SBJ/May 4 - 10, 1998/No Topic Name

At Shea, Mets market their ‘Men in Black’

The New York Mets learned this from their foray into the world of alternate uniform combinations last season: Don’t stop at the top.

With the sour taste of a white cap that flopped still lingering in their marketers’ mouths, the Mets are trying the opposite end of the color spectrum this season, wearing black jerseys and black caps and introducing black accents into much of their signage and lettering.

The program – dubbed "Mets in Black" to play off the popular "Men in Black," MIB merchandise – has gone over far better than the club’s brief flirtation with white lids. One month into the season, black caps were outselling blue 5-1 at Shea Stadium, according to mark Bingham, the Mets’ senior vice president for marketing and broadcasting.

The white caps, which since have been scrubbed, sold evenly with the team’s traditional blue last year.

"When things don’t work, you learn from them," said Bingham, who was optimistic about the white cap until he saw it from the stands during games. "Last year, we threw a dart at the wall. There was no real plan behind it. It looked fine on your head if you were a fan going out on a Saturday afternoon, so we tried it. But it didn’t work with the uniform.

"We made sure that this time, the change was integrated."

For one thing, the Mets went beyond black caps, introducing a black jersey, black jackets and black batting-practice tops.

They also linked a merchandising campaign to the change, complete with slogan, a catalog and 6 foot tall store displays featuring John Franco and Bernard Gilkey.

"Mets in Black" areas are going up in at least 61 area merchandise outlets – 25 Modell’s, 23 Sports Authority’s, 10 Bob’s and three of the five Mets Clubhouse stores in the market.

The Mets also added black trim to their orange and blue script on both uniforms and stadium signs.

"Black is a very bold statement. either you’re out there with it or you’re not," Bingham said. "You just don’t hang it out there as a dangling participle. You have to finish it off and give it context."

The benefits of the alternate jerseys are twofold when they succeed. They drive consumers who already own one or two jerseys to buy a third, and they increase visibility in the market.

The Mets, like many teams have been criticized for selling out tradition in order to peddle a few more shirts. But Bingham insists that the financial gain for the Mets will be minimal – no more than $50,000 this year – because clubs share revenue generated beyond the ballpark walls.

The greater benefit is the buzz the Mets created by making a change, Bingham said. That’s significant in a market dominated by the Yankees, who have the top-selling mark in all of baseball and generate a wall of off-season hubbub each winter.

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