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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz fan Jeff Johnson was a popular man on Jan. 30. As the Jazz played the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Arena that night, "probably 10" people came up and asked him about what he was wearing: a Donovan Mitchell city edition uniform that he had purchased at the arena team store a few days earlier.
"At that point, I knew I had something hot, a highly sought after item on my hands," Johnson said.
The Jazz debuted the red rock-inspired jersey and court that night and pulled out an upset 30-point win over the Warriors. But since then, Jazz "city edition" gear (Nike's name for the red and orange branded apparel) has been tough to find. A visit to the team's official "Utah Jazz Store" features only charcoal socks listed for sale. No uniforms, no t-shirts, no hoodies, no shorts, nothing else.
Approximately 300 of the jerseys first went on sale on Jan. 23, a week before the game, and sold out within 72 hours. The demand for jerseys is unlike anything the Jazz have ever seen.
That's clear in the secondary market, too. The jerseys, which typically retail for $130, have been sold on eBay for $425 and up. Hats are listed for $55, and there's one of the popular city edition hoodies being sold now for $205.
It's enough to make even Johnson give up one of his prized possessions.
"I love the city edition jerseys, but the resale price was right at $450," Johnson explained. He listed his jersey on eBay and quickly found a buyer, a Jazz fan in Australia without access to the arena store. "I plan on buying another one when the store restocks them."
The problem: it's not clear when that will happen. The Jazz made their order on the jerseys at Nike's deadline of February of 2017, nearly a year before their debut. One shipment was the plan, because of the nature of the "city edition" uniform plan from Nike. Because Nike plans on giving each team a new city edition every year, they hadn't planned on making more of the 2017-18 uniforms available.
The Jazz originally made an order for about 700 jerseys, but about half of those had Gordon Hayward's name on them. When a player changes teams in free agency, Nike automatically cancels the portion of the jersey orders that feature the old player name.
Still, the Jazz thought 300 would be enough. "When we go back and look at sales history of any alternate jerseys we've ever had, we've never really sold more than 300 units of an alternate jersey in an entire season," former Fanzz president and current Jazz consultant Darren Squires said. The team was shocked to sell all of them in just a few days, out of the arena team store.
"We expected the design of the uniform to be very polarizing," Jazz senior vice president of marketing Bart Sharp explained. "Before everybody had an opportunity to see the uniform on the players and on the court against Golden State, there was a lot of polarization that quickly turned into an appreciation and then a love of something unique and different."
The Jazz will be getting "about 50" of the jerseys in stock sometime between now and the end of the season, a quantity that was delayed from the first order. After that, a second, larger shipment of the jerseys is likely, but not guaranteed, as team officials haven't finalized the details with Nike. When that shipment would happen is anybody's guess, but it doesn't sound possible until late summer at the earliest.
Due to the complicated design of the jerseys, producing them isn't a walk in the park either. The gradient lines from yellow to red have to be created just for the Jazz, as well as the distinct side stitching that depicts the highway trail from Salt Lake City to Moab and Zion. The jerseys then have to be shipped by boat to the United States and eventually here to Utah.
As for the sought-after Nike t-shirts, hoodies, and even shorts, those too won't be available until the possible late-2018 second shipment. The Jazz can produce designs from other t-shirt providers that they think their fans will like that could arrive more quickly, but have to be careful not to infringe upon Nike's designs.
Another quirk: Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment's recent sale of Fanzz has made the Vivint Arena store the most reliable place to buy new Jazz clothing. The NBA's online store does receive the standard, NBA-wide gear, but not often the unique designs available at the arena made for Jazz fans. In other words, Jazz fans from other parts of the state, nation, and world can't get their hands on the gear without someone listing it on eBay.
The team hopes to rectify that with a new online point of sale by the end of 2018. Right now, UtahJazzStore.com approximately mirrors the stock available at Vivint Arena, but can't keep up with the fastest-moving apparel fans want most.
"We're not stopping until we can find more jerseys, more apparel, and more offerings for these folks," Sharp said.
The "city" apparel isn't the only popular category. The team has sold 70 percent more of all kinds of jerseys this season than in last year's 50-win playoff campaign, and 50 percent more than in any year in the past decade.
But the city edition apparel that stands out the most. Nike was originally reluctant to create more of the design, because of the company's plan to release a new jersey each year. That changed upon the huge demand from two teams in particular: the Jazz and the Heat (thanks to the popularity of their Miami Vice-inspired uniform). Now, those teams, Nike, and the NBA are discussing whether or not to keep the successful look as part of the on-court look for the 2018-19 season as well, or whether to move on to the next popular thing.
Part of the calculus there was the delayed mid-season debut of the red rock jerseys, which were initially supposed to be released earlier in the season but were delayed by Nike. The Jazz have a separate alternate design that was planned for the 2018-19 season, they but could use both, or one or the other in 2018-19 depending on input from the league and Nike. They'll finalize that plan "soon," according to Sharp.
"Yeah, we've got another design in our back pocket, but maybe our fanbase, and maybe our players, really would like to see these for another year," Sharp said.
It seems that way. Besides the fans clamoring for more, the players have been big fans of the look as well. "I like them. They're cool," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. "I like the colors, I like the design."
Now, it's just a matter of getting the apparel in the hands of more than the 15-man Jazz roster.