In the ancient days of sports merchandising, fans could buy jerseys of only the biggest stars. Eventually leagues began selling customizable jerseys online, but that couldn’t reach the fans most willing to buy—the ones attending a game who are pumped about, say, a hot new rookie whose jersey isn’t on sale in the building. Now Silver Crystal Sports is capitalizing on that gap: It makes build-your-own-jersey kiosks for 400 worldwide partners, including NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL arenas, and is increasing game-day jersey sales by between 25% to 150%. Last year, it even began rolling out an app so that fans can customize their jerseys from their seats and have them delivered 20 minutes later. “We’re actually beating the Internet,” says cofounder Adam Crystal.
Jerseys typically sell from between $100 to $300, making them a high-cost, higher-margin item for retailers. But they are notoriously risky inventory—say, when a popular player is traded or becomes embroiled in scandal. (When disgraced Ravens star Ray Rice was dropped at the beginning of this NFL season, his jersey was yanked from shelves. The team let 7,000 fans trade their old Rice jerseys in for different ones.) Silver Crystal offers a solution: If its kiosks can make jerseys on demand (for which Silver Crystal gets a cut), arenas and stores can stock fewer of them. Or, they can use the machines to pump out suddenly hot items. “After Cleveland re-signed LeBron James, retailers [with Silver Crystal machines] were instantly building and selling his new jersey,” says Crystal.
Silver Crystal is also helping leagues reach international customers, a high priority of the NBA, NFL, and others. At its current size—only 124 employees—it isn’t ready for a full-scale move into a place like China, so in 2014 it expanded into Australia to connect with a steady stream of Asian tourists and native sports fanatics. Eventually, Crystal says, the company plans to follow the tourists East, where a lot of new fans will be eager to gear up.
One of the top-selling, Silver Crystal-fueled customized jerseys at the Yankees Clubhouse stores has “Costanza” written on the back.
[Photo: courtesy of Silver Crystal Sports]