It is game on for Olympic merch ahead of Vancouver
NEW YORK – Forget limited-edition gold bottles of Coca-Cola and pricey replicas of the Olympic torch. Driving the merchandise machine ahead of the Vancouver Games is a $10 pair of cozy, red mittens helping to raise money for host athletes.Organizers outfitted thousands of torchbearers with the knitted mitts that sport the Olympic rings and a white maple leaf in each palm. More than 1.5 million pairs have sold since October, enough for at least 1 in 34 Canadians.”They’ve really taken the nation by storm,” said Dennis Kim, director of licensing and merchandising for the Vancouver Organizing Committee, which is using about $4 from each sale to support the country’s quest for first-time gold on home turf.With less than a month to go before the Winter Games’ Opening Ceremony, it is game on in all areas of Olympic merchandising, from “Future Olympian” sippy cups to vintage apparel. There is plenty in every price range, with more to come once the Games are under way.Are people feeling spendy in these still-shaky economic times?”It’s anyone’s guess at this point,” said Sally Parrott, senior marketing director at Aritzia, a chain of high-end boutiques. “I feel that people are starting to bounce back.”Aritzia has partnered with Park Life for a laid-back, retro and graphic street line of fashions and accessories. The Vancouver logos and those of previous Games were used on a set of white tube socks, for instance, and there is a fur-lined hoodie with Olympic patches in charcoal.From Polo Ralph Lauren, there is a Team USA white ski cap with double stripes for men and a half-zip sweater in red. At ralphlauren.com, buyers can personalize Olympic polos with their own names.A top seller for Nike is a red, beanie-style knit hat with a pompom that women’s U.S. winners will wear on medal stands. Fans also can buy the company’s blue fade medal stand puffer jackets.Among collectibles, Coca-Cola is offering the shiny gold bottle of Coke with the Vancouver logo. Luxury jeweler Birks designed a sleek, limited edition desktop replica of the torch in a Canadian Alderwood box.Birks used the Inuit-inspired emblem of the Games, a graphic interpretation of an inukshuk, on sterling silver pendants, keychains, cufflinks and bracelets. Organizers say the human-like form with open arms is a symbol of welcome.For ski, snowboard and hockey fans, cowbells await as the traditional way to cheer while wearing gloves continues in Vancouver. Organizers have designed a retro, brass cowbell in large and small sizes with a hand strap to keep them from flying.For fans left behind but looking to throw an Olympic party in front of their huge-screen TVs, there is Mario & Sonic at the Winter Games for Wii. Selections to compete at home include four-person bobsleigh and wand-driven hockey. Be sure to ask guests to bring along their own wands, or stock up yourself.Exclusive bounty for American athletes will be plentiful once they arrive, with giveaways from sponsors that include a special issue diaper for their tots adorned at the behind with Team USA and the Olympic Rings.License holders, sponsors and others tied to the Games embrace the honorary Olympic sport of trading and selling lapel pins, pins and more pins. Just about every symbol, special interest or participant is represented in pins, with an official club online at vancouver2010.com and trading venues on the ground planned during the Games.Looming large in retail pins are the official Olympic mascots: Quatchi, Miga, Sumi and a muskrat pal named Mukmuk. Suggested retail prices range from nearly $7 to $12.00, with accessories that include carry bags and albums.Pins, to the hard-core, are all about the hunt. They also comprise about 18 percent of the organizers’ overall licensing business for the Vancouver Games.Al Falcao, 70, of Markham near Toronto, has been collecting Olympic pins for 22 years.”If you can buy it, I’m not interested,” he said. “When I see a pin, I set my mind on ‘Hey, I gotta get that.’ Once I got it, I’m on to the next one.”Falcao has been asked by Coca-Cola to serve as informal “pin ambassador” during the Games. He caught the bug after Calgary in 1988 and has been to every Olympics since 1992, promoting the hobby at alspins.com.Generally, he said, the scarcer the pin, the more he wants it. That includes pins created by security organizations for internal use, like those of the U.S. Secret Service. He also covets pins with media logos and special issues kept under lock and key by sponsors before the Games.Even the humble Olympic mitten became scarce with stores selling out before Christmas, but there is now plenty to go around. The mittens fill huge bins at the flagship Olympic Superstore inside the Bay, run by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in downtown Vancouver.”It’s a very accessible way for people to join in,” said Valerie Arntzen, 57, as she picked up five pairs there.