No Player, No Sales

Local retailers see merchandise sales plummet with each departure.
Illustration Antoine Passelac

The New Orleans Saints entered both this year’s and last year’s offseason millions of dollars over the NFL’s mandated salary cap – a fact that has forced the team to cut or trade away several stars, including tight end Jimmy Graham, running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, wide receiver Lance Moore, linebacker Curtis Lofton and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.

The bloodletting of fan favorites has pulled at the heartstrings of the team’s followers, but it has also played havoc with the bottom line of Saints merchandise retailers. At shops across town, inventory of former Saints-related merchandise has been reduced by 50 percent or more.

“The value changes in an instant,” says Lauren LeBlanc, owner of Fleurty Girl, a local retailer whose five shops focus on New Orleans-themed items, none more popular than her line of locally inspired T-shirts. LeBlanc’s business took off when locals supported her after the NFL sent her a cease-and-desist letter regarding her “Who Dat” shirts.

In order to make the best of the remaining inventory, LeBlanc says she uses various methods, including social media, to notify fans of an immediate reduction on a recently departed player’s merchandise.

“We had Jimmy Graham back stock ready for August preseason games. Now, they’re half off,” she says. “We had to discount them from $30 to $15. We’re hoping for an emotional reaction, which results in a purchase. You’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot.”

And sometimes, you just have to take a loss.

“We have to be so careful with inventory, purchasing and printing,” LeBlanc says. “But unexpected trades, cuts and injuries are part of the game and something we have to deal with. We’re still sitting on some Sproles shirts a year after he was traded.”

With all of the moves the Saints have made to get under the salary cap while still remaining competitive, many fans wondered about the possibility of the team trading 36-year-old quarterback Drew Brees. But general manager Mickey Loomis gave fans’ and retailers’ nerves a chance to calm when he announced in mid-March that such talk about the greatest Saint was unsubstantiated.

Like all diehards, LeBlanc says she’s got faith in the team and the city. While her sales would likely take a hit should Brees depart the Saints, she feels New Orleans would have the most to lose.

“We’re glad he’s not going anywhere,” she said. “We love what he does for the city. That’s the most important thing.”