Tis the Season

Saints’ success, dome reopening boosting local sales

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.


 

There’s good news on the sports retail front as we enter prime Christmas shopping and the last quarter of the Saints’ 2021 season.

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A year ago, the New Orleans Saints may have had the most talented roster, from top to bottom, in team history, but because of COVID-19 safety precautions and surges in positive coronavirus cases during the season, only a few thousand fans were allowed in the Superdome on game days. That led to a malaise in excitement among Saints fans that local retailers said extended to their shops.

For more than a decade, Fleurty Girl’s multiple retail stores and online shop have been a haven for Saints fans to get outfitted with unique styles and accessories, but 2020 was a different year. Without fans in the stands or in the shops the company missed its projected numbers in August 2020.

“Saints football is at the core of Fleurty Girl,” company founder Lauren Haydel said a year ago. “This is the first fall, the first football season, that we are not head to toe in Saints gear at Fleurty Girl. The customer demand isn’t there. It’s very unusual. We can’t compete without football.”

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The offseason brought a lot of question marks to the team and shop owners, too. The Saints had to cut $111 million in player salaries to get below the league-mandated $182.5 million salary cap, which dropped from $198.2 million in 2020. That resulted in the departure of several key veteran players and fan favorites, and led to questions about how the team could build a competitive roster. Of course, Drew Brees retired, and for the first time in 15 years debate about who would play quarterback emerged. But there were encouraging signs for the 2021 season.

With the advent of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, attendance restrictions were lifted, and fans have filled the stadium to its capacity of 73,000. While the Saints lost a lot of talent, most of their starters remained. Where they did lose players, their deep roster and solid draft allowed players to step into new roles. The defense has been among the top 10 in the NFL and the offense has found ways to win.

“Black and gold stuff is front and center again. All of our stores have a Saints table right when you walk in the door,” Haydel said.

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“Last year it was pretty stagnant. We just had one round of purchase orders,” she said. “Last year we didn’t order any clear purses. We just had our leftover inventory from the previous year. So, entering this season, we weren’t sure what was going to happen with football and if people were going to get into it. But now it’s like every week we’re reordering black and gold. We’re reordering, reordering and reordering. Clear purses — now, we can’t keep them in stock this year. So, that is a telltale sign that things are definitely changing and moving again.”

Even though her numbers are rebounding they haven’t fully made a recovery.

“We’re not doing 2019 black-and-gold sales, but we’re doing better than we were in 2020.”

Haydel said she not concerned with season-ending injuries to QB1 Jameis Winston or WR1 Michael Thomas affecting her business because she focuses on team-related merchandise and doesn’t produce many items dedicated to individual players.

“I’m worried about jinxing them,” she said. “Once a player is injured, you know, no one wants to buy it. No one,” she stressed, “wants to buy it. So, it’s really just one of the things you have to be so careful [about] before you print a bunch of garments. I can’t take the risk, not when you’ve only got certain amount of square footage in your shop, and you want to fill it with what’s going to turn.”

Haydel said she anticipates strong Saints-related sales through the Christmas season and, hopefully, into the postseason. But, she says, she’s diversified her inventory with items that reflect the COVID-19 hangover.

“Everybody loves the dark humor. You know, it’s just our state of mind right now,” she said. “A lot of things that are geared toward television series that they’re into. We’re selling ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Squid Games.’ We’re still selling ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ They’re buying things [that] we’ve never had. The trend is just different, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people are at home or have been at home more and gotten more into television shows.”

 

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