From the outside The Players Clubhouse: A Players Choice Store won't look much different than the normal concessions at a baseball stadium. It will feature products from Nike, Topps and Rawlings, among others, and everything will be emblazoned with the picture of a major league player or team. Behind the scenes, though, it represents a very different approach to merchandising.
The store is an attempt by the Major League Baseball Players Association to increase the revenue they receive from merchandising. Every item, from coffee mugs to bobbleheads, will feature the name or likeness of a player. Dan Migala, director of the Graduate School of Sports Business at Northwestern, told the New York Times that fans are following players more than teams in an era of increased movement between teams.
"You don’t necessarily grow up a Mets fan, but a David Wright fan, and your affinity changes when he changes teams," Migala said. "People are there to support the Mets, but also David."
Players like Wright or Derek Jeter or Chipper Jones are anomolies to the very rule that Migala claims governs fan allegiance, though. Those players don't transcend affiliation with a particular team, they reinforce or create notions about a team as they become inextricably linked to the uniform that they wear. Fans may admire or respect players from other teams, but their strongest connection remains to guys who wear the right cap.
There's a reason people blanched at seeing Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, or, more recently, why Johnny Damon got branded a traitor for signing with the Red Sox. It's because fans construct their vision of their team because of the players that make it up. That can change as players come and go, but the team is the one thing that endures.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.