Nikco Sports tries to score on infield dirt, used bases
By Christopher Tritto
St. Louis Business Journal
Updated: 8:00 p.m. ET Oct. 23, 2005
With the wrecking ball ready to deal its first blow to Busch Stadium in a matter of weeks, Cardinals fans and baseball collectors are seeking opportunities to hold on to their memories of the 40-year-old ballpark.
Nikco Sports hopes to give them what they want and profit in the process. The Chesterfield-based sports marketing and memorabilia company acquired the distribution rights to sell game-used items from the final year at Busch. Nikco does not pay a set fee for those rights, but pays a percentage of its sales to Major League Baseball. Craig Bidner, Nikco's owner and chief executive, declined to disclose the rate in this case, but said it typically averages around 10 percent.
Nikco is marketing pieces of used bases, stadium seat backs and vials of infield dirt from the 2005 season to fans who hope to hold on to a little piece of the soon-to-be-leveled Redbird roost.
The privately held business already has sold more than 3,000 units, Bidner said. The items can be purchased direct from Nikco by phone or online. In another week or so, items will be hitting Schnuck Markets, and possibly other retailers such as Famous-Barr department stores. Items are priced at $30 and $50 each.
All game-used merchandise is certified by Deloitte & Touche and Major League Baseball for authenticity. Deloitte certifies items for Major League Baseball across the country, and local Busch Stadium items will be certified by people in Deloitte's local office. Nikco is working with Sunrise, Fla.-based Mounted Memories Inc., an official MLB licensee of the Cardinals logos.
The combination of the Cardinals on-field success and the imminent demolition of the stadium should drive a high volume of sales, Bidner said. He saw sales skyrocket in Boston last year when Nikco marketed plaques commemorating the Red Sox world championship. The plaques became the biggest seller among World Series products Nikco has sold during its 12-year history. Bidner hopes the Cardinals' success will help boost sales again. He said he expects Busch Stadium memorabilia sales to generate as much as 5 percent of Nikco's revenue this year.
"I think for Nikco it's a tremendous opportunity," said Robert Parish, president of St. Louis-based Rawlings. "They've been a customer of ours for a long time and the business has been steady for the past five years. Their success is largely determined by hot market opportunities."
Bidner, 38, declined to disclose revenue figures except to say Nikco is a profitable business with revenue of less than $10 million. He and his wife, Joy, 37, who is president, have grown company revenue 500 percent since they bought the business in September 1993. Nikco has 225,000 customers.
About half of Nikco's sales and revenue comes from individual consumers. The other half comes from sales to retailers and corporate clients. The retail sales segment is growing. In addition to Schnucks and Famous-Barr, Nikco sells items through Dierbergs Markets, Shop 'n Save, various convenience stores and Davenport, Iowa-based department store chain Von Maur Inc. Autographed merchandise accounts for about 15 percent of sales.
The Bidners employ 15 people at Nikco. Scott Tolan joined recently as director of sales following 15 years with the Coca-Cola Co.
Nikco works with several manufacturers, including Rawlings; Pacific, Mo.-based Aurora Technologies Inc.; Litchfield, Ill.-based Schutt Sports; as well as Spalding, Wilson and K2 Licensing & Promotions, which is part of K2 Inc., Rawlings' parent company based in Los Angeles.
In addition to Busch Stadium mementos and other Cardinals items, Nikco designs, markets and sells dozens of other sports-related products. Current examples include footballs celebrating the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame Stadium and plaques saluting Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre's mark of 50,000 career passing yards.