Hickory merchandise has been flying off the shelves since the Indiana Pacers announced July 21 they’d be wearing the Hoosiers movie-themed throwback uniforms for 10 games this season and started selling Hickory items—including jersey-like T-shirts, caps, glassware and pennants—at the team gift shop.
The Pacers’ merchandise sales in August were up 55 percent over August a year ago, and for the year, have increased 8 percent over last year, according to the team.
The year-over-year increase is even more impressive considering the Pacers went to the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago—in the last fiscal year—and didn’t make the playoffs last season, which is part of this year’s sales cycle. And teams always sell more merchandise when they make the playoffs.
In addition to the team’s gift shop, Hickory items are also available through the NBA’s stores, NBA.com, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Finish Line and other athletic stores.
“The increase we’ve seen is big and we think it will get bigger when we start playing games,” said Pacers sales boss Todd Taylor.
Hickory merchandise has been sold and shipped to fans in 41 states and seven countries, Taylor said.
“I thought it was going to be pretty popular, but it’s taken on a life of its own,” he said. “The power of social media has certainly helped.”
Indianapolis-based sports marketer David Morton said he’s “impressed by the reach of the sales.”
“I think the sales speak to the strength of the brand of the Hoosiers movie and Hickory,” Morton said. “While I think some of the out-of-state sales could be driven by Hoosier transplants, I think it’s bigger than that. These uniforms and this merchandise offer a retro look that some people really, really like. It’s a great marketing move.”
In recent years, the NBA has encouraged teams to brand themselves in unique ways that are connected to the community and to create uniforms and a line of goods to go along with that effort.
The Detroit Pistons, for example, have “Motor City” uniforms and a line of goods.
As the Pacers sales staff was brainstorming what to do, Taylor said, someone mentioned the movie Hoosiers—which is celebrating its 30th anniversary—and recreating the Hickory High School jerseys worn by the team that won the Indiana high school state championship in the film.
The Pacers last season contacted Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which owns the rights to the movie, and got the green light. Though the Pacers don’t comment on financial agreements, sources familiar with the deal said the Pacers paid little for the rights to make and market the Hickory items, which are co-branded with the Pacers’ logo.
The Hickory jerseys were quickly added to this year’s NBA 2K video game and the popularity of the items took off just as fast, Taylor said.
“Locally there’s a strong sense of state pride, and this allows people to remember some of the cool things that have happened here over the years, and Hoosiers is such a popular movie,” Taylor said. “We’re using it to honor a lot of different people.”
While the Hickory line of goods will be popular with a big segment of Pacers and other NBA fans, it may not have much of an appeal to the Pacers’ and NBA’s urban audience, Morton said.
A group of Crispus Attucks High School alums have already complained that the Pacers chose to pay homage to Hickory, loosely based on the rural, all-white Milan High School team that won the 1954 state championship, and not the 1955 Attucks team which was the nation’s first all-black team to win a state high-school athletic championship. The 1955 Attucks team is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
“To us, Hickory doesn’t represent one school. It represents all of the Indiana schools,” Taylor this month told Indianapolis Monthly.
Not all members of the black community have bristled at the Hickory gear.
Retired Pacers veteran Reggie Miller tweeted: “LOVE the new uniforms, nice throwback.”
Each game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, when the team wears the Hickory jerseys, will honor individuals, teams and communities that have impacted Indiana basketball history.
Attucks 1955, 1956 and 1959 state championship teams will be honored during the Pacers’ Feb. 24 game against the New York Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hickory-Pacers sales bonanza may just be starting. Not only does Taylor think merchandise sales will pick up more steam once the team plays its first game in the Hickory uniforms—a nationally televised game on ESPN Nov. 6 against the Miami Heat—he also expects the six home games when Pacers players don Hickory High gear to be sellouts.
“Those games will have a special look and feel,” Taylor said. “All the banners inside the fieldhouse will change on Hickory nights, the look of the bowl will be different as will the music and entertainment. There’s going to be a strong sense of nostalgia that I think the fans will really like.”
Taylor noted that some modifications were made to the Hickory attire.
“The players’ shorts will be longer than they were in the movie, and the cheerleaders’ skirts will be shorter,” he said with a laugh.