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Volume 21 No. 35
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MiLB extends merchandise sales hot streak

A rebranding in Tacoma led to a hot-selling home cap and new displays in the ballpark.
Photos by: TACOMA RAINIERS (2)
Minor League Baseball and its 160 member teams in the United States and Canada collectively sold a record $65.1 million in merchandise in 2015, according to data obtained by SportsBusiness Journal and scheduled to be released by MiLB this week.

The revenue represents sales of team-branded apparel, headwear and novelties, as well as licensing fees and royalties paid directly to MiLB through baseball trading card contracts, the use of historic club marks, and MiLB’s Hometown Collection of throwback logo merchandise. The record haul is 8 percent higher than 2014’s total ($60.3 million) and marks the category’s sixth straight annual increase, growing 42 percent over that span.

Sales in 2015 were spurred by the popularity of a dozen new or redesigned team logos that were introduced to the marketplace, and by an especially good year of sales by teams at the top of the minor league hierarchy.

THE NUMBERS

$65.1 million:

Merchandise sales for MiLB clubs in 2015, a record sum

6:

No. of consecutive years MiLB has seen this revenue metric increase

11:

No. of teams on the 2015 top-seller list that have appeared on the annual list at least 10 times

8:

No. of franchises on the list that introduced new or redesigned logos before the 2015 season

3:

No. of clubs not on the 2015 list that previously had been on the list every year since their inaugural seasons: the Portland Sea Dogs (22 years on the list), Corpus Christi Hooks (10 years) and Richmond Flying Squirrels (5 years).


The Tacoma Rainiers fit both of those categories. The Seattle Mariners’ AAA affiliate is on the list of MiLB’s top-selling teams for the first time since 1999 and only the third time ever (the other appearance was in 1996) after undergoing a total rebranding. Team President Aaron Artman said the change to a new scripted “Rainiers” logo and “R” mark helped increase Tacoma’s game-day merchandise sales by more than 43 percent over its 2014 tally. He declined to provide a final sales figure but said the 2015 total exceeded the club’s preseason projection by 45 percent and that merchandise made up 8 percent of the team’s total revenue in 2015, up from 6 percent in 2014.

“We tinkered around and made the hat with the ‘R,’ and it immediately became our best-selling hat ever,” Artman said, adding that sales of the newly styled home cap made up 32 percent of the Rainiers’ total merchandise sales last year. “The old logo looked almost like a company’s letterhead, and I never saw anyone on the street wearing anything with our logo.”

A logo change for the Frisco RoughRiders spurred merchandise sales for the Class AA club.
Photos by: ASTON MAJORS / FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS (2)
The change in Tacoma also brought updated signage and artwork to Cheney Stadium, including the introduction of the R Yard party deck. Additionally, in late 2014, the team opened several off-site retail locations for the first time. Those additional points of sale further stoked 2015 sales.

And the sales success hasn’t stopped. Artman said Tacoma’s 2016 merchandise sales as of earlier this month were 10 percent higher than what they were at the same

time last year. He said he now sees Tacoma merchandise everywhere, including at Mariners games.

“That never happened before,” he said.

Joining the Rainers on the list of top-selling teams for 2015 after a brand tweak are their fellow Class AAA clubs the Nashville Sounds, Oklahoma City Dodgers and Pawtucket Red Sox. Together, they are part of a record 16 Class AAA clubs on the 2015 list. That compares with an average of 10 AAA teams on the list annually between 2004 and 2014, according to a SportsBusiness Journal analysis of MiLB’s data.

Also according to the MiLB data, the 16-team Pacific Coast League generated a league record $13.36 million in merchandise sales in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014. The International League, its 14-team counterpart, saw a 7 percent drop year-over-year, to $9.8 million.

WHERE DID THE SALES HAPPEN?

BY LEVEL

* Licensing money from baseball trading card contracts, royalties paid for the use of historic MiLB club marks, and revenue from MiLB’s Hometown Collection of throwback logo merchandise.
Source: Minor League Baseball

BY LEAGUE

LEAGUE (LEVEL) AVG. SALES PER TEAM
Pacific Coast (AAA) $834,704
International (AAA) $700,674
Texas (AA) $468,818
Southern (AA) $388,183
Midwest (A) $379,594
Eastern (AA) $332,578
Carolina (A) $253,298
South Atlantic (A) $225,393
California (A) $192,031
Northwest (A) $188,759
New York-Penn (A) $182,916
Florida State (A) $118,976
Pioneer (Rookie) $95,887
Appalachian (Rookie) $35,657
All MiLB $341,162

Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Minor League Baseball data


MiLB does not release team-specific data, but the Durham Bulls are consistently one of the minors’ top sellers, having made the list of top-selling clubs every year since MiLB began tracking the data in 1993. The Bulls, the Class AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, generated a team-record $1.2 million in merchandise sales last year, or 8 percent of the club’s total revenue, according to documents filed with the city of Durham by the club’s owner, Capitol Broadcasting Co.

The Bulls are one of several clubs that capitalized on the popularity of entertainment-themed jerseys. Durham last spring ordered 48 “Game of Thrones” themed jerseys, matching the ones worn by players for an April 23 game. Matt Sutor, the Bulls’ director of communications, said the team sold them all by the end of the night for $110 each. The average price for a Bulls jersey is $69, Sutor said.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs similarly touted success in 2015 with a “Han Solo in Carbonite” promotion, though specific sales data from that effort were not disclosed.

Among other top-selling clubs:

The Frisco RoughRiders are on the list for the first time since 2003, their inaugural season. The Texas Rangers’ Class AA affiliate for 2015 ditched their soldier-on-horseback logo and, along with San Diego-based Brandiose, introduced a set of logos featuring the image of Teddy Roosevelt, whose nickname served as the inspiration for the team’s name. Sales increased more than threefold over 2014, according to Jen Adamczyk, the club’s merchandise manager. She added that merchandise sales made up 5 percent of the club’s overall revenue in 2015, up from 2 percent in 2014.

The San Antonio Missions, the Class AA affiliate of the San Diego Padres, made the list for the first time after hiring Brandiose to help update their two-decades-old logo set. San Antonio’s appearance on the list is also notable in that it makes the Padres the first MLB club that can ever boast having four farm teams on the top 25 list. The Padres’ other high sellers for 2015 were the El Paso Chihuahuas, Lake Elsinore Storm and Fort Wayne TinCaps.

The Biloxi Shuckers relocated from Huntsville, Ala., after the 2014 season and moved into the new $36 million MGM Park last year. The former Huntsville Stars never made the list of top-selling teams, but the Shuckers did. Louisville, Ky.-based Studio Simon handled the Shuckers’ designs.

LEADERBOARD

Top 25 MiLB clubs for merchandise sales in 2015

class="BoldTableFont" class="BoldTableFont"
TEAM (LEVEL) IN THE TOP 25*
Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA) 11
Biloxi Shuckers (AA) 1^
Charlotte Knights (AAA) 4
Columbus Clippers (AAA) 6
Dayton Dragons (A) 11
Durham Bulls (AAA) 23^
El Paso Chihuahuas (AAA) 2^
Fort Wayne TinCaps (A) 9
Frisco RoughRiders (AA) 2
Indianapolis Indians (AAA) 14
Lake Elsinore Storm (A Advanced) 18
Lakewood BlueClaws (A) 14
Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA) 8^
Louisville Bats (AAA) 7
Nashville Sounds (AAA) 4
Oklahoma City Dodgers (AAA) 4
Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA) 16
Reno Aces (AAA) 7^
Sacramento River Cats (AAA) 16^
Salt Lake Bees (AAA) 10
San Antonio Missions (AA) 1
South Bend Cubs (A) 2
Tacoma Rainiers (AAA) 3
Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) 21
Trenton Thunder (AA) 22^

Notes: Teams are listed alphabetically. Rankings and team-specific sales data were not available. Teams in bold were not in the top 25 for 2014 sales. The teams that fell out of the top 25 from that 2014 list are the Rochester Red Wings (AAA); the Akron RubberDucks, Birmingham Barons, Corpus Christi Hooks, Portland Sea Dogs and Richmond Flying Squirrels (all AA); and the Carolina Mudcats, Quad Cities River Bandits and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (all A).
* Since 1993, the first season MiLB tracked sales data.
^ Ranked every year of team’s existence and/or every season since 1993, the first year MiLB tracked sales data.
Source: Minor League Baseball


The South Bend Cubs, another Studio Simon client, made the list in their inaugural season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate. The club made the list just once, in 1997, while playing under its prior name, the Silver Hawks. Similarly, the Oklahoma City Dodgers made the list in their inaugural season as a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate, whereas having previously played as the RedHawks, the team had been absent from the list since 2002.

WHAT’S IN STORE FOR 2016?

Looking at this summer’s merchandise sales opportunities, the Savannah Sand Gnats (whose only appearance on the list of the 25 top-selling clubs came in 2012) relocated after last year  to Columbia, S.C., and rebranded themselves the Fireflies. The Class A club is owned by Hardball Capital, whose portfolio includes the Fort Wayne TinCaps (A) and Chattanooga Lookouts (AA).

Jason Freier, the group’s chairman and CEO, has had success with a rebrand before. He said that after renaming the former Fort Wayne Wizards as the TinCaps ahead of their 2009 season, the club became one of MiLB’s top sellers of licensed merchandise that year. He said that while the Fireflies did not play their first home game until April 14, the club is “well ahead” of where the TinCaps were at this point in the sales cycle.

The Great Lakes Loons (A) and Norfolk Tides (AAA) also introduced new logos this year, so those clubs could see spikes in sales in 2016. Additionally, the New Britain Rock Cats (AA) moved 12 miles north after the 2015 season and rebranded themselves as the Hartford Yard Goats. However, the opening of their new Dunkin’ Donuts Park has been delayed, and to date the club has played all of its scheduled 2016 home games on the road — taking away in-venue merchandise sales opportunities.

— David Broughton