How Dale Jr's Change Will Affect His Collectibles - Article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution

How Dale Jr's Change Will Affect His Collectibles - Article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution
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Switch from No. 8 would boost merchandising sales
Cox News Service
Thursday, June 14, 2007

ATLANTA Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join a long line of sports figures who have changed their numbers if he has to give up the No. 8, but his switch will have the biggest impact on the merchandising bottom line.

Expect sales of Earnhardt products to approach nine digits ($100 million) in the coming year as fans grab the remaining No. 8 items still on store shelves and load up on the new stuff everything from diecast cars to bumper stickers, hats and jackets.

Earnhardt, who announced Wednesday that he is joining Hendrick Motorsports, did not say which number he will run next year. There's speculation he could wind up in the No. 5 that Kyle Busch has been driving or the No. 25 if Casey Mears decides to run the No. 5.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said he may try to acquire the rights to the No. 8 from Dale Earnhardt Inc. Dale Sr. originally purchased

No. 8 from Billy Stavola so Dale Jr. could race with grandfather Ralph's old number.

Once the new car is unveiled, Charlie Crump, store manager of Diecast Depot Racing Collectibles in Gainesville, Ga., said he will order "as many as we can afford."

"Because the loyalty and excitement when it comes to NASCAR runs so deep and Dale Jr. holds so much control of the market above everybody else, every little ripple will affect the market exponentially," Crump said.

"Everybody collecting a long time knows that the first and the last are very significant in terms of collecting: the first of his new cars and last of his old cars."

Crump expects immediate appreciation on the No. 8 stuff. When Earnhardt made his initial announcement in May that he was changing teams, sales spiked, and Crump expected another spike from Wednesday's news.

Even if Earnhardt keeps No. 8, there will be new sponsors and paint schemes, so "The Red Army," his legion of fans, may have to get used to a new color.

"I think there'll be a different enough look that Junior fans are going to want to re-wardrobe themselves," said Mark Dyer, NASCAR's vice president of licensing and consumer products.

Added NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp, "There's not going to be enough trailers to hold all that stuff."

Dyer said NASCAR is a $2 billion-a-year retail industry, but not all of that is from sales of driver-related merchandise. Based on the superstore, which Dyer said is a pretty accurate barometer, Earnhardt accounts for 25-30 percent of the drivers' share of the market.

The most famous number switch in the last year was Kobe Bryant's change from No. 8 to No. 24, and the Lakers superstar wound up with the top-selling NBA jersey for the first time in four years.

Athletes usually have some say in the numbers that identify them. Some are chosen for sentimental reasons, others for superstitious ones. Athletes often are forced to change numbers when they switch teams because their number is already taken. Carlton Fisk switched from the 27 he wore with the Red Sox to a transposed 72 with the White Sox.

Michael Jordan briefly wore No. 45 (which had been his baseball number with the Birmingham Barons) because his legendary No. 23 had been retired by the Bulls. After an opponent commented that he "didn't look like the old Michael Jordan" in the playoffs, he went back to his old jersey number.

Mickey Mantle was No. 6 with the Yankees before being sent down to the minors. He came back as No. 7 because Bobby Brown had reclaimed No. 6. Years later, Jason Giambi couldn't have the retired No. 7, so he chose 25 (which adds up to 7)

Alex Rodriguez had grown accustomed to wearing No. 3, but the Yankees already had a No. 3 by the name of Babe Ruth. A-Rod adopted No. 13 because he grew up a Dan Marino fan.

Athletes have been known to pay another player for their number, but Oakland Raiders receiver Jerry Porter balked at paying $210,000 to switch from No. 84 to 81. He would have had to reimburse the team and Reebok for the cost of unsold jerseys and decided not to stick with the number he had.

Despite his upcoming split with DEI, Earnhardt's fans will keep a place in their collections and their closets for the No. 8 stuff. "In NASCAR," said Diecast Depot's Crump, "when something gets old, it becomes vintage."

And it becomes more valuable. Before Dale Sr., drove the iconic No. 3 car, he had several other numbers.

"It makes your wallet hurt," Crump said, "just thinking about trying to find some of that stuff.

Karen Rosen writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.