of Davis merchandise are, of course, soaring. According to Fanatics.com, they were up 200 percent in June compared with May. Davis merchandise sold better than that of all but eight Major League Baseball players. For the companies that own rights to sell official Davis gear, business is good.
Here at home, though, an interesting subplot has developed. It begins, of all places, at Du Burns Arena more than two years ago.
A group of friends – all Baltimore-area natives -- were playing in a rec soccer league there under the name “Hamsterdam." Their custom-made shirts – featuring the Baltimore skyline – became so popular that opposing players began asking if they could buy them.
A company was born. It has yet to turn a profit, said Patrick Geraghty, a Calvert Hall grad, and mostly amounts to “something we do on the side for fun.” All of those involved have other jobs; Geraghty works in sales in Towson.
Hamsterdam makes mostly Baltimore-related T-shirts, with a nod toward vintage styles. Many of them are sports-related, showing a silhouette of Ed Reed’s body celebrating after a big play or a quote from Earl Weaver.
If you like crabs and Natty Boh, can quote “The Wire” for hours but are really tired of outsiders defining your city based on some TV show, still look at puppies and dream of naming them Brooks, have ever been to Frazier's or have begun claiming you thought Joe Flacco was elite all along, these shirts are for you.
In April, after Davis -- whose nickname is Crush -- hit home runs in each of the first four games, the Hamsterdam team began brainstorming a shirt to honor him. They settled on a design that riffed off of an old logo for Crush orange soda, with the word Davis replacing Soda.
Geraghty said the shirts sold at a modest pace as fans saw that Davis’ torrid start was no aberration.
Then, last week, the Hamsterdam crew noticed the shirts being talked about on a Facebook page they originally thought was run by Chris Davis and his wife. It operates under the title “Chris Davis #19” and appears to be written as if Davis were the author. Much of the content relates closely to things he posts on his Twitter account, which has been verified, or that his wife shares on her Twitter.
So Geraghty and his friends sent a messages to the Facebook page, saying they would be happy to have it sell the Crush Davis T-shirts, and to have profits go toward a charity of Davis’ choice. They got no reply.
Then, the Chris Davis Facebook page, which has nearly 20,000 “likes,” began selling the shirts through a service called teespring.com for $29 dollars. On Friday morning, it had taken 200 orders in just a few hours.
Friends of Hamsterdam sprung to action, posting hundreds of messages to the Davis page urging people not to buy from there. Those posts were deleted. The team behind Hamsterdam also made posts saying the same thing on their own pages, urging friends to be sure they were purchasing from the comapany that originally marketed the shirts.
Within hours, the Crush Davis shirts were no longer featured on the Facebook page. The teespring.com page selling them also disappeared. Attempts to reach the person running the Chris Davis #19 Facebook page have been unsuccessful. The Orioles did not respond to a request asking whether Davis had anything to do with the page.
Facebook began verifying celebrity users earlier this year. The Davis page is not verified. The page does call itself a “fan page” for Davis, but Geraghty believes it has been created to deceive users.
“They’re definitely trying to trade off of his name,” he said. “It’s clearly been set up to make people think they are following Chris Davis, and that’s our concern. They’re lying, and they’re profiting on his name.”
The Hamsterdam crew, meanwhile, is trying to stoke pride in Baltimore and give fans unique apparel that pays homage to local players and traditions, Geraghty said. Getting the rights to officially license this sort of gear would be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming, he said. The fans who run Hamsterdam hope players will appreciate the gesture, as they said Adam Jones did last year when he saw a shirt showing a batter blowing a bubble during his follow through.
The shirts likely violate Major League Baseball’s licensing rules (the Orioles also did not respond to a question about that), and certainly infringe on Davis’ rights, said Baltimore-based intellectual property lawyer Jim Astrachan.
“You cannot use somebody’s name to promote a commercial activity,” he said. “It’s clear they are talking about Chris Davis. He should be the only one controlling the use of his name.”
Likewise, the creation of a Facebook page that gives the appearance of belonging to Davis could be ruled illegal.
“That’s a new take on an old scam,” Astrachan said. “People have been faking celebrity ties for a long time.”
Whether the Orioles, Major League Baseball, Davis or the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group – which owns the Crush brand – choose to fight the creation of the Crush Davis shirts would depend on how damaging they think the product is, Astrachan said.
“Just because your rights are being violated doesn’t mean you do something about it,” he said. Stopping the efforts of a tiny company owned by fans helping create buzz around the team likely is not a top priority for the Orioles. Passionate fans create other fans.
(In fact, another sports franchise in the city, the Blast, sought Hamsterdam’s help, asking the company to help arrange an event at one of the team’s games.)
You can still buy your Crush Davis T-shirt from Hamsterdam, and the team behind the company plans to continue dissuading buyers who find their design -- which of course is not officially trademarked -- replicated elsewhere.Already there's an eBay seller from Canada selling a version of the shirt.