NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Could New England fans be getting tired of winning?
It seems an absurd question for a region where for many years the term "long-suffering sports fan" seemed redundant.
But with the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox taking three championships in the last three years between them, and with the Pats favorites to capture a fourth on Feb. 6 in the Super Bowl, the hard numbers suggest that some of the excitement and interest is waning, at least a bit.
Reports from SportsScanInfo, a service that tracks the sales of licensed merchandise across all sports, says that the sales of Pats goods the last four weeks is off 37 percent from the comparable period last year, when the team also went to the Super Bowl.
"It looks like they've become a little blase," said Neil Schwartz, spokesman for SportsScan, about the Patriots' fans demand for their team's products. He notes that the most popular Pats jersey, one for linebacker Tedy Bruschi, is the 20th most popular jersey in the league, in terms of sales. Nine of the top 10 jerseys were for players on the other three teams that played in Sunday's two conference championship games -- the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons. The league MVP Peyton Manning is the other player in the top 10.
The Patriots are still third in the NFL in terms of licensed merchandise sales, but they're behind the upstarts they played last week and the gang they'll play in the big game, the Steelers and the Eagles.
Some fans say that part of the drop could be due to lack of need, not interest.
"Truth be told I am one of those people that haven't bought anything this year because I have enough Patriots merchandise to fill a small home," said fan Rob Jewett, a mortgage broker from suburban Boston. "If they do win I will go out and buy a championship shirt."
But Jewett said that while he's just as excited about this year's game as the two most recent trips to the Super Bowl, this one does feel different as a fan.
"After the first Super Bowl I was so overjoyed that the Patriots had won because nobody gave them a chance," he said. "Last year was different because we were the obvious favorites; I was very happy when we won the game but I was also very relieved because of how the game played out. This year I am so confident in the Patriots that I never expect to see them lose."
More TV viewers stray
But beyond the merchandise sales decline, television viewership numbers from Nielsen Sports Marketing also show some erosion for the Pats.
For Sunday's AFC Championship game win over the Steelers, 67 percent of televisions that were on in the greater Boston television market were tuned into the game. That's below 80 percent which were tuned to the January 2002 AFC Championship game that allowed the team to go on to their first Super Bowl win. Last year 75 percent of Boston area homes watching TV were tuned to the AFC Championship to watch the Pats win again.
To be sure, Boston isn't exactly turning its back on the Pats. The ratings show that 52 percent of households overall (which is a different measurement from televisions-on, get it?) in the Boston market were tuned to this past Sunday's game. That's a higher rating than the team got for the AFC championships in 2002 or 2004.
But it was a lower rating than watched the game in Pittsburgh or watched the Eagles win the NFC Championship earlier in the day in Philadelphia.
Besides the fact that the Pats have had some success in recent years, the long-awaited win by the Red Sox in October, after 86 years without a championship, also probably stole some of the Pats thunder, and sales.
The Red Sox's win in Game 4 of the World Series to give them the crown was watched in 59 percent of Boston-area homes, and by 77 percent of televisions that were turned on at that the time, even though the game wasn't do-or-die for the team, the way a football playoff game is.
In October, people wanted to see something they had never seen before. The Pats can't hope to have that historical or emotional claim on their fans' attention at this point.
So don't be surprised if the Super Bowl gets better ratings in Philadelphia, the nation's No. 4 television market, than it does in Boston, the No. 5 market. Or if more Eagles fans than Pats fans pay scalpers' prices to see the Super Bowl in person.
Purchase of licensed Eagles apparel is up 41.1 percent the last four weeks versus the comparable period a year ago. That's true even though those sales numbers don't include figures since Sunday's win.
The Eagles have been to three previous NFC championship games, losing each one, before their win Sunday put them in the big game. It would have been natural if their fans had held back on their purchases waiting to see if they would be disappointed again. But hunger for a champ just fueled purchases.
The city hasn't seen a football championship since Eisenhower was president and has had only two championships -- the 1980 Phillies and 1983 76ers -- in the last 29 years. Over the last 50 years, even Chicago has topped Philadelphia in the number of championships.
Its fans are truly starved for some success, and they don't have previous championship sweatshirts and t-shirts already clogging their dresser drawers.
Philadelphia fans will probably get tired of cheesesteaks and hoagies before they get tired of winning. But then again, a few years ago it seemed impossible that winning would ever start to feel old-hat to Boston fans.