By Jim • 

Sports Fan: Airports big on sports merchandise

Entering Seattle on March 13 via Amtrak, billboards, signs and posters supporting the Seahawks, who are the reigning NFL champs, greeted visitors in every form. In almost every retail store window, a poster reminded both locals and visitors of the feat. Obviously, the city is proud its NFL team and banks on that success to sell tons of sports-related gear.

Sure, there were T-shirts and caps for the Seattle Mariners and a few items for the Seattle Sounders soccer team, but even though the opening of the Major League Baseball season is just around the corner, the 12th Man shirts and caps were the most popular items. Baseball and soccer will just have to wait their turns.

In the San Jose airport the next day, every shop had gear for sale for the NHL’s Sharks and Major League Soccer’s Earthquakes. In addition, since San Jose doesn't have a Major League Baseball team, racks were full of nearby San Francisco Giants baseball gear, along with San Francisco 49ers football gear.

Sunday, I walked through Chicago's O'Hare on the way to find a cab to Evanston and noted the abundance and variety of gear offered for one of MLB's most storied teams, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs, in almost every shop that offered clothing for sale. The other Chicago team, the American League's White Sox, had little gear on the shelves.

Plenty of gear was available for fans of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks were also well represented on the shelves. Not so much for the city's soccer team, the Chicago Fire, and the Chicago Sky, the city's representative in the Women's National Basketball Association.

Tourists seem to love sorting through the gear before catching their flights or on their way out of the terminals. I noted many purchases of team gear in the airport.

On a brief stopover in Minneapolis on March 19, after two days at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Ill., I pawed through the sports' merchandise, which included the Minnesota Twins (MLB), Minnesota Vikings (NFL) and a number of items for the city’s NBA franchise, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I also discovered lots of Green Bay Packers gear in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, as well as gear from a number of other professional teams outside the state. Apparently, this airport and its shops believe in a democratic solution to sports merchandising.

When we flew back to Portland after departing from Minneapolis, I was happy to see the familiar Blazers gear along with Beavers and Ducks memorabilia on the shelves of shops. I couldn't find much soccer gear although the men's team, the Timbers, and the women's team, the Thorns, both had very successful seasons last year. Maybe I didn't look closely enough, but the Blazers still rule in Portland.

Since I love team gear – the more colorful the better – I would have liked to purchase a few mementos on each stop on the trip, but my suitcase wouldn't hold any more gear. Plus, as my wife Molly pointed out, where's a guy going to wear all the "foreign" stuff? I certainly wouldn't wear a Timberwolves shirt to a Blazers game or an Earthquakes hoodie to a Timbers match, so I came home empty-handed.

As a sidebar to the sports gear, I talked to one Chicago Rotarian while visiting the Evanston Lighthouse Club about the Cubs. "I've given up on them," he said. I expect that too many losses over many decades could turn even the most ardent Cubs supporter into a disgruntled former fan.

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