Demand for Duke Lacrosse Gear Soars

In the wake of publicity generated by the sexual assault scandal surrounding the Duke men's lacrosse team, sales of merchandise bearing the "Duke lacrosse" name and logo have skyrocketed.

"Historically, lacrosse has been one of our three or four best-selling sports," said Tom Craig, general manager of retail stores at the Durham, N.C., school. "But over the last month, sales have increased to three or four times our normal rate."

Despite the cancellation of the team's season on April 5 -- or perhaps because of it -- the campus stores have experienced a run on merchandise related to Duke lacrosse, and have therefore continued to carry it. Developments in the case include the Tuesday arrest of two of the players.

"We just had to keep up with the demand," Craig said. "There are a couple outstanding orders that we are waiting on, but as of now, we are in great shape in terms of inventory online and at the stores."

Among the available items are hats, T-shirts and replica jerseys, which arrived only recently but were ordered in January, according to Craig.

Items Could Be for the Women's Team

Craig said the items are generic in that they aren't identified as for men's or women's lacrosse, so there was never a discussion with university officials about the possibility of stopping sales after news of the scandal broke. Duke's women's lacrosse team is ranked No. 1 in the country.

"I don't think we're taking advantage of the situation," Craig said.

Repeated calls to the school's news and communications office were not returned.

But crisis management executive Mike Paul said he believes there's an equal chance that the school will continue to allow the sale of lacrosse merchandise as that it will cut off sales. Craig said bookstores at Duke are institutionally owned and operated.

"The dilemma here hinges on the fact that there is still a very good women's team playing," said Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR.

Merchandise Pulled from Some Shelves

Although the merchandise remains available at campus stores, one national retailer, Dick's Sporting Goods, has pulled all Duke lacrosse merchandise from the shelves in its five stores in the Raleigh-Durham area.

"The reasons we stopped selling the gear are very straightforward," said Jeff Hennion, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the company, which has more than 200 stores nationwide. "It is highly controversial in the Raleigh-Durham area. Having that type of product out in front of our customers seemed to be a lightning rod. And secondly, we had customers who saw it out in the store and complained about it."

Hennion said that area stores in the Dick's chain had stocked only a small amount of Duke lacrosse gear and that sales of Duke lacrosse merchandise made up less than 1 percent of the revenue grossed in those stores.

"This is not about us judging who is right and who is wrong. It's just such a tiny part of our business that we just wanted to avoid the issue," Hennion said. "We spend millions of dollars every year toward local programs in our areas to prove that we want to be part of the community instead of just being a large retailer. This decision reflects that."

Duke lacrosse shirts are still available for $11.95 on the athletic department's Web site, goduke.com, which is as it should be, according to Kathleen Hessert, president of Sports Media Challenge, a Charlotte, N.C.-based sports strategic communications and reputation management firm.

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