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Holiday Gifts for the Sports Fan

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

December 16, 2011

You’re dashing to the mall on your lunch hour, and frantically cyber-shopping between meetings.  It’s the holidays, the time of year when you’re trying to pick the perfect gift for the rabid sports fan on your list. 

Sports business executives, the people running the 35 college football bowl games, and the athletes themselves are in this respect no different from you and me – except of course that pro athletes’ desires are more often in the five or six figure range, and the bowl organizers are buying for a couple hundred people at a time. 

And then there’s Shaquille O’Neal.  As he prepares to make his Christmas Day debut as a basketball commentator for TNT, O’Neal is once again playing “Shaq-a-Claus” for the Toys ’R’ Us annual holiday campaign for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.  For many years, O’Neal donated toys to needy children during the holidays; in 2009, Toys ’R’ Us enlisted him to participate in its own campaign for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.  The campaign this year includes a personal video message from Shaq on the Toys “R” Us website and in-store materials such as a poster of O’Neal dressed as Shaq-a-Claus, holding a star atop a Christmas tree of children.  (The toy purveyor will continue to collect donations through Christmas Eve.)

Analytics firm IBM Smarter Commerce shared with USA Today that electronics were "the most popular items sold on Cyber Monday, with sales up 26% over last year.”  And where kids are concerned, according to a recent Harris Poll, nearly one in five shoppers is buying sports equipment. The survey, conducted in October, revealed that half of Americans plan on buying a toy this holiday season; among those buying toys as gifts, 19% will purchase sports equipment, ranking just below those who plan on buying handheld electronic games (20%).  And perhaps encouraging for a demographic perceived as joystick-wielding couch potatoes: sports equipment saw the highest levels of planned purchases among  households with kids 13-17 (37%), ranking below only games for consoles in that age group (62%).

Whether you’re facing pro bowl economies of scale or you’re just a normal Joe playing Shaq-a-Claus to your own family and friends, here are five categories of 2011’s hottest sports-related gifts.


Nothing is more basic for the diehard sports fan than the jersey of his favorite player, perhaps customized with the fan’s own name on the back.  As they continue their quest for a perfect season, the Green Bay Packers lead all NFL teams in team merchandise sales through the end of November, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at #1 on the jersey sales list and teammate Clay Matthews right behind him at #2.  The Steelers follow the Packers in team sales, with the Cowboys, Bears, and Patriots completing the top five.  Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is #6 on the jersey list and closing fast.  Most standard replica jerseys on go for $84.99.

Packers fans, of course, can go even deeper in their support of the Pack this holiday season by purchasing shares of the team.  The NFL franchise, conducting its first stock sale in 14 years, sold 1,600 $250 shares in the first 11 minutes the stock was available on line.  By the end of the second day, the team had sold more than 185,000 shares, raising about $43 million out of the $143 million needed to renovate Lambeau Field.

Even a prolonged lockout can’t stop the stampede of basketball footwear and player branded sneakers.  Nike’s fall "Basketball Never Stops" campaign produced higher same-month shoe sales in October of this year than last for Nike endorsers like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, according to SportsOneSource, while Adidas’ “latest quarterly earnings statement included growing sales of basketball footwear,” according to a company spokesperson. 

The Chicago Tribune reports that Bulls star Derrick Rose will "step onto the court on Christmas a new pair of shoes representing Chicago’s ’L’ train." The red leather "Windy City,” with a blue “L” map and metallic upper echoing the train cars’ exterior, also celebrates Roses’ Chicago heritage. (Adidas, $110)


Last year it was the iPad – in 2011, the Kindle Fire has joined the Apple tablet on tech-savvy wish lists.  Golf Digest editor-in-chief Jerry Tarde likes it for a specific reason.  “It’s the size of the original Golf Digest back in 1950,” he told SportsBusiness Journal, “and our magazine now looks great on this device.” $199

Gadgets are always in the goodie bag mix for bowl participants, and personal choice seems to be the watchword for bowl organizers in 2011.  Instead of choosing specific devices, a majority of bowls are opting for Best Buy gift cards for athletes and staff, or offering celebrity-style gift suites.  Common items in the bags and suites:  Fossil, Tourneau, and Timely Watch Company watches; Oakley sunglasses and “Flak packs;” and Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and earbuds (essentials in the NFL and NBA).

For extreme sport participants who can’t wait to get their latest maneuvers up on YouTube, GoPro wearable, waterproof HD video cameras, like the GoPro HD Hero 2, attach right on your helmet, board or bike and can upload and connect to a handheld device wherever you can get a signal. $150-$240.


NFL players have long had their touchdown dances – you can see many an end zone move on the library of EA Sports’ Madden NFL games, long at the top of videogame industry bestsellers (including the latest release, Madden NFL 12, $59.99).

This year, the dancing genre of videogames is boogieing right past perennial top-sellers in football, fight, fitness, and general adventure.  This fall, according to NPD Group, Inc., sales of such dancing titles as Just Dance 3, Dance Central, and Zumba Fitness 1&2 ($25-$45) jumped 326% over a year ago.  The boom of fitness games such as those for the Wii Fit have given way to the Dance Centrals played on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which uses its console’s Kinect motion-sensing camera to track players’ movements and score them based on how well they perform a dance routine.

For the videogame industry, the dance games have provided a terrific opportunity to attract female users, a demographic that doesn’t typically do a lot of gaming (nearly 8 in ten dance game players are female, according to NPD).  Celebrity tie-ins help, including the popular Black Eyed Peas Experience, produced in collaboration with this year’s Super Bowl halftime performers.

The news is not as rosy for other categories of games – while the Madden titles continue to perform well, football games in general have seen a 4% drop over the last year, selling around 7 million total units.  Racing games have dropped by a percentage point as well, logging around 12 million units sold, compared to about 13 million units sold in the dance genre – a clear sign that gaming companies won’t be trading their dancing shoes for more cleats any time soon.



Whether they’re consumed on the latest e-reader or via old fashioned paper and ink, books are still an integral part of the holiday gift experience.  These titles caught our eyes, as well as those of the many sports industry professionals who recently shared their holiday wish lists with SportsBusiness Journal.

Numero uno on industry pro’s lists is the biography of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson with Jobs’ full cooperation in the months leading up to his death in October.  Others expressed a desire to read “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World,” the latest business from Michael Lewis, also author of  “The Blind Side” and “Moneyball.”  A baseball-themed work of fiction also made its way onto numerous year-end “best of” lists, as well as the shortlist for prestigious literary awards.  “The Art of Fielding: A Novel” by Chad Harbach, is the story of a small college baseball star whose quest for the big leagues goes off course.  It is a finalist for the National Book Award, America’s top literary prize.

O’Neill, the wetsuit and surf apparel giant, is helping to celebrate its 60th anniversary with the release of "Jack O’Neill, It’s Always Summer on the Inside,” written with prominent surf writer Drew Kampion.  The coffee table-sized title follows the journey of the man whose passion drove him to create an innovative suit that allowed surfers to be the first in the icy waters of the San Francisco Bay and the last out, and launched a deep sports vertical market.

Life coach Chrissy Carew mined the stories of her deep list of NFL clients to produce “Insightful Player: Football Players Lead a Bold Movement of Hope,” a collection of inspiring stories from some of the top names in the NFL game appropriate for young adults and older fans alike.  And finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own sports business primer, “Beyond the Scoreboard: An Insider’s Guide to the Business of Sports,” released by Human Kinetics in August of this year.


Every year, it seems, more sports industry notables see their names on the label of a wine bottle.  From John Madden himself to skater Peggy Fleming and a handful of race car drivers, the “sports wine” category is taking up more space on cellar shelves.

Some sports-related vintages making a splash this year include offerings from former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, whose Kick Ass Red is one of many wines the Mendocino Wine Company puts together for the NFL legend.  Cornerback Charles Woodson has gotten into the wine game as well through Napa Valley’s TwentyFour Wines – the number Woodson wore while playing for the Oakland Raiders before he joined the Green Bay Packers.  A donation of $10 from every bottle sold goes to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, Woodson’s alma mater.

The most interesting wine story of 2011 by far, however, comes from a far more unfamiliar appellation: China.  When former NBA standout Yao Ming was growing up there, most wine was served with ice cubes.  Now retired and living in his native Shanghai, Yao is a trailblazer on the Chinese wine scene. Last month, he launched his own Californian winery geared exclusively for the Chinese market, Yao Family Wines.  Distributed by French beverage giant Pernod Ricard SA, bottles in the first 5,000-case run are simply labeled Yao Mingm and at 1,775 yuan (US$289), aimed at the top end of the market.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.

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