Minor-League Logos Bring Major Bucks
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ They are not well-known - hardly star material. In fact, they’re, well, losers. But boy, do the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes sell.
Caps, jackets, jerseys and beer mugs, just to name a few. That’s because this San Diego Padres farm team in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has one of the hottest names and logos in minor-league baseball.
So, who cares if they finished last this year in the California League?
″We’re proud of the fact that we’re the only team we know of that starts with a ’Q,‴ says Greg Scharlach, the team’s public relations director.
America’s infatuation with minor-league baseball and some creative marketing have put many of baseball’s 153 farm-team logos on the heads, bodies and keychains of the sports fashion elite.
Jeff Hannusch, a 39-year-old New Orleans free-lance writer, boasts a collection of more than 150 minor-league team caps.
He said it used to be a challenge when he started collecting eight years ago. Some he picked up at games, others he got by mail. Now, Hannusch looks through ads in the nation’s baseball weeklies and a few sports catalogs.
Years ago, he said, ″some teams didn’t even sell hats. Hats were only available to players. Now it’s a promotional item.″
Hannusch, who also has all the caps from the now-defunct Senior League, said he has a few friends with whom he trades, but ″none are as sick as me.″
Yet, the ranks are growing. They collect according to teams’ colors, letters, mascots and even unattractiveness.
A few best-sellers: The Greensboro Hornets’ leering hornet with a bat; the Chattanooga Lookouts’ google-eyes; the Madison Muskies’ cap-wearing, bat- swinging fish; and Rancho Cucamonga’s earthquake-cracked ″Q.″
The top three: the Toledo Mud Hens, the Carolina Mudcats and the Durham Bulls.
″Some (logos) are real simple and attractive, and some have gone too far,″ Hannusch said. ″It depends on what kind of mood you’re in. Some are just downright ugly.″
Although he lives in New Orleans, where the Zephyrs are the new team in town, his favorite is the Muskies. Their green-and-yellow colors are ″cool and not real gaudy, not overstated,″ he said. ″I have green eyes, so it looks good.″
Caps are the biggest sellers. But teams unload everything from jackets and jerseys to duffel bags and shot glasses, said Misann Ellmaker, director of licensing for the National Association of Professional Baseball, which is minor-league baseball’s governing body.
She said consumers don’t have to be familar with the team’s name or geographical location for the merchandise to be popular.
″They might not even be aware if it’s a baseball or hockey club,″ she said.
The teams don’t even have to be good.
″We stink. We’re a terrible team, but fans still come out and watch and wear their hats,″ said Timothy Leary, director of merchandise for the Hickory Crawdads, a Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox in Hickory, N.C.
Leary was brought on board this year to handle the team’s first season and its skyrocketing sales of jackets, jerseys and caps. Already, the Crawdads are one of the top 10 sellers in the minors.
Minor-league caps and clothing can be found not only through the mail, but also in the chain stores that sell sports apparel.
They don’t come cheap. Caps usually go for $19.99, while jerseys are about $49.99 and jackets are in the $80 range.
All this is tantalizing to teams who stand to supplement sometimes beleagured budgets with large royalties. It’s leading to more competition in marketing directors’ offices than on the diamonds.
Since last year, 23 teams have gone to a new name and logo, Ellmaker said.
Officials of the Capitol City Bombers in Columbia, S.C., tossed around names such as the Swamp Foxes, the Bullfrogs and the Sandlappers before settling on the Bombers.
The single-A affiliate of the New York Mets had been the Columbia Mets for nine years. They wore the Mets’ blue and orange colors and a ″C″ on their caps stitched in the same script as the parent club’s.
″The big ‘C’ was kind of boring,″ said Flynn Bowie, a team marketing manager. ″We really wanted to create our own identity. We wanted something identifiable with Columbia, S.C., not just the N.Y. Mets.″
Team officials finally settled on the Bombers, in honor of the World War II Doolittle Raiders, a fighter squadron that trained in Columbia. Uniforms were redesigned in black, red and olive-drab and an animated WWII bomber with teeth and eyes was stuck on the caps.
As a result, merchandise sales have almost doubled since last season, Bowie said. The team has opened a store in its stadium to accommodate shoppers five days a week. Another gift shop operates only during home games.
″It’s fantastic,″ Bowie said. ″The Bombers have been so much easier to market than the Columbia Mets.″
The successes are beginning to show. According to Ellmaker, in 1991 - the year NAPB hired Major League Properties to take care of all licensing and royalties for its teams - the minor leagues brought in $2 million in retail sales. In 1992, that number jumped to $25 million. And this year, the minors could sell up to $40 million in merchandise, Ellmaker said.
Where does that leave the majors?
″If the (major-league) names haven’t changed that much, it’s fairly easy to collect merchandise from the 28 teams,″ she said. ″With 153, it’s sort of an endless shopper’s paradise.″
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