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No. 14 Jerseys Hit Retail Shelves

By Michael R. James, Crimson Staff Writer

Finally, it’s become a lot easier for stymied defenders to get their hands on Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s jersey.

All they need to do is take a quick walk to the Harvard Coop.

Since the beginning of the school year, the bookstore has been selling the No. 14 jerseys inside the stadium at its Varsity Shop concession stand and on the bottom floor of its Harvard Square location. The jerseys are also available through a link on the Athletic Department’s website gocrimson.com.

All jerseys—as well as other apparel—sold at the shop inside the stadium are subject to a revenue-sharing agreement between The Coop and the Harvard Athletic Department.

“To satisfy a demand for official gear, we do contract with The Coop to provide merchandise on-site,” said Director of Athletic Communications Chuck Sullivan. “That entire setup, from procurement of inventory to the actual selling of inventory, is done by The Coop, and The Coop assumes all of the inventory risks.”

According to Coop President Jeremiah P. Murphy ’73, those risks are substantial enough to make monetary gain the lesser priority.

“To be honest, a lot of the reason we [provide the apparel] is the relationship—Coop to Harvard,” Murphy said. “We do a lot of things more for relationship than for money. It’s been a good relationship; I think the athletic department’s happy, we’re happy and hopefully students and alumni are happy because they get the product.”

Replica jerseys have been a part of that product for years now. The Coop meets before the football seasons start to discuss which number will be featured on the jersey for the upcoming season.

“We sit here and think of who could be a popular player or a popular number, so [in the past] we decided on Carl Morris [’03], who was very popular and very good, and now it’s Fitzpatrick,” Murphy said. “It’s traditionally a quarterback, running back or receiver.”

Unlike at more prominent football schools, which have a large enough fan base to purchase multiple uniform numbers, Harvard supporters haven’t snapped up the jerseys nearly as quickly.

“Because of the risk of buying too much, we didn’t want to get into buying all three or four different numbers,” Murphy said. “If this were Notre Dame or BC, you may have four, five or six numbers up there. We sell a fair amount but nowhere near the numbers of jerseys you’d sell at [those schools].”

Since players are inextricably tied to the numbers on their uniform, the fact that jerseys are sold, however, could lead to a tricky situation involving the marketing of Crimson athletes. According to Murphy, the rising star power of the represented player “adds to the salability of the jersey.” This raises a potentially troubling question for an athletic department that trumpets amateur ideals.

Director of Athletics Robert Scalise did not respond to repeated attempts for comment, but in an interview with The Crimson in 2002, Scalise addressed the topic of marketing teams and players.

“Philosophically here, we don’t like the professional/commercial approach to athletics,” Scalise said, when prompted to discuss the University’s position on corporate sponsorship of athletic teams. “You start to introduce money with these sponsorships—well now, winning teams get sponsored more than losing teams I think. Winning tennis players get sponsored. Losing ones don’t get the same endorsements. Does sponsorship create more of a win-at-all-costs mentality?”

Though the selling of No. 14 jerseys does not fall under the umbrella of corporate sponsorship, there still appears to be some tension.

Fitzpatrick, for one, had no qualms about the retailing of his jersey.

“Any way that I can help the Harvard football program and Harvard is great,” Fitzpatrick said.

Currently, The Coop gets its jerseys from two different providers—Russell Athletic and Nike.

“The ones we sell down in the stadium are from Russell, and we also sell some [in The Coop] from Nike,” Murphy said. “The reason we used Russell was that for the last couple years, Russell was the uniform maker for Harvard.”

All Harvard apparel sold by The Coop is subject to licensing approval by Harvard, and Russell Athletic and Nike secure those permissions on their own, as well as handle royalty payments. The Coop buys the finished product after all of those bureaucratic hoops are cleared.

Recently, the Harvard football team swapped its Russell Athletic jerseys for Reebok jerseys, creating a sticky situation for The Coop.

“That just happened, and it causes some problems for retailers,” Murphy said. “They have no obligation to call us and say, ‘We’re going to switch,’ so it’s the risk of doing business.”

Since The Coop deals directly with distributors such as Nike, its decisions are made completely independent of the athletic department, including that of choosing a player’s number.

“It’s a totally separate situation,” Murphy said. “We don’t talk to anybody. We don’t talk to the athletic department.”

“If I was really smart, I’d put the number on there of someone that has a very big extended family, because everybody would buy the shirt,” Murphy added.

But as funny as it sounds, there might actually be some truth to that theory.

“I’ve seen two fans so far with my jersey on,” Fitzpatrick said. “And that’s my mom and my dad.”

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

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