SBJ/20090126/This Week's News

White Sox design Obama cap

The Chicago White Sox are aiming to release a President Barack Obama-themed version of their cap in time for the start of spring training.

The club has developed two prototype designs of its club hat with Obama marks on the side and back. The hats have been approved by MLB Properties, and the White Sox now are awaiting a formal blessing from the Obama administration before league licensee New Era goes into production. Both designs will be made if accepted by Obama.

The White Sox enjoy a special relationship with the newly inaugurated president due to his roots in south Chicago. Should the hat happen as intended, proceeds from its sale would be donated to charities, likely ones that provide services near U.S. Cellular Field.

The team needs approval from
the president before it can
start selling the caps.

Retail distribution would likely be tied, at least at the outset, to official league and club channels, such as the team’s stadium store and MLB.com’s online shop, but a wider release could occur should demand warrant it.

“We know exactly what we want to do with this [hat]. It’s just a matter now of getting sign-off from Obama’s camp, going through the proper channels and moving forward,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox vice president and chief marketing officer.

“We’re very excited. This is somebody who’s obviously a White Sox fan, but more importantly, really embraces and embodies the attributes of our brand: the notions of pride, passion and tradition we rally around. He’s made it hip to be a White Sox fan,” Boyer said.

Sales of all White Sox hats have surged 25 percent since Obama’s election in early November compared with the same period a year ago. Obama himself is not part of that increase, as club officials have tried unsuccessfully to give him a fresh replacement for an older, tattered White Sox cap he owns.

The club is devising other marketing and merchandising opportunities around its most powerful fan and have developed an area within the team’s official Web site devoted to Obama.

While team officials said there is not a concern about upsetting conservative-leaning White Sox fans, pointing to baseball’s historic role as a political unifier, they are aiming to draw a careful line about how much they do in connection with the president.

“We don’t want to be overly opportunistic and exploit this,” Boyer said.

Sports marketing executives with Chicago ties said the club’s Obama embrace did not run much immediate risk of backfiring.

“Short-term, at least, this is a very smart business play,” said Tom Fox, former Gatorade and Wasserman Media Group executive. “There’s a tremendous amount of good will around this guy right now, regardless of political affiliation. As time goes on, and his positions in office become more defined, you do run some risk of this becoming more of a polarizing thing, but not in the short run.”

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