Utah moves up to No. 9 in NBA paraphernalia

If you live along the Wasatch Front, you probably own a T-shirt, cap, keychain, pen or paperweight that sports the Utah Jazz logo.Jazz merchandise is everywhere, especially now that the team is fighting for its first pro basketball title.

But if you are planning a vacation to New York City during this year's NBA Finals, you'd better pack your paraphernalia and take it along.

An employee at Rubbles, a New York sporting goods store, was asked Wednesday if his place sold any Jazz merchandise. The answer: "Not a prayer."

Fine. So New York is a Knicks kind of town. Rubbles probably doesn't sell much Bulls stuff either, right?

"The Bulls is Michael (Jordan)," said the employee, who declined to give his name. "That's another story."

Increased national recognition for the back-to-back Western Conference champions apparently has yet to whet the purchasing appetite of New Yorkers.

But Scott Shuler, vice president/general manager for the Jazz retail division, said products with the team's logo are selling well elsewhere - so much so that the Jazz ranked ninth out of the 29 NBA teams in sales last year.

Of course, the Bulls were first. But Shuler said it was the first trip into the top 10 for the Jazz, a small-market team that has ranked as low as 20th in the past.

He attributes the rising sales figures to the new team logo unveiled last year, the team's trip to the 1997 Finals and the off-the-court character of its players.

"We have a catalog business that's phenomenal," Shuler said. "I'll bet we have over 1,000 calls a month from out-of-state people wanting a Jazz product. There are Jazz fans everywhere."

Tom Simonson, owner of Front Row Sports in Las Vegas, said the top-selling NBA teams in his store are the Bulls, Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers - the team Utah swept for the conference championship. In the days before the Finals, sales of Bulls and Jazz items were about evenly split, he said.

"Here our Jazz sales are very respectable, and much better than they have been now with all the hype coming on," said Simonson, who is cheering for the Jazz this year.

Travis Hawkes, manager of the two Pro Image stores in Boise, said the Lakers, Jazz and Bulls are the three biggest sellers there, too.

"Ever since last year, the Jazz stuff has really picked up," he said. "I'm sure if we win it all, we'll sell a ton of stuff. . . . I think the people in this area, since we don't have a team here and that's the closest team, kind of adopt (the Jazz)."

Jazz merchandise sales also have picked up steam closer to Bulls territory, according to Michele Gooch at Jumbo Sports in Des Moines, Iowa. Maybe it has something to do with Jazz star Jeff Hornacek's playing days at Iowa State.

"We do have Utah fans, and we do have Chicago fans," Gooch said. "Right at this moment we just don't have enough Jazz (merchandise) to comply with (the demands of) all the customers who come in."

Speaking from the very heart of enemy territory, an employee at Chicago Sports & Novelty said it does not stock any Jazz merchandise.

"We've always been selling Bulls stuff," she said.

And even in the West, not everyone is rushing out to buy a Jazz jacket. Maybe it's due to lingering memories of a couple of weeks ago, but an employee at the Sports Emporium in Los Angeles said it sells mostly Lakers and Bulls items.

"We're not doing really well with the Utah Jazz," said the woman, who would not give her name. "The customers like the Bulls more than the Jazz."