It's a Whole New Ballgame in Sports Merchandising

Los Angeles Dodgers Hat MerchandiseThere’s nothing quite like the passion of a die-hard sports fan, but even so, young fans are starting to believe that style, design, illustration and colors (i.e., individual expression!) take precedence over traditional messages and basic logo design.

THREADX Sports Merchandising PanelAt THREADX 19, a panel of major league sports merchandisers — Gareth Breunlin (Chicago White Sox), Chris David Garcia (Houston Astros), Ross Yoshida (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Michael Zulla (Wilson Sporting Goods) — talked about the transformation in purchasing and promotional trends around team merchandise and player influence.

While at the conference in February, I was impressed by the variety of the presentation topics and the new faces and voices I had never seen or heard previously. Though the "Fashion Over Fandom" panel discussion was not quite what I anticipated, it was in fact the best bang for my registration buck during the event.

Wilson Sporting GoodsThe panelists each presented a unique view of MLB merchandising that had roots in the unique world of in-park sales and promotion (not the wider mass-market viewpoint that many of us in attendance have personal experience with in our own business operations). To more simply define this niche, you must go to the ballpark to access these unique promotional items directed toward the team, the community, star players, sponsor relationships and unique aspects, such as being at the “Astrodome.”

The common theme was that planning, planning and more planning is their world, and a high percentage of their time and effort are devoted to plans that never develop into merchandise projects. A simple dropped fly ball can mean the difference between a lucrative merchandising project and containers full of useless materials.

Each panel participant stressed the importance of maintaining an open mind, understanding the established distribution networks and effectively communicating the value of a merchandising project to all in the supply chain.
Houston Astros Sports Merchandise
First-to-market, ability to react quickly to changing opportunities, respect for existing intellectual properties, and fresh ideas that will drive people to the venues are all part of the skill set prospective decorators must possess to succeed in today's ballpark market. After all, butts in the seats are what in-the-park promo sales are all about.

Perhaps the most important idea I took away from this panel was that if we want to catch the eye of today's MLB buyers as decorators in the graphic arts business, our presentations to them must reflect the diversity of the team fan base. Rather than virtual mock-ups, photographic marketing presentations featuring fans of all ages, genders and ethnicities wearing and using the presented products have a greater chance of being reviewed, considered and utilized as part of a team’s overall marketing plans.

Chicago White SoxIn other words, do your homework, know your audience and effectively tell your story. Make no assumptions, and your chance of success in this unique niche are greatly increased. Many thanks to SGIA for this rare insight into a fascinating market opportunity.

Play ball!

Merchandise images courtesy of (in order): Ross Yoshida/Los Angeles Dodgers, Wilson Sporting Goods, Alex Bierens de Haan/Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox.

Read more about the "Fashion Over Fandom" panel and stay up-to-date on THREADX 2020 (February 23 - 25; Scottsdale, Ariz.)