Wings cash in on Cujo as jersey sales sizzle
For up to $255, fans dress like their heroes
By John Niyo / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- There's a new goaltender in town, and his name is Curtis Joseph.
Need a reminder? Just check out the wave of new Red Wings jerseys diehard fans are sporting these days.
Joseph, a veteran free agent signed in July, is challenging perennial favorite Steve Yzerman in merchandise sales this season.
And that's good news for the Red Wings, who are the No. 1 selling NHL team when it comes to merchandise -- some jerseys go for as much as $255.
"The reality is, it's called Hockeytown for a reason," said Ed Horne, president of NHL Enterprises, the league's marketing arm. "There is an incredible following for the club, and we see that across all areas of business.
"When you have a lineup like the Red Wings have, with the number of future Hall of Famers they have on that team, it creates a buzz, an interest."
The Cup triumph was worth an estimated $25 million to $50 million to the Wings and owner Mike Ilitch, raising the franchise value to as much as $277 million -- second in the NHL behind the New York Rangers.
The Rangers, with their fat broadcasting contracts, are worth around $300 million.
In terms of merchandise sales, well, that's where the Wings are the top dog. And Cujo -- Joseph's well-known nickname -- leads the charge.
"Joseph is the hottest one out there right now," said Brett Kurily, owner of The Pointe After in Detroit. "Yzerman's always steady at the top, but you go through these spikes, like last year where (Dominik) Hasek took over for a while -- and now you've got Curtis Joseph."
The same is true at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy, where Yzerman -- the team's captain -- and Joseph are the top sellers. After that, the biggest demand is for Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull and Sergei Fedorov, followed by Grind Line stars Darren McCarty, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.
Wings fan Ryan Horton, 22, of Westland, proudly wore his $120 Joseph jersey at Wednesday's game against Los Angeles at Joe Louis Arena. The Northwest Airlines employee already had 10 Wings jerseys and said the price was worth it.
"I always liked him even when he was in St. Louis, (and) when he was in Toronto," Horton said. "I could tell he was nervous when he first came here. Then he got a shutout and he looked good, he looked like the Cujo of Toronto and people got behind him."
Colleen Koch, 46, of Grosse Pointe Farms, proudly wore her Shanahan jersey -- the third-best selling Wings jersey -- to Wednesday's game.
"I've got Shanahan's jersey for the Irish connection," she said. "It cost a couple hundred bucks. My husband, Bill, bought it for me. That's why I like it, because he bought it for me."
Rookie Henrik Zetterberg's No. 40 jersey is expected to be a hot item soon, too, as fans get acquainted with the 22-year-old Swedish sensation. Kurily's store manager, Chris Campo, said he's already sold a half-dozen Zetterberg jerseys this season, "and all to young girls."
But unlike the past, players no longer throw away used game jerseys -- they autograph them, the team certifies them, and they go on sale at Hockeytown Authentics, which is owned by the Wings.
Ditto for a puck that scores a goal -- the player signs it, the team sells it.
"Our biggest challenge is to grow the Red Wings brand," marketing director Ted Speers said.
Wings jerseys sell for $120 at The Pointe After, where as many as 25-30 per week are purchased, while at Hockeytown Authentics the replica jerseys sell for $145 and authentic game jerseys -- the ones the players wore -- go for $255.
Wings and NHL officials would not release overall merchandise sales figures.
"We sell Wings merchandise all over the country on the Internet now, even to people on military bases in other parts of the world," said Doug Hasse, manager of Detroit Athletic Co., a sports merchandiser on Michigan Avenue, a block from Tiger Stadium. "You can see by the number of red jerseys in the stands at away games."