August 21, 2014
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the 2014 season, and so is his No. 5 jersey.
And that is leaving some Buckeye-themed retailers sitting on thousands of dollars in inventory seemingly destined to sit on shelves for a long time — maybe a year.
Just ask Kelly Dawes, owner of College Traditions, located a short walk from Ohio Stadium.
“People want the numbers that are on the field, typically,” Dawes said. “We felt it. Everybody who came in yesterday, they were all taking about” Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury.
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She said the store has an inventory of more than 1,000 No. 5 jerseys. Given that they sell for between $90 and $140 each, that single store could miss out on about $100,000 in sales if the merchandise doesn’t move.
College Traditions can’t give back the jerseys to Nike, which manufactures them under license from Ohio State.
Nike has the license to produce OSU jerseys and varsity athletic apparel and pays OSU $1 million a year.
The university isn’t likely to feel the effects of a decline in jersey sales, however. This unusual circumstance is likely “not significant in terms of percentages,” OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said.
Beyond discussing with Nike which uniform numbers they anticipate will be most popular among fans, the university has no role in forecasting projected sales figures for individual jerseys, Lewis said.
Still, the jerseys are expected to be sold sooner or later.
“We’ll sit on them,” Dawes said. “Hopefully, they’ll redshirt him this year, and he’ll be back next year.”
Sitting on the jerseys might put a pinch on profits at retailers this year, but since Miller will likely return next year, “No. 5 isn’t totally dead,” said local retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies.
“It’s not like they have to go burn the jerseys,” he said. But for this season, “it would make sense to get fans to switch to other numbers.”
College Traditions is looking into other numbers — backup quarterback J.T. Barrett’s No. 16 or defensive end Joey Bosa’s No. 97, for example — but none so far has the appeal that Miller’s jersey would have, had he remained healthy.
“We spoke with Nike yesterday about maybe coming out with No. 97 or No. 16,” Dawes said. “ Whether they can get that done in time, I don’t know.”
Another Buckeye-themed retailer, Conrads College Gifts, isn’t feeling the same pinch because Conrads isn’t carrying the numbered jerseys, said co-owner Rob Cohen.
“We do have generic jerseys, and they’re a lot cheaper than Nike,” Cohen said. “I just feel bad for Braxton, though, that he has to suffer through this.”
A possible saving grace, Dawes said, is that, “because of NCAA rules, you can’t print names. They are No. 5 with no names.”
The fact that there are no names on OSU replica jerseys — and the fact that numerous players have worn the same numbers over the decades — is something that helped Conrads overcome a similar situation some years ago, Cohen said.
“Years ago, when Champion had the contract, we used to have Maurice Clarett’s jersey, No. 13,” Cohen said. Then the onetime star left the team and ended up in trouble with the law. “For a while, we couldn’t sell them. We had to put up a sign that said, ‘Other famous Buckeyes wore this number, too.’ ”
Dawes said that she is also hoping Nike will resurrect its “Legends” jersey line. “We told Nike to consider that,” she said. “We’re talking about a 45 (most famously worn by Archie Griffin) or 27 (best known as Eddie George’s number) or 36 (worn by Chris Spielman).”
While another star might emerge during the season, “going the heritage route” seemed a sensible approach to Boring.
“I don’t see any other highly marketable stars to the casual fan,” he said. “I’ve heard the tight end is supposed to be really good, and the defensive line is good, but I don’t know their numbers.
“But it’s just one of those things,” Boring said of retailers left with piles of No. 5 jerseys. “ It’s like the game itself. They got a bad break.”