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Volume 20 No. 42
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New Oregon team Hops onto merchandise list

The Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops, a club that has played only 38 home games in its one season of existence, made Minor League Baseball’s list of the 25 teams with the most merchandise sales last year, according to data obtained by SportsBusiness Journal and scheduled to be released by MiLB this week.

Collectively, the 160 minor league teams in the U.S. and Canada that are affiliated with MLB clubs generated $55.4 million in 2013 through the sale of apparel, headwear and novelties, up 2.6 percent from 2012 ($54 million) and surpassing the pre-recession total of $54.7 million posted in 2008. MiLB’s top recorded year came in 1994, with $60 million in sales posted.

The Hops are the first Short Season Class A club to finish among the top 25 in MiLB merchandise sales since the New York-Penn League’s Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs and Brooklyn (N.Y.) Cyclones made the 2008 list. Additionally, only 10 Class AAA teams

Caps have sold well, as has a stainless-steel, vaccum-sealed growler.

made the top 25 for 2013, the fewest since 2008.

Lauren Wombacher, director of merchandise for the Hops, said the club’s merchandise sales accounted for about 20 percent of the team’s overall revenue last year. “Our per caps exceeded our projections by a long shot, ” she said.

While Wombacher said any team cap with the Hops logo on its front has fared well in sales, she said a non-apparel product tied to the club’s beer-based moniker has scored particularly well among fans. The team partnered with Pinemeadow Green of Wilsonville, Ore., to make Hops-branded stainless-steel, vacuum-sealed, 64-ounce growlers.

“These sold out every time we’d bring a new shipment in,” Wombacher said. “It is a huge trend here in Oregon that we were able to capitalize on; there are growler filling stations everywhere.”

The Hops this summer plan to offer filling stations at the ballpark as well, Wombacher said.

Prior to their 2013 season in Hillsboro, the Hops were playing as the Yakima (Wash.) Bears. That club, located 200 miles northeast of Hillsboro, had been in Yakima since 1990 but relocated after failing to reach a deal to replace its 20-year-old ballpark.

In moving to Hillsboro, the club relocated to an affluent suburb 30 minutes west of Portland, located near the corporate headquarters of Columbia Sportswear as well as a site for tech giant Intel that employs 16,000 workers, representing the company’s largest employee base. Additionally, Nike’s headquarters is 10 minutes away from the ballpark. The apparel company is one of the team’s founding sponsors.

Top 25 MiLB clubs for merchandise sales in 2013

Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA) 9
Carolina Mudcats (High A) 16
Columbus Clippers (AAA) 4
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) 9^
Durham Bulls (AAA) 21^
Fort Wayne TinCaps (A) 7
Hillsboro Hops (SS) 1^
Indianapolis Indians (AAA) 12
Lake Elsinore Storm (High A) 16
Lakewood BlueClaws (A) 13^
Lansing Lugnuts (A) 16
Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA) 6^
Midland RockHounds (AA) 8
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A) 9
Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA) 2^
Portland Sea Dogs (AA) 21^
Reading Fightin Phils (AA) 3
Reno Aces (AAA) 5^
Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA) 4^
Round Rock Express (AAA) 14^
Sacramento River Cats (AAA) 14^
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (AAA) 4
Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) 19
Trenton Thunder (AA) 20^
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A) 16

Note: Teams listed alphabetically. Rankings and team-specific sales data were not available. Teams in bold were not in the top 25 for 2012 sales. Teams that fell out of the top 25 from that 2012 list are three Class AAA teams: Pawtucket Red Sox, Rochester Red Wings, Salt Lake Bees; and the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Savannah Sand Gnats, both from the Class A South Atlantic League.
* Since 1993, the first season MiLB began tracking sales data.
^ Ranked every year of team's existence and/or every season since 1993, the first year MiLB began tracking sales data.

Licensed merchandise sales for MiLB teams

Selling Short

The Northwest League's Hillsboro Hops are the first Short Season Class A club to finish among the top 25 in annual MiLB merchandise sales since the New York-Penn League's Batavia Muckdogs and Brooklyn Cyclones made the list for 2008.

Class 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
AAA 10 12 11 11 12 9
AA 7 6 6 6 6 6
A 7 7 8 8 7 8
SS 1 0 0 0 0 2

Source: Minor League Baseball

Prior to 2013, the Portland region had been without a professional baseball team since the Class AAA Beavers were sold and moved to Tucson, Ariz., after the 2010 MiLB season. The Beavers made MiLB’s top 25 list for merchandise sales in 1993 and 2001, and the former Short Season Portland Rockies (who played 1995 through 2000) made it in 1996.

The schedule for MiLB Short Season teams runs from mid-June through early September.

The challenge now for the Hops is to keep their sales strong despite the novelty of Hillsboro having a club in town naturally lessening from year one to year two. More than a dozen clubs before them have made the list in their inaugural seasons only to fall off the following year. Wombacher said the Hops will aim to have something new on the floor at each homestand this summer to spur new sales.

There were four other clubs that made MiLB’s top 25 list for 2013 that did not appear on the list for 2012.

Fans in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., embraced the start of a new era for their hometown club last year, as the Class AAA RailRiders made the list. The New York Yankees affiliate, which had been playing as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees since 2007, took on its new nickname in 2013 and made MiLB’s top 25 list for the first time since that first Yankees season of 2007. The club spent its entire 2012 season on the road while its home ballpark underwent a $43 million upgrade, returning to the venue with its new team brand last year.

One hundred miles away, in a place that has marketed itself since 2002 as Baseballtown, the Class AA team known since 1967 as the Reading Phillies changed its name to the Fightin Phils prior to the 2013 season — and made the top 25 list for the first time since 2001.

The Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts, a Toronto Blue Jays Class A affiliate, returned to the list for 2013 after its 2012 absence broke a 15-year top 25 streak. The Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans (a Texas Rangers High A affiliate) were the other newcomer to the list, also returning to the top 25 after being absent from the list for 2012.

Since tracking by MiLB began in 1993, 101 different clubs have made the annual list. Only 10 have made it 15 times or more, but two of those stalwarts, the Class AAA Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings, were absent from the 2013 list.

Two clubs have appeared on the top 25 list all 21 times that MiLB has compiled it: the Class AA Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs, who have had the same logo for all 21 years (although the color scheme changed in 2003, when its affiliation switched from the then-Florida Marlins to the Boston Red Sox); and the Class AAA Durham Bulls, who similarly have made very few alterations to their logo through the years — although this summer, for the first time since the 2002 season, the team’s road jerseys will display “Durham” across the chest, and replica jerseys will be sold by the club.

Sandie Hebert, MiLB’s director of licensing, said online sales were an important part of the 2013 numbers. Overall MiLB team sales online were up 27 percent in 2013 compared to the year before, she said.