From the moment the stadium gates opened at FedExField on Sunday morning, the Commanders Team Store was met with a near-constant stream of fans. The space was buzzing as shoppers were eager to get their hands on new team gear during the season opener.
"I want a hat. I want a shirt. I want a jersey. I want it all," Katherine, a Virginia Beach native and lifelong Washington fan, said with a laugh while standing in line with her haul.
Debuting in a revamped 6,200 square foot space, the new Team Store offers merchandise options galore in which fans can indulge. The fan engagement with the store following its initial opening provided a glimpse into the energy that filled the wider stadium in Week One. Buying shirts to swap into at their seats and trinkets to commemorate the historic inaugural season, fans were excited as a new era of Washington football kicked off.
To get to the moment in which the glass doors opened on Sept. 11 required months-long collective efforts. Transforming a location that was once just a ticket office into a sleek, modern retail destination meant construction. There were countless meetings with Fanatics and brands such as Nike, New Era and Mitchell & Ness to ensure fan-favorite designs were nailed down. Art boards depicting the space configuration were in a constant state of being presented, tweaked and finalized.
"Getting a store opened is a heavy lift for any organization. Bringing a vision to reality is exceedingly difficult," Myles Levin, Sr. Director of Merchandise Experience for the Commanders, said. "There's just so many details involved with opening and being ready for business that go into executing a new property, not to mention one that is tied to a specific date. I am grateful for Tanya and Greg's encouragement, not to mention the expert oversight by Jeff Newman at Fanatics, Trista, and her staff plus many others. One store, or many stores is always the same; the result of collective efforts."
The building of the space came with a building of anticipation, a feeling reflected in the crowd that formed ahead of the store's opening. Fans started queueing outside the space ahead of the official opening at 11 a.m.
"When we got here we saw the big line, which is a great sign showing that people are embracing the name," said Steve, a fan who drove down from Pennsylvania with his 9-year-old son Noah. "We want to be a part of all the action on opening day, so we were excited to get here before the game starts."
Inside the store, fans were introduced to an elevated brand experience crafted to generate enthusiasm around Commander's football. With an expanded assortment of merchandise, the store gives fans all types of apparel they have craved since the rebrand launch on Feb. 2, 2022.
"Fans were genuinely curious to see the remodeled store…I was so impressed with the new layout. It was so fresh," Izzy, who got herself and her dog some Commanders gear, said. "I also loved the selection of merchandise. I feel like there is something for every Commanders fan."
A handful of that merchandise is exclusive to the team store, a fact that some fans found out with a bit of awe and glee.
"I was very surprised to find t-shirts from my favorite online shop 'Homage' and then mind blown to find a handful of 'Homage' designs truly exclusive to the team store. Stuff I'd never seen online," JP, a fan who bought two shirts, said. "I was truly geeked."
Under the initial layers of curiosity and excitement bubbled profound emotions for many fans perusing shelves and rows of hangers. For some, like Spotsylvania native Pam, picking out Commanders clothes was a step in a journey of accepting change and of reminding herself what the love of the Burgundy & Gold is really about.
For others, like Kansas native Ashley and her two young kids, buying merchandise at the store was about honoring a wish and legacy of her late husband Tony, who passed in 2020 after the switch to the Washington Football Team name.
"This was one of his dreams to get them to a game. Since daddy passed, we made this happen," Ashley said. "All their old gear, their dad bought them for them before he passed…he wanted to make sure they had some old gear to move on with them."
Her daughter Brittany, 9, wearing the Washington cheerleader outfit her dad gave her, bought some new pom poms at the season opener. Her son Benjamin, 11, picked out an "inaugural Commanders game" shirt. The fandom and its meaning carries on.
Hours later, the crowd trickled out of the stadium following the first win of the Commanders era. Hundreds stopped by the team store before heading to the parking lot– picking up a piece of history, excited to lean into the momentum of the win.
The opening of the Team Store was a success. Sunday set a gameday franchise record for merchandise sales, beating the previous record which was set during the team's opener in 2012. In addition to the overall record-setting sales, compared to the Week One home opener in 2021, total transactions were up 25% and 50% more unique brands were feature inside the Team Store. For Sr. Director of Merchandise Experience Myles Levin, those numbers are equally important as the fan smiles he saw all around.
Just like the season for the group that takes the field, Week One for the Team Store is not a time to get complacent. Rather, it is the beginning from which to keep getting better.
"Opening a retail store is an infinite game," Myles said. "It's a constant process of learning how to improve and the day you say it's done is the day you are late and no longer relevant."