The best-selling sports jerseys

When it comes to sports merchandise, the NFL is king. A league where each team plays only 16 games per year makes each Sunday in the fall an event. And whether they’re headed to the stadium or the nearest big screen, fans don’t consider themselves geared up for game day until they pull on the team jersey. The 10 best-selling jerseys in sports all hail from the NFL, the top five of them quarterbacks.

“The NFL is the most popular organized sports league in the U.S., and it only plays on Sunday,” says Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, which tracks merchandise sales in the sporting goods industry, of the popularity of the league’s mock jerseys.

According to SportsOneSource data, the top-selling sports jersey over the past year is the No. 9 worn by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a flashy player who got plenty of tabloid publicity from dating singer and actress Jessica Simpson. Over 3 million Romo jerseys have moved through stores over the past year, SportsOneSource estimates, a testament to both Romo’s style and the Cowboys’ premium brand image.

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In Pictures: The best-selling sports jerseys

“He’s a good-looking kid with a lot of positives,” says Powell. So strong is the Dallas brand that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided a few years ago to run his merchandise business separately from the rest of the NFL – why pool yourself with the rest of the league when that would essentially mean subsidizing your small-market competitors?

Other quarterbacks in the top 10: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (2.8 million jerseys), a two-time Super Bowl winner for a marquee franchise; the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez (1.8 million), a young hotshot out of USC; plus brothers Eli Manning and Peyton Manning (3 million and 1.5 million jerseys, respectively). It’s the second straight year that sales of Eli’s Giants jersey have outpaced that of big brother Peyton’s Colts jersey, following the Giants’ 2008 Super Bowl upset of New England.

And a virtual guarantee of sales: When a high-profile player switches teams. This is the second straight year that formula has worked for Brett Favre, who practically had retail stores ordering his Minnesota Vikings jersey before his decision to unretire and join the team was even official. The same thing happened last year when Favre joined the Jets, giving him back-to-back years in the top five.

The biggest sellers among non-quarterbacks: running backs Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, Reggie Bush of New Orleans and LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego. The only defensive player: Pittsburgh’s high-energy defensive back Troy Polamalu.

The jersey trade doesn’t translate as well to Major League Baseball where, Powell points out, fans are more apt to show their colors with team caps and T-shirts for a fraction of what replica jerseys cost. The MLB leader, the No. 2 of Yankee Derek Jeter, has sold less than 200,000 units over the past year, SportsOneSource estimates.

Another baseball caveat: All the top sellers are everyday players, mostly offensive bashers like Manny Ramirez, Alfonzo Soriano, Derrick Lee and David Wright. Pitchers, who don’t play every day, don’t fare as well. Winning helps, too. Five of this year’s World Series participants don their sport’s top 10 selling jerseys: Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, along with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino of the Phillies.

Leading the NBA jersey bandwagon, unsurprisingly, are league icons LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, followed in order by Boston’s Kevin Garnett, Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Orleans’ Chris Paul. But even those five megastars have combined to sell under a million jerseys over the past year, a figure that’s blown away by Romo or Roethlisberger.

Chalk it up to the game day pump-up every Sunday. An A-Rod or Jeter jersey may be fun to some Yankee fans, but to a true Cowboy fan, a Romo jersey is a must.

The top five:

1. Tony Romo: Slideshow
2. Eli Manning: Slideshow
3. Ben Roethlisberger: Slideshow
4. Mark Sanchez: Slideshow
5. Brett Favre: Slideshow
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In Pictures: The best-selling sports jerseys

Updated Friday, Oct 30, 2009