By  on September 3, 2008

On court at the 40th U.S. Open, the stars include Rafael, Roger, Venus, Serena and Elena, but off-court, on the grounds of the USTA Billy Jean King Tennis Center in Queens, they’re the “It’s Showtime” U.S. Open graphic T-shirt; Ralph Lauren women’s heritage skirts, fitted polos and jackets; RLX men’s performance wear, and Nike’s authentic tennis styles worn by Federer and Nadal.

A spate of beautiful weather and record first-week attendance of 423,420 combined to spark purchasing of official U.S. Open merchandise “on pace with last year’s record revenue,” said Sarah Cummins, senior director of merchandising at the United States Tennis Association, which oversees retail merchandising at the two-week Grand Slam tournament. By the end of the event Sunday, sales of the Open’s 13 apparel licensees and seven novelty licensees could equal last year’s record take of about $13 million, she projected.

“My whole life is built on the weather,” Cummins said. “I wait all year for two weeks. Three days into this tournament, our hat sales were off about 1,500 units, because it was a lot less humid and hot than last year,” she continued. “Last year we sold about 65,000 hats; this year, we’ll probably sell about 60,000.”

The 500-square-foot Lacoste boutique at the tennis center will do more business over the two-week Slam than all but one of its 64 U.S. shops, its Fifth Avenue flagship, projected Bob Siegel, chairman and chief executive officer of Lacoste U.S.A. Apparel business for Lacoste at the event is split equally between men’s and women’s and demand is diverse — sweaters, fleece and polos are snapped up as well as the most sought after item, T-shirts. Annual revenue north of $200 million is 10 times more than Lacoste sold in the U.S. seven years ago, making it the brand’s biggest market.

Though the USTA merchandising group uses the previous year’s business as a guidepost, it’s tough to pick winners ahead of time. Assortments of U.S. Open goods are kept narrow and light until bestsellers emerge. Hot items need to be quickly replenished to capitalize on the biggest demand, which historically has occurred during the first week, cresting on the first weekend.

According to the USTA, the average visitor to the Grand Slam tournament is spending about seven hours roaming the grounds, shopping, eating and engaging in activities besides watching a tennis match — a phenomenon that has grown over the past three years with the addition of shops such as Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and Tiffany.

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