Nomo is a winner in merchandising, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOS ANGELES -- Lost amid the hail of baseballs flying from the Dodger Stadium stands Thursday was the ringing of cash registers -- which came to a sudden halt when the game was forfeited and stunned fans sent home in the bottom of the ninth inning.

It was, after all, Nomo Night once again, though the latest performance by Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo became nothing more than a sidelight. Fan misbehavior serious enough to cause the first Dodgers forfeit in 79 years finally proved some things can still overshadow the National League's ERA and strikeouts leader.

But while there were enough bad apples in the stands to cost the Los Angeles Dodgers a chance to tie first-place Colorado, there were thousands more well-behaved and well-intentioned fans in the stands. Nomo's allure filled another 53,361 seats, and the pitcher continues to churn out cash faster than the federal printing presses.

How much cash, the Dodgers won't say.

"It's too early to tell the dollar impact, but the important thing is that from a goodwill standpoint the impact has been extraordinary," team president Peter O'Malley said. "It's obvious that here in L.A., around the league, around the world, there is tremendous interest in Nomo doing something no one has done before.

"It's obviously good for the Dodgers. I get Nomo [newspaper] clippings sent to me from places like Ireland, Denmark, China. Nomo is putting baseball on the sports pages in countries where baseball is very tiny.

"And we're seeing that the level of baseball in Japan is better than a lot of people thought, which will bring us closer to a truly World Series. To call it a World Series, I think we have to include teams from Taiwan, Korea, Japan. That day is coming closer."

So, too, is the day the Dodgers must begin discussing Nomo's next contract. It should be anything but the typical talks for a second-year player, as Nomo seeks a larger share of what everyone else is making off of him.

And a lot of people are making money off Nomo. Souvenir shops at Dodger Stadium are packed with Nomo merchandise, products such as caps, T-shirts, pennants, pins and commemorative photo baseballs (better discontinue those), which all generate retail profits for the Dodgers.

If the Dodgers' logo is included, the items also generate licensing royalties that are divided equally among the major leagues' 28 teams. On the licensing end, the Dodgers make as much money from a Nomo T-shirt sold in L.A. as from a Will Clark T-shirt purchased in Arlington, Texas. So do Marge Schott, Jerry Reinsdorf and Bud Selig's teams.

Nomo's name or likeness on a product also generates a licensing fee for his new union brothers in the Major League Baseball Players Association. Based on their service time, licensing checks for everyone from Mike Piazza to Lenny Dykstra to Jim Leyland are a small percentage fatter because of Nomo's popularity.

Attendance and television ratings also skyrocket when Nomo pitches, increasing revenues from the stadium parking lots to the concession stands to the advertising rates KTLA-Channel 5 can charge.

Major League Baseball Properties, which handles licensed merchandise for the sport, does not release actual sales figures of team souvenirs. But sales of Dodgers merchandise have jumped sharply enough in 1995 to vault the team up five spots in the team rankings, though Los Angeles remains just out of the top 10.

"So something is happening there," MLB Properties spokeswoman Carol Coleman said.

Chances are it's not the fervor over Billy Ashley or Delino DeShields that has Dodgers items leaving the shelves, although some at Dodger Stadium would like you to think so. After all, the club still has that next contract to negotiate.

Barry Stockhamer, the Dodgers vice president for marketing, steadfastly refuses to give Nomo individual credit for a sales boom many believe long ago returned the team's $2.1 million investment in the pitcher.

"Nomo has done a lot in terms of bringing new fans to the ballpark," Stockhamer said, "but merchandise sales really follows the curve of the club. The interest has been good, and sales are running pretty true to form, but Piazza, Mondesi, Karros, Martinez, they all have merchandise selling well, too."

But, as the shop displays would indicate, doesn't Nomo outsell all the others combined?

"All I can say is that Nomo and Piazza are a pretty good 1-2 punch," Stockhamer said. "[Nomo's economic impact] is not as big as people think it is.

"Everything we sell is licensed, and the royalties flow from there. The public always lets us know. If an item is working well, we order more of the stuff. If not, we don't. I can say, and not to tease you, but there are some intriguing possibilities with Hideo we're having fun with, some new things we'll be unveiling in September."

Where the Dodgers are really getting nailed is on the international marketing front, previously a pool so insignificant no one much cared about it. But on licensed Nomo merchandise selling wildly in Japan, the Dodgers are stuck with the same MLB Properties division, receiving only 1/28 of the pot.

"Nobody could have predicted the impact of Nomo," Stockhamer said. "I think it was clear after his first start there was a lot of interest, both internationally and locally. But the time he got his first win [June 2], we knew we had something special.

"It's been great, sensational. A player with this sort of impact on the game might come around once every couple of decades. It cuts across whether you're a sports fan or not a sports fan. The name of Nomo has become very recognizable in a very short time."

Dodger Stadium this week extended its Top of the Park gift shop hours to the mornings and afternoons before scheduled home night games, a first for a club that never before needed to meet such souvenir demand.

And the gate wasn't hurt. The crowd of 53,361 was the third-largest this year at Dodger Stadium, the second-largest for a Nomo game. In nine home starts, Nomo has drawn 381,733 to the ballpark, an average of 42,415. That is more than 5,000 higher than the team's season average of 37,393.

Since Nomomania really took off, the difference is even greater. His five home starts since June 24 have averaged 50,343 -- 12,950 more than the season average.

Certainly, the $2 million signing bonus and $109,000 minimum salary ($97,980 after the strike season reduction) that put Nomo in a Dodgers uniform looks like O'Malley's best investment ever.

"This is a very high-risk business," O'Malley said. "You've got to take chances. Some have worked out; others haven't. You never know about injury, things like that. But I'm happy he chose us. He came here, liked what he heard and we have done everything we can to make him comfortable.

"I don't anticipate any problem [re-signing Nomo] at all. I've spoken with his agent, Don Nomura, several times, but that is something we have not discussed. Now is not the time to bring it up. [Nomo] is enjoying what he's doing. He wants to get this team into first place and into the playoffs and World Series. And that, for him, will be the height of enjoyment."

And, one would assume, the height of profitability.

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