Yankees, Red Sox driving more than half of sales

If anything is "juiced" these days, it's baseball merchandise.

Gross retail sales of licensed products are up by almost 100 percent in the first part of the year compared to the same period last season, according to Tim Brosnan, executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball.

"It's in part due to the fact that we had fans with a lot of pent up desire, supporting a team that hadn't won the World Series in 86 years," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, referring to the Boston Red Sox.

According to SportsScanINFO, a retail tracking firm, licensed headwear is up 79 percent, with the New York Yankees and Red Sox making up 53 percent of total licensed merchandise sales.

At this time last year, Red Sox gear made up 12 percent of all merchandise sold. This year, that number has jumped to 21 percent, said Neil Schwartz, SportsScanINFO's director of marketing.

"People might be talking about steroids and Barry Bonds, but baseball seems to be Teflon," Schwartz said. "Whatever comes their way, they seem to be able to absorb it."

Although a Turnkey Sports Poll last month reflected that the ongoing Red Sox-Yankees rivalry would be the third most important story in baseball (10.5 percent), behind discussion about steroids (59 percent) and Barry Bonds' pursuit of the all-time home run record (17.7 percent), fans of the two American League East powerhouses are talking with their wallets.

"All the talk about how the steroids dialogue will affect the game is speculative and anecdotal," said Faust Capobianco IV, president of Majestic Athletic, the exclusive vendor of jerseys, outerwear and fleece products. "Merchandise sales are quantitative."

Gross sales of Major League Baseball licensed apparel are expected to pass the $3 billion mark this season. It has been estimated that both the NBA and the NFL also annually surpass the $3 billion number.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.