The NBA opened its new store in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue on Monday, a few blocks from the location it left when high rent caused it to move elsewhere more than four and a half years ago.
The 25,000-square-foot store, whose inventory is owned and operated by the league's online partner Fanatics, has jerseys and gear plus interactive spaces, including a player hand-size wall and an area where a fan can personalize a jersey with their name and number and walk out with it 15 minutes later.
There are 35,000 individual pieces of merchandise, including a 40-foot-long wall that can display up to 250 pairs of shoes to be sold. The pieces of merchandise available will eventually be expanded to up to 75,000, according to Fanatics.
The business has grown significantly since the last time the NBA left a permanent spot on Fifth Avenue. Driven by the likes of Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, the league is expecting yet another record year in sales, said Sal LaRocca, the NBA's president of global operations and merchandising. Last year, NBA-licensed merchandise sales jumped 11 percent versus the year before, and LaRocca and his team is now projecting a 15 percent bump from that number over the 2014-15 season.
The amount of Golden State Warriors gear, which had hardly any presence in the old store, is noticeable. In fact, Brendan McQuillan, vice president of in-venue commerce for Fanatics, said that the New York Knicks, who play a mile from the store, barely beat out the Warriors as the most merchandised team.
"Popular players have come and gone," LaRocca said. "We had three weeks of Jeremy Lin, we had Michael Jordan and we had LeBron going back to Cleveland. But to see what Steph Curry and the Warriors have done in this marketplace in the last 12 months has been crazy."
Curry's has not only been the league's best-selling jersey since March; he has had the most bought jersey in 46 states this year, according to Fanatics data. The company says sales of his jersey in women's cut are up 800 percent versus last year, while they've sold 3.6 times more Curry jerseys in youth sizes versus last year.
The NBA has had a store on Fifth Avenue since 1998; from 2011 until 2015, a smaller store operated elsewhere on Fifth Avenue. LaRocca says the location is important because it's "more than merchandise, it's a way to show off the global brand that is the NBA." He said 60 percent of those that have bought something in the NBA store historically have lived outside the United States.
While the NBA gets most of the branding, the deal continues with Fanatics' goal to make itself a more recognizable brand offline. This past year, the company did an expansive deal with NASCAR to be the trackside merchandiser at the races.