Even before the Los Angeles Lakers begin action in the final round of the NBA playoffs, local retailers are big winners.

Droves of fans are clamoring for team merchandise as the Lakers battle for their second straight NBA title.

"It's phenomenal," said Scott Damschroder, owner of Scorecard, a sports souvenir and gift store in Studio City. "I'm having a hard time keeping merchandise on the shelves."

Damschroder says interest in this year's Lakers is the highest of any professional sports franchise since he opened his store in 1990. Last summer, in the wake of the team's first title run in 12 years, sales of Lakers items doubled at Scorecard from the previous two years.

This time around, the Lakers car flags so prevalent on local roadways have become a huge seller.

"I was out of the car flags for a week before I got 200 more of them," said Damschroder, who charges $16 a flag. "And I expect to sell every one of them."

Meanwhile, replica jerseys priced at $45 and $60 and authentic jerseys retailing for $140 are flying off the racks.

"Everybody loves a winner, and L.A. loves a winner more than most," Damschroder said.

Usually, a professional sports team making a repeat championship bid experiences a dip in merchandise sales the second time around. Not so at Team L.A., the retail outlet at Staples Center in downtown, where the Lakers play their home games.

Staples' merchandising director Alan Fey wouldn't divulge dollar figures, but said business has spiked upward from the start of the playoffs in April when sales already were good.

"Business is up 75 percent, and we were starting at an extremely high point," said Fey, pointing out that the Lakers' 2000 title helped fuel sales throughout the year. "We thought there would be an increase, it's a natural reaction, but this is beyond what we had anticipated."

Fey said that merchandise sales after the last game of the Lakers' recent four-game sweep of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA's Western Conference finals were similar to those generated after the Lakers' league title-clinching win last year over the Indiana Pacers. This year's finals start June 6 at the Staples Center.

"We expect to beat last year's total (in the finals)," Fey said. "Expectations are higher, but the fans are just as excited as last year, or more. All you have to do is drive down the road and look at the flags to see that."

Both Damschroder and Fey are resisting the temptation to hike prices of merchandise while it's hot. The Staples Center has kept its replica jersey prices at $55 and its authentic jerseys at $150, despite the peak demand. It has raised the price of car flags from $15 to $18, however, due to a rise in the manufacturer's price, Fey said.

Damschroder said his prices haven't budged. "I charge the same thing I did in October," he said. "You don't do that if you want to keep your customers. There's credibility at stake. Next year, the manufacturer may raise the price, and if they do, I may raise mine.

Teams profit equally

Despite the brisk merchandise sales, the Lakers aren't the direct beneficiaries of their fans' buying spree. League rules stipulate that all 29 NBA teams share merchandise revenue equally.

Sal LoRocca, senior vice president of the NBA's Global Merchandising Group, said that manufacturers such as Champion, Spaulding Sports Worldwide Inc., New Era Cap Co. and Nike Inc. pay the league a licensing fee for the right to make jerseys, caps, basketballs, pennants, pop-up dolls and other paraphernalia representing NBA teams and players. Those fees are distributed equally among the teams.

"When the Lakers are up, they tend to support some of the teams that are down in regards to licensing revenue, just like the (Chicago) Bulls did when they were up, and the (Boston) Celtics, and so on," said LoRocca. "Over the course of time, it gets spread around enough to make it equitable. It seems to work for everyone."

Retail sales of NBA-sanctioned items total approximately $1.5 billion a year, he said.

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