Rumble On The Sidelines

Forget about remembering the playbook. It's who's wearing what that gets confusing on the Dallas Cowboys sideline. Running back Emmitt Smith wears hats and jackets from Starter Corp. But an equipment manager hands quarterback Troy Aikman a Logo 7 cap when he comes off the field. And wide receiver Michael Irvin dons a Sports Specialties cap when he sits on the bench. The rest of the Cowboys wear Apex One gear.

It's enough to rattle John Madden. It's also big business, helping to bring in an estimated $500 million in retail sales. That's why NFL Properties Inc. stepped in this year to place new controls on sideline garb. And that, in turn, has caused an all-out war among companies to sign marquee players. "This is the new battlefield," says John Horan, editor of Sporting Goods Intelligence, an industry newsletter.

Once dominated by New Haven-based Starter, the NFL sidelines are now open to competition, which the league revved up in June. "More competition is good for everyone," says Mark Holtzman, vice-president for club and retail marketing at NFL Properties Inc. He says the changes were made to gain more control over the sidelines scene. So NFL Properties split team jackets among Indianapolis-based Logo 7, Starter, and Apex One in Piscataway, N.J. It split hats between AJD Cap Corp. in Richmond, Va., and Nike Inc. subsidiary Sports Specialties in Irvine, Calif. But Logo 7, Starter, and Apex were given exemptions that allowed them to cut separate hat deals with star players.

With a limited number of players available, the companies immediately started a bidding war. Some stars, including Dallas QB Aikman, signed deals for as much as $50,000 just to wear a particular hat on the sideline. Starter says its sales haven't been hurt by the teamwear realignment. Logo 7 and Apex have seen a jump in revenue of about $100 million.

Any play can fall apart, however. Joe Montana, quarterback of four Super Bowl winners, doffed a new Sports Specialties hat on the sidelines during a game in September. He liked it so much that he has continued to wear it. Trouble is, the hat is just hitting stores now. Meanwhile, fans have been asking for it--and buying rival hatmakers' caps when they get the news that Joe's chapeau isn't available. Says Timothy E. Mitchell, Sports Specialties' marketing manager: "He's wearing a hat we really don't want him to wear yet."

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