In years past, Nathaniel Scroggins spent late August and early September finding ways to de-emphasize the Orioles gear at the Sport Shop store in Harborplace. Whatever was left from summer got tucked into one corner, while Ravens gear swarmed the space.
Last Friday, though, the store manager stood in the central aisle, flanked by orange on one side and black on the other.
"It's a totally different feeling this year," Scroggins said.
Nationwide, sales of Orioles merchandise increased 278 percent year-over-year for a period of four weeks spanning late August and early September, according to an analysis by SportsOneSource, a research firm focused on the sporting goods industry.
Orioles gear still accounts for only 2.2 percent of the Major League Baseball market, but that's a big increase over last year, when that number sagged to 0.5 percent. Only one other team made such significant gains: the Washington Nationals, who have gone from 0.8 to 3.2 thanks to their playoff chase.
"This is probably what everybody always worried about with the Nationals moving to D.C.," said Matt Powell of Charlotte, N.C.-based SportsOneSource. "They're probably stealing customers from each other, but both are clearly better off."
The sales increase isn't a significant financial boon for the Orioles because MLB shares revenues from licensed merchandise. So take solace in knowing that the Yankees, who corner 33 percent of the market, subsidize the rest of the league.
The Orioles do see some direct benefit from the uptick because they own a store in York, Pa., and split revenue from Camden Yards shops with Delaware North, their food and shop concessionaire. Greg Bader, the team's communications director, said the Orioles won't discuss revenue or sales numbers.
Sales at the Sport Shop stores — there's also one in Towson — are up 25 percent to 30 percent this summer, driven largely by Orioles goods.
"Generally, we'd have a significant drop off," owner Mike Durham said. "This year we've had a spike, and really it's been more intense because of how long it has been since the fans could get excited this time of year."
Fall baseball is fresh in Baltimore. Fans haven't experienced a pennant chase since 1997.
Three types of fans, in particular, have flocked to buy hats and shirts: the displaced, the casual and the young.
According to online retailer Fanatics.com, sales of Orioles gear increased 565 percent during the first 18 days of September, with 67 percent of sales coming from outside Maryland. Orioles merchandise sold at a higher clip than all but the Yankees and San Francisco Giants.
Josh Adams, a York native who later lived in Baltimore, has seen more Orioles gear in Brooklyn, where he now lives.
"People are going online, getting stuff because there's some pride," he said. "I always wore it, but now you're seen not with pity but as an enemy."
At the Sports Shop, women's apparel has been more popular since late August; Fanatics.com reported 61 percent of sales on its sites have been of merchandise for women.
"They always enjoyed going to the game, but that was just because it was a cool place to be," Scroggins said. "But to be really into it, they want to show that pride and wear the colors. The fans are engaged now."
At Kohl's in Laurel, children's team wear sold quickly, said James Modeste, a supervisor. The store carries both Nationals and Orioles gear, and young fans of both clubs found reason to pick up gear this summer or for back-to-school.
"We get more Orioles fans, and I think those kids, they've heard that the Orioles used to be good," Modeste said. "For Nats fans, it's totally new."
Both women and children have gravitated toward the Orioles' precocious star, infielder Manny Machado. The 20-year-old hit two home runs in his second game, but endeared himself to fans about a month later in a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 12. In the top of the ninth inning, he fielded a bunt and faked a throw to first base. That lured a runner off third and into a rundown that led to an out. In the bottom of the inning, Machado scored the winning run.
"It felt like everyone in Baltimore saw that play, and then wanted to be a part of that," Scroggins said.
Durham was able to place an order for more Machado T-shirts, which usually isn't an option. The manufacturer, Majestic, will only make the shirts if it can sell about 300. There hasn't been that sort of demand for an Orioles shirt this late in the season in several years.
"Having big stars will help them," said Jose Loayza, who has worked for Sports Authority for 14 years and is an assistant manager in Laurel. "Our sales between the Orioles and Nats were pretty equal, but the Nats had the great players [pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper] everyone wanted."
According to Fanatics.com, sales of Nationals gear for the whole season are up 235 percent. That's the most significant increase in baseball, while the Orioles rank fourth at 86 percent. Machado's continued ascent and the possibility of Dylan Bundy sticking around — the highly touted pitching prospect made his first Major League appearance over the weekend — could cause a similar boost to Orioles sales early next year.
The signing of Adam Jones, a star not afraid to stand out on a team of blue-collar players, to a long-term contract has emboldened fans to buy more gear with his name and number on it, Durham said. The re-introduction of the smiling Oriole bird — similar to the one that adorned the team's gear during its golden era from the late 1960s trough the 1980s — also has helped sales.
"The team's success coupled with the popularity of the cartoon bird has been the perfect mix," Bader said.
Chris and Lyanne Owen live outside London but try to travel to Baltimore at least once a year to watch a few games. Chris became a fan about 20 years ago while living near Washington. Due to high shipping costs, they wait to stock up on O's gear until they get into the city. Shopping Monday at Harborplace with their 10-month old son Toby, they noticed a swelling crowd of orange.
"We always get stuff whenever we're here, whatever's happening with the team," Chris said. "But now you see a lot more people who are excited and with the team."
The family, who arrived late Monday morning, planned to attend the afternoon double-header, but only after putting Toby in his Orioles shirt.
Scroggins, who has worked at the Sport Shop since 1997, had to rub his eyes last Friday when his 9-year-old son left the house wearing an orange polo instead of purple.
"Guess we need to call 'em black Fridays from now on," he said. "At least the two teams have that in common. And winning, finally."
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