Sales of Minor League Baseball licensed merchandise climbed to near-record levels in 2011, according to data obtained by SportsBusiness Journal and scheduled to be released by MiLB today.
The 160 U.S.- and Canada-based clubs affiliated with MLB teams generated $52.2 million through the sale of apparel, headwear and novelties last year, up 2 percent from 2010 and trailing only pre-recession 2008 as the highest annual total ever.
|A new store in a new stadium put Omaha in the company of gate leaders Round Rock (Texas) and Lehigh Valley (Pa.) for merchandise sales.
“Over the last five years, the Eastern, Carolina, Florida State, Midwest and Northwest leagues have each increased their sales of licensed products by more than 25 percent,” she said, “and half of the MiLB teams experienced a double-digit percent growth in sales.” Hebert added that 11 of the 14 MiLB leagues have seen their sales figures increase since 2007.
The Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers represent the lone newcomer on the 2011 top-teams list, following a franchise rebranding and a move to a new stadium. Known as the Omaha Royals for most of its first 42 years of existence, the Kansas City Royals affiliate had spent that time playing at Rosenblatt Stadium, which opened in 1948. The team’s new $36 million Werner Park opened last spring and included the Storm Front team store located prominently at the front of the stadium next to the ticket windows.
|Top 25 MiLB clubs for merchandise sales in 2011|
years in the top 25*
|Carolina Mudcats (AA)||14|
|Charleston RiverDogs (A)||9|
|Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)||7^|
|Durham Bulls (AAA)||19^|
|Fort Wayne TinCaps (A)||5|
|Greensboro Grasshoppers (A)||8|
|Lake Elsinore Storm (High A)||14|
|Lakewood BlueClaws (A)||11^|
|Lansing Lugnuts (A)||15|
|Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA)||4^|
|Louisville Bats (AAA)||5|
|Midland RockHounds (AA)||6|
|Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A)||8|
|Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA)||1|
|Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA)||14|
|Portland Sea Dogs (AA)||19^|
|Reno Aces (AAA)||3^|
|Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA)||2^|
|Rochester Red Wings (AAA)||14|
|Round Rock Express (AAA)||12^|
|Sacramento River Cats (AAA)||12^|
|Salt Lake Bees (AAA)||7|
|Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)||17|
|Trenton Thunder (AA)||18^|
|Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A)||14|
|Notes: Teams listed alphabetically. Rankings and team-specific sales data were not available. Teams in bold were not in the top 25 for 2010. Teams falling out of the top 25 from the last year are the Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA), Bowling Green Hot Rods (A), Columbus Clippers (AAA) and Indianapolis Indians (AAA). * Since 1993, the first season MiLB began tracking sales data. ^ Ranked every year of team‚Äôs existence and/or every season since 1993. Source: Minor League Baseball|
|Licensed merchandise sales for MiLB teams|
|Source: Minor League Baseball|
“We discovered last year that we could identify a certain part of specific games where store sales drop off, so we created a sort of Crazy Eddie, New York-type character who tells fans about our Power Hour, where a specific slow-moving item is moved to the front of the store,” Kinney said. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in sales in the later innings since we started that program.”
According to the Storm Chasers, the team ranked in the 90s among all MiLB clubs for merchandise sales in 2010 compared with the club’s top-25 performance in 2011.
Brandiose (formerly Plan B. Branding), whose design work has helped numerous clubs land on the annual list of top sellers over the past decade, handled Omaha’s rebranding from the Royals to the Storm Chasers.
In-stadium attendance obviously can play a part in merchandise sales. To that end, the two clubs that led MiLB at the gate in 2011 — the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (628,925 in total attendance) and the Round Rock Express (618,261) — were both on the list of top 25 teams for merchandise sales.
Although it is unusual for a single player to have a significant impact on a minor league team’s full-season merchandise sales, Hebert said there was a spike in online sales for the Class A Hagerstown Suns, where Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ highly touted prospect, spent most of his 2011 season. Similarly, in 2010, now-Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg pitched six games for the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs, and the club saw a 33 percent increase in merchandise revenue that year, according to Wendy Shoen, the team’s director of merchandising.
The Class AA Harrisburg Senators, Harper’s home for 37 games last year and where Strasburg made a one-game, sold-out rehab appearance, saw a double-digit increase in sales in 2011. Despite those gains, none of the three Nationals affiliates cracked the list of the top 25 teams for merchandise sales.
New clubs or teams with new logos can have strong sales in their early years but often fall out of the annual top 25 quickly. Last year, for example, the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods made the list in their second season of play in Kentucky, but the club did not make the top 25 this year. Other recent examples include the Class AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits, and the Class A Great Lake (Mich.) Loons and Lake County (Ohio) Captains.
That honeymoon-period success is not lost on Donna Kirby, who operates the merchandise business for the expansion Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Cincinnati Reds’ Class AA affiliate. The club began its first year of play last month, at $54 million Community Maritime Park, and can’t keep merchandise on the shelves at the Bait & Tackle team store.
“The appetite for just about everything is almost insatiable at this point,” Kirby said. “And even when we pad the numbers to try to anticipate sell-through percentages before the next reorder hits, we still find that we’re running out.”
Kirby said the team is on its third reorder of caps, baseballs and foam fingers.